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» Clutch Encounters: Week 4

Blowout week, but not for the Steelers. Do they play down to the competition? Also: bad Foles, Bridgewater's debut, and did J.J. Watt just end EJ Manuel's career in Buffalo?

04 Aug 2005

2005 Over-Unders: North Divisions

by Al Bogdan and Vivek Ramgopal

Also check out our past looks at the two West divisions and the two East divisions. Lines come from VegasInsider.com.

NFC North

Chicago Bears

O/U: 5
2004 Record: 5-11
2005 Home Opponents: DET, CIN, MIN, BAL, SF, CAR, GB, ATL
2005 Away Opponents: WAS, CLE, DET, NO, TB, PIT, GB, MIN

Vivek: Funny that I'm writing this after watching the Superfans skit on the Saturday Night Live -- The Best of Chris Farley DVD. Maybe that is why I've been a bit more optimistic about the Bears than most people.

Chicago upgraded at the three offensive skill positions. Muhsin Muhammad and his 1600 yards replace David Terrell, who never lived up to the expectations of being a first round pick, or even a mid round pick for that matter. If Justin Gage cuts down on his drops and improves his confidence, the Bears could have a talented 1-2 wide receiver combo. Rookie Cedric Benson will be the workhorse runner that the offense needs. Rex Grossman is essentially a newcomer to the offense, having only played three games due to injury and inexperience last year. Barring injury, the Bears shouldn't have to mirror last year's quarterback carousel of Jeff George, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson, and Jonathan Quinn. Even kicker Paul Edinger threw a pass last year.

Another big question mark will be the offensive line, who yielded 66 sacks last year, by far and away the most in the league. The Bears signed former Titan Fred Miller and former Falcon Roberto Garza to bring stability to the line, and John Tait will protect Grossman from the left tackle spot this year. Most of the linemen are on the downside of their careers, but anything will be an upgrade from 2004.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears hope that Adewale Ogunleye returns to his 2003 form. Ogunleye and one of the best linebacker pairs in the league, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, will be the core of a defense that ranked 12th in DVOA last year.

The Bears have a rough home schedule, but could take four games on the road. OVER.

Al: I pretty much agree with everything you said. I picked the Bears as my favorite longshot Super Bowl possibility at the end of last season. I have no reason to be less optimistic about them today after they added Muhammad, Benson, and the offensive linemen to improve the league's worst offense.

Chicago could have the easiest road schedule in the league. They could easily hit five wins just playing away from Soldier Field. I'm not sure if I'm ready to pick them as division champs just yet, but this is an easy one. OVER.

Detroit Lions

O/U: 7.5
2004 Record: 6-10
2005 Home Opponents: GB, BAL, CAR, CHI, ARI, ATL, MIN, PIT
2005 Away Opponents: CHI, TB, CLE, MIN, DAL, GB, NO, PIT

Vivek: Under. Wait, I thought 7.5 was the line for the week that Jeff Garcia starts running Steve Mariucci's version of the West Coast offense. Mariucci has given his full vote of confidence to Joey Harrington, but the fourth-year quarterback needs to stop trying to force plays, which has resulted in more interceptions than touchdowns for his career. Harrington has all the tools in place to succeed and can finally show off his arm strength, so there are no excuses in 2005.

Over. Wait, the line isn't for the number of games that the Lions' wide receivers will miss in 2005? The team has arguably the most talented young receiver trio in the game -- Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams. Rogers has played only five games in his two NFL seasons because of collarbone injuries, so drafting Mike Williams 10th overall was probably a smart move on the Lions' part.

Even with all of those first-rounders on the offense, running back Kevin Jones is the most talented member of the unit. After overcoming some leg injuries, Jones rushed for more than 100 yards per game in the second half of the season. Fantasy owners can also expect 40-50 receptions from Jones.

Even if the trio of receivers and Jones come through, it might not be enough to overcome a mediocre defense that wasn't able to stop the run or pass last year. For real now -- UNDER.

Al: At least Detroit will have Matt Millen running this team for the next five years. I mean, when you have an executive with his track record of success you can't let him enter a season as a lame duck. You have to make sure that no other team in the NFL will have a shot at adding someone with his ability for the rest of the decade.

Seriously, though, I like Detroit's chances at going 8-8 this year. I'm sure everyone is sick of hearing about how good we think Kevin Jones can be this year. Marcus Pollard should be a big upgrade at tight end. Whoever ends up starting at quarterback will have a potentially amazing group of receivers to throw to.

The defense is a big question mark. I like the additions Detroit has made and would expect them to help the defense finish better in DVOA than #19 or #20, as they have the past two years. Draft picks Shaun Cody and Bill Swancutt give Detroit some solid depth on the defensive line where the Lions struggled last year in short yardage/goal to go situations. Newcomer Kenoy Kennedy and a full season from Boss Bailey will have opposing receivers thinking twice before they try to catch a ball in the middle of the field. I wouldn't be shocked if Detroit finished with an above-average defense when everything is said and done. OVER.

Minnesota Vikings

O/U: 9.5
2004 Record: 8-8
2005 Home Opponents: TB, NO, GB, DET, CLE, STL, PIT, CHI
2005 Away Opponents: CIN, ATL, CHI, CAR, NYG, GB, DET, BAL

Vivek: You have to give credit to the Minnesota front office. The team needed defense, and it went out shopping in the offseason and got it. The 2005 version of the Vikings' defense features five new starters: safety Darren Sharper, cornerback Fred Smooth, tackle Pat Williams, and linebackers Sam Cowart and Napoleon Harris. Opposing quarterbacks were able to pick apart the Minnesota secondary last year, but the addition of Smoot and Sharper (and holdover Antoine Winfield) alters that gameplan. The Minnesota defensive line will have 650 pounds of tackle playing next to each other with Pat and Kevin Williams plugging rushing lanes. The Vikings may have gotten a steal with pass rushing specialist Erasmus James at the 18th pick in the first round of the draft.

Of course there is one glaring absence this year on the offense, Randy Moss. Nate Burleson, who moves into the top receiver slot, totaled 68 catches for 1006 yards as a part-time #1 receiver last year. Troy Williamson was the fastest rising player in this April's draft, and has the size and speed that GM's crave, but we all know the track record for rookie wide receivers. And that Culpepper guy will make the receivers look pretty good too. It took Peyton Manning's 49 touchdowns to overshadow Culpepper's 4700 yard, 39 touchdown season.

Even with an unsettled running back situation, the offense should still be a force. Michael Bennett has the edge for the starting spot, but Mewelde Moore could steal the job if he can stay healthy for an extended period of time. And if you want to count fantasy value, Moe Williams should be productive with 6-7 touchdowns this year.

Anything less than double digit wins will be a disappointment for this team. OVER.

Al: This team has Ewing Theory written all over it. But I still can't go over. Even if the defense is improved, at it's hard for it not to be, the offense is poised to take a huge step back. Not only is Moss gone, but the team's best running back is suspended for the season. Bennett may be fast, but he hasn't been good enough the past two seasons to hold onto the starting tailback job. Moe Williams has been underused throughout Mike Tice's tenure, and there's no reason to expect that to change this year. Moore will end up being the odd man out, even though he's likely Minnesota's best chance at having a productive running attack.

Next year around this time we're going to be looking back at this year's fantasy drafts and wondering what all those people who took Nate Burleson in the fourth round were thinking. As is pointed out in Pro Football Prospectus 2005, Burleson's success last season came when Randy Moss was lining up on the other side of the field taking up most of the defense's attention. When left alone as the Vikings' #1 WR, Burleson's production dropped significantly. I don't think Travis Taylor will be someone opposing defensive coordinators will gameplan around. This will be the first time in over a decade that the Vikings don't have a wide receiver worth owning in most fantasy leagues. UNDER.

Green Bay Packers

O/U: 8.5
2004 Record: 10-6
2005 Home Schedule: CLE, TB, NO, PIT, MIN, DET, CHI
2005 Road Schedule: DET, CAR, MIN, CIN, ATL, PHI, CHI, BAL

Vivek: Nobody in the league has been as tough as Brett Favre during the past decade, but you have to wonder how much more his body can take and if his ironman streak will end this year. The Packers took huge hits on the line with the departures of both Mark Wahle and Marco Rivera, and are nowhere close to matching their ability with replacements Matt O'Dwyer and Adrian Klemm. Add the fact that center Mike Flannigan is recovering from a serious knee injury, and this could be a very porous line.

The offensive line isn't the primary concern for the Packers. A 29th-rated defense in terms of DVOA got worse this spring. Safety Darren Sharper (Vikings) and cornerbacks Michael Hawthorne (Rams) and Bhawoh Jue (Chargers) left an already horrendous secondary, and adding insult to injury, Sharper went to a division rival. That leaves a very green unit of Ahmad Carroll, Joey Tomas, and Nick Collins. Not a good solution for a division that will rely heavily on the pass. The Pack did receive some good news on the defensive front when tackle Grady Jackson reported to camp last week, but the team immediately placed him on the physically unable to perform list.

Maybe this is the year that makes Favre decide to hang it up. UNDER.

Al: This could be a long season in Green Bay. I disagree, however, when you say the offensive line isn't the Packers primary concern. Green Bay just lost arguably the two best guards in the entire league to free agency. Not only could this lead to Favre finding himself on his back more often, but it won't help Ahman Green find his way back into the top tier of NFL running backs. If Green was that bad last year with Wahle pulling across the line and serving as his lead blocker, imagine what the Packer running game will look like with out the Every Play Counts All-Pro Guard on the line.

As bad as the Packers were at running the ball last year, they were even worse at stopping the run. Way too much has already been written about Grady Jackson on this website already through our short history, but you can't overstate how important he has been to the Green Bay defense the past few seasons. Without him at 100%, opposing running backs should have little problem getting to the second layer of the Packer defense. That, combined with Green Bay's inability to contain opposing running backs catching passes out of the backfield, should lead to linebacker Nick Barnett putting up a huge number of tackles again this season. Unfortunately for Packer fans, most of those tackles will come after the opposing runner has crossed the computer generated yellow line. UNDER.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers

O/U: 10
2004 Record: 15-1
2005 Home Opponents: TEN, NE, JAC, BAL, CLE, CIN, CHI, DET
2005 Road Opponents: HOU, SD, CIN, GB, BAL, IND, MIN, CLE

Al: Wow, this looks like an easy schedule. New England, San Diego, Indianapolis, and two games against Baltimore. Those should be the only games on the schedule where the Steelers don't enter the game as a prohibitive favorite. I'm not a huge fan of what Pittsburgh did this off-season, but with this slate of games they have to make it to double digits in wins.

I would have liked to see Pittsburgh pick up a younger back to play behind 30-year old Duce Staley and 33-year old Jerome Bettis. Even the biggest Plaxico Burress hater has to admit that the drop off from him to Cedrick Wilson should be fairly steep. The starting right side of their offensive line is gone from last year, replaced by an inexperienced tackle and a guard looking to come back from a reconstructed ACL.

But who cares, look at that schedule again. It's a joke that a team can go 15-1 one season and end up with one of the easiest schedules in the league the next. The Steeler offense will have to take more than a slight step back for Pittsburgh to not end up with at least 11 wins. OVER.

Vivek: Opposing teams raided the Steelers during the offseason, but Steelers will not take much of a hit from those departures. Kendrell Bell (Chiefs) and Chad Scott (Patriots) were bigger names than impact players on the field last season after their injury and reserve role, respectively. Larry Foote more than surpassed expectations last year in place of Bell. The defense will return as strong as it was last year.

Plaxico Burress, regardless of his self valuation as a #1 receiver, was a great second option. His loss means that Antwaan Randle El slides into the #2 slot, and if Hines Ward holds out, you might bet on a sophomore slump from Ben Roethlisberger. Rookie tight end Heath Miller will be an immediate threat as a receiver over the middle for Roethlisberger, and his role may increase exponentially barring the outcome of the Ward drama.

Al is a bit more pessimistic about the Steeler offensive line with new starters Kendall Simmons and Max Starks, but they should be capable replacements on the right side of the line. The problem, however, is now depth on the line.

I'll go with the assumption that Ward makes his fifth straight Pro Bowl appearance and this team still challenges for the AFC title. OVER.

Baltimore Ravens

O/U: 9.5
2004 Record: 9-7
2005 Home Opponents: IND, NYJ, CLE, CIN, PIT, HOU, GB, MIN
2005 Road Opponents: TEN, DET, CHI, PIT, JAC, CIN, DEN, CLE

Vivek: Is it just me or is every team trying to bolster its receiver corps? The Ravens had one of the biggest coups in the offseason by swapping out Kevin Johnson and Travis Taylor for All-Pro Derrick Mason and first round pick Mark Clayton. Add in 6'6" "jump ball" receiver Clarence Moore, and Kyle Boller has all the tools he needs to succeed. Jim Fassel finally gets back into coaching by replacing Matt Cavanaugh, who was not able to groom Kyle Boller at all. Defenses won't be able to jam the line to stop Jamal Lewis this year with viable passing options for Boller. Another 2000-yard rushing season could be in the works.

Linebacker Ed Hartwell bolted for Atlanta, but the team now has Ray Lewis, newcomer Tommy Polley, and rookie Dan Cody in that group. Titans' cap casualty Samari Rolle joins Chris McCallister and Ed Reed in what Deion Sanders called the best secondary ever assembled. And for a change, Deion isn't necessarily over the top in this case. The personnel in the secondary will allow new defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to run some 46 defense schemes. The 46 defense requires a strong linebacking corps and a secondary that can handle man coverage, exactly what the Ravens have. This will allow Ray Lewis to stalk his prey like he did a few years ago. The corners and safeties should also pile up a handful of sacks with blitz schemes. And if you were wondering, yes, Rex Ryan is the son of Buddy Ryan.

This team should be in the race for the division title until the end. OVER.

Al: I can see which division won the easy schedule lottery this year.

Is this the year Kyle Boller finally becomes an effective NFL quarterback? I think so. He finally has some legitimate wide receivers to work with, Mason and Clayton. A healthy Jonathan Ogden will give Boller a few extra seconds to find his new targets downfield.

Somehow, the Ravens found a way to improve the best pass defense in the league by adding Samari Rolle at cornerback. Add in Pro Bowler Chris McAllister and Deion Sanders as a nickel back, and no one will have a chance of going downfield on Baltimore this season. OVER.

Cincinnati Bengals

O/U: 7.5
2004 Record: 8-8
2005 Home Opponents: MIN, HOU, PIT, GB, IND, BAL, CLE, BUF
2005 Road Opponents: CLE, CHI, JAC, TEN, BAL, PIT, DET, KC

Al: I don't have any concerns about Cincinnati's offense. With Carson Palmer, Rudi Johnson, Chad Johnson, T.J. Whosyourdaddy, and a solid offensive line, the Bengals shouldn't have problems moving the ball down the field on most teams. The biggest question for me is whether the work-in-progress defense can be consistently effective. The unit has improved under Marvin Lewis from awful in 2003 to average last season.

Cincinnati hasn't done enough to improve the #22 run defense in the league. Other than their otherworldly ability to stop runs over the opposing right tackle, the Bengal defensive line struggled mightily from stopping opposing running backs from getting past them. Adding former Bear Bryan Robinson should help clog up the middle, but won't help stop the opposition from breaking off runs to the outside. UNDER.

Vivek: It is hard to not improve after yielding 130 yards per game on the ground. That's not a comforting thought for Cincinnati fans when Jamal Lewis, Jerome Bettis/Duce Staley, Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee, Ahman Green, Kevin Jones, and Priest Holmes are on the schedule for nine games this season. The Cincy tackles still will not be able plug the gaps and there will once again be little support from the secondary. The Bengals used their first two draft picks on George linebackers David Pollack and Odell Thurman, but are asking a lot if the team expects the duo to spark this defense. UNDER.

Cleveland Browns

O/U: 5
2004 Record: 4-12
2005 Home Opponents: CIN, CHI, DET, TEN, MIA, JAC, PIT, BAL
2005 Road Opponents: GB, IND, BAL, HOU, PIT, MIN, CIN, OAK

Al: This one will get ugly fast. If Cleveland can't win their home opener against Cincinnati, the Browns don't have a good shot at a win until Week 9 when Tennessee comes into town. Are you excited about seeing Trent Dilfer and Ruben Droughns in your backfield Browns fans? I wouldn't be either. The entire 2004 defensive line has been shipped to Denver, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in the long run, but it means that the Browns will not be especially deep there this year. The Brown pass rush was below average last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. It should continue to be among the worst in the league as Romeo Crennel takes a year or two to build the 3-4 defense of his dreams. UNDER.

Vivek: This team could conceivably go winless on the road. Thank god for the inevitable upset and surprise win. Trent Dilfer is not the savior, nor will Braylon Edwrds be the go to receiver in his rookie season. I accept the fact that I don't have the mind of a defensive coordinator, but I don't anticipate teams formulating game plans to stop Dennis Northcutt. Maybe the Browns will win some games on the ground, but that scenario is also up in the air as they still don't have a bone fide starter in Droughns and Lee Suggs.

If you want to praise some offseason moves by the Cleveland front office, it was cleaning a lot of dead weight by not bringing back Courtney Brown, Jeff Garcia, Ebenezer Ekuban, and Gerard Warren. That is one example of addition by subtraction. You can be sure that new general manager Phil Savage, a terrific talent evaluator, will not make the same mistakes in the draft. Unfortunately for Cleveland fans, this year's draft will not have much of an impact. UNDER.

Next week: AFC South and NFC South.

Posted by: scramble on 04 Aug 2005

49 comments, Last at 10 Sep 2010, 3:10am by uggs outlet

Comments

1
by BillT (not verified) :: Thu, 08/04/2005 - 6:37pm

No kidding? My book has the Bears o/u at 7. Damn.

2
by SteelerBill (not verified) :: Thu, 08/04/2005 - 8:37pm

Here we go Steelers, here we go!!

3
by Vince (not verified) :: Thu, 08/04/2005 - 8:39pm

I've been high on the Bengals, but it's hard to argue with what you guys say.

I've also been high on the Vikings, and I'm still high on the Vikings. Culpepper seemed to do just fine without #84, and their defensive upgrades have been huge.

4
by Tim L (not verified) :: Thu, 08/04/2005 - 8:43pm

I would think the Vikes win the division pretty easily. Only Detroit appears to be much of a challenge, and no francise that rehires Matt Millen after his disastrous track record has any business winning an NFL division. I think that's in the league charter somewhere.

5
by Gonzo (not verified) :: Thu, 08/04/2005 - 9:58pm

The Vikings will be just fine offensively. Don't underestimate just how important a healthy Jim Kleinsasser is going to be to the Minnesota offense, either. Without him, there was NO edge running game last year in Minnesota. . .this year, with him turning linebackers into mulch again, the Minnesota running game will get back to what it had been in 2002 and 2003.

And, oh yeah, that Culpepper fella is still one of the 3-4 best QBs in the NFL. And I'll go way out on a limb and predict that Minnesota's defense this year will be the best it's been in about a decade.

6
by Basilicus (not verified) :: Thu, 08/04/2005 - 10:18pm

"And, oh yeah, that Culpepper fella is still one of the 3-4 best QBs in the NFL. And I’ll go way out on a limb and predict that Minnesota’s defense this year will be the best it’s been in about a decade."

In my opinion, a lot of that is negated by the Vikings being run by the worst coach in the league.

I've got the divisions going:

NFC NORTH

Green Bay 10-6 Over
Chicago 8-8 Over
Detroit 6-10 Under
Minnesota 6-10 Under

I think the Packers hold up better than most suspect, and the Bears have one of the best young defenses in the league. If their offense even gets to average, they'll be dangerous. Detroit has so many problems, but I think Minnesota's defense won't gel immediately and their offense will struggle in playcalling and game management.

and

AFC NORTH

Cincinnati 9-7 Over
Pittsburgh 9-7 Under
Cleveland 9-7 Over
Baltimore 8-8 Under

I expect the Bengals to be very dangerous, Roethlisberger and the Steeler running game to both take a step back, Cleveland to surprise, play hard, and contend in a year in which they'll prove they're a year away, and Baltimore to step back on defense as they step up on offense.

7
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Thu, 08/04/2005 - 11:13pm

Wow, I'm a Bengals fan and was feeling pretty optimistic before I read this. I've regained some of my optimism now though.
I think the addition of Robinson will stiffen the interior of the line and Thurman was a beast against the run in college (I live in Georgia, so have had occasion to observe first-hand)
It's always tough to judge a schedule in pre-season, so think about this: the Steelers play the Vikings and Colts away, the Bengals get both teams in Cincinnati. (playing the Colts outdoors, at home in late Nov has to be better than playing them in Indy right?)
Always fun to speculate before the season. Thanks for the analysis.

8
by Gonzo (not verified) :: Thu, 08/04/2005 - 11:25pm

"In my opinion, a lot of that is negated by the Vikings being run by the worst coach in the league."

The Vikings went out and hired Mike Martz or Jack Del Rio when I wasn't looking?

Man. . .they need to consult me on this stuff before they do it.

9
by andrew (not verified) :: Thu, 08/04/2005 - 11:59pm

Minnesota didn't just lose moss, they lost Scott Linehan. They promoted internally with Steve Loney, so I guess there is some continuity, but he is definitely unproven. I do think Kleinsasser will help tremendously, assuming he can stay injury free.

10
by Arkaein (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 12:39am

Curses! I should have waited one more day to post my excessively long essay on Why The Packers Demise Has Been Greatly Exagerrated (click link, scroll down to comment #27 to read it). In summary I broke down the Packers by position, coaching and relative strength of division opponents to see if I could come up with a qualitative (though subjective) argument for or against the Packers decline, by valuing changes from 2004 to 2005 in terms of win/loss value. My analysis says the Pack should be about the same in 2005, going 10-6.

Because the values I assigned are subjective I'd really like to hear feedback from anyone who would like to argue any of the values I assigned. Trying to quantify the loss of Wahle and Rivera vs. the return of Flanagan and the new defensive scheme of Jim Bates is a bit of a black art, and I'd like to know if I'm onto something with my analysis or if I just sound like was on something when I wrote it.

11
by Basilicus (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 1:31am

"The Vikings went out and hired Mike Martz or Jack Del Rio when I wasn’t looking?"

Well, while I consider Del Rio a close second to Tice as worst coach in the league, Mike Martz is 51-29 as a coach. That's a .638 win percentage. Pretty dang good. While I will admit he has some glaring faults, I still consider Martz in the top half of active coaches.

12
by Basilicus (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 2:12am

To add on to my previous comment, here are the records of coaches who have been a head coach for a team each of these past five years, with number of playoff appearances in that time in parentheses:

1. Andy Reid: 59-21 (five)
2. Bill Cowher: 53-26-1 (three)
3. Bill Belichick: 53-27 (three)
3. Tony Dungy: 53-27 (five)
3. Mike Sherman: 53-27 (four)
6. Mike Martz: 51-29 (four)
7. Brian Billick: 48-32 (three)
7. Mike Shanahan: 48-32 (three)
7. Jeff Fisher: 48-32 (three)
10. John Gruden: 46-34 (three)
11. Jim Haslett: 42-38 (one)
12. Mike Holmgren: 41-39 (two)
13. Steve Mariucci: 39-41 (two)

To me, any coach who can lead a team to over 50 regular season victories and four playoff appearances in five seasons does not need replacing and doesn't deserve to be called the worst active coach in the game.

13
by Israel (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 5:03am

Re Pittsburgh's easy schedule, the only important comparisons are inside the division. Let's grant that the difference among the opponents from the AFC West is not significant, so the Steelers "first-place" schedule doesn't mean much. Against the AFC East, it certainly does, with the Steelers getting NE.

The home-away comparisons have some significance and as #7 points out, the Steelers have the Colts and the Vikings indoors. Green Bay in Wisconsin, as well.

But the biggest difference between the Steelers and the rest of the division is that they are the only ones who don't have to play a 15-1 team twice. Not much you can do about that, is there!

14
by Arkaein (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 10:02am

Basilicus, your list in comment #12 is the biggest reason why I'm really disappointed that the Packers haven't offered Mike Sherman a contract extension.

Yes, Sherman's teams have struggled in the playoffs. However when you look at that record it's really hard to believe that bringing in anyone else will be an improvement. Looking in the back of the Pro Football Prospectus, we also see tat Sherman is one of the top ten coaches in protecting a lead heading into the 4th quarter.

I think two many people see what they perceive to be a problem and decide that they must fix it, even when "fixing" it is far likely to make it worse. Even with playoff problems, a new coach would be much more likely to have a worse record and no one could know whether they would be any more successful in the playoffs.

Sherman was a below average GM, and I was glad to see him replaced in that role. But the Packers would be making a mistake to fire him as coach as well.

15
by JMM (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 10:53am

"I would have liked to see Pittsburgh pick up a younger back to play behind 30-year old Duce Staley and 33-year old Jerome Bettis."

You might want to watch Willie Parker's 2nd half against the Bills in last year's final game.

As to Pitt's passing game, if they can learn to throw to RB's and TE's in addition to HW and other WO's, they will be just fine.

16
by El Angelo (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 11:35am

This is why the NFC is so sub-par. There isn't a single team in the NFC North that's a legitimate >.500 team, much like the NFC West. Throw in Tampa Bay and Washington, and that's 10 bad teams we're looking at. At least one (if not 2) of that crew will get to 9-10 wins, but it doesn't mean they're any good---SOMEONE has to win those games.

17
by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 12:56pm

This will be the first time in over a decade that the Vikings don’t have a wide receiver worth owning in most fantasy leagues.

In the Yahoo leagues, you start 3 WRs, plus you usually have a backup. With 12 teams, you seem to be saying that Burleson isn't in the top 48 WRs in football. That's a bit extreme.

18
by buddha (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 1:06pm

What about the Bears makes anyone think they're good?

They moved Tait to LT after saying all last year that he couldn't play the position (there's a reason KC let him go), signed ancient Fred Miller, and they think this will improve the worst OLine in football?

Then they sign 67 year old Mushin Methusala to play the role of #1 WR and tutor who exactly at #2? Justin Gage?

They draft the Cedric "Is that me or Ron Dayne in Big Games?" Benson and don't sign him.

They stick with Chad Hutchinson at back-up QB. And let's be honest, after week 3 or 4 he'll be starting after Grossman breaks one of his metatarsals. CHAD HUTCHINSON! He makes Joey Harrington look like an average QB!

The secondary is a mess. Mike Brown was their best player and he's coming off of a ruptured achilles tendon. It's not like those things are easy to heal (or heel, as it were). Charles Tillman was average last season. Jerry Azumah is hurt again.

Their front seven is productive and should get better, but it's by no means a given.

"Easy" schedule or not, I have a hard time seeing this team winning more than 5 or 6 games. I'd never take the OVER on the Bears. Not this year.

19
by Jamie (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 3:25pm

Re: the Vikings' receivers, I understand that Burlison's production went down when Moss wasn't in there. But then who did catch passes in that situation? I don't have Culpepper's game log in front of me- did his numbers decline as well?

I can understand not having Moss hurting Burlison's numbers, but will it actually hurt Culpepper's? I mean, this happens all the time- a guy becomes the #1, starts getting double-teamed, and the #2 starts getting better production. Is that the case here?

20
by Brandon (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 3:48pm

How could anyone not love the Bears?
They have two former Pro Bowl Tackles, how can their offensive line not improve?
They sign Mushin Muhammed, who may have been the league’s most dominant receiver last year to tutor a spectacular athlete in Justin Gage (who is 6’4 and boasts a 40+ inch vert)
They draft one of the all time college greats in Cedric Benson, who had over 140 yards in every game at Texas last year, except against Oklahoma’s stellar defense (where he still got 125 total yards despite being keyed on).
They stick with Hutchinson for a backup QB. While not stellar, Hutchinson has a provided typical backup QB numbers, with a career 69.1 rating. That’s higher than Lions start JOEY HARRINGTON!
The secondary looks solid with Pro Bowl quality safety Mike Brown showing no lingering affects from his injured Achilles. These days injuries are usually well heeled. Charles Tillman continued to improve last year and should be very solid. Jerry Azumah should be healthy by the start of the season.
The front seven is outstanding with stars like Urlacher and Briggs. Also, Tommie Harris is a burgeoning star at DT and could become one of the top DTs in the league with his added size.
With such an easy schedule, its hard not to see the Bears winning 8 or 9 games. I’d take the over on the Bears. This year.
I know that sounds kind of snarky, but the real point is that its really east to just say stuff without supporting evidence. Also, I think its a mistake to be really assertive about any preseason prediction. You could make the same point and counterpoint analysis for almost any team going into the season (except the niners).

21
by NYCowboy (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 4:09pm

#6, I am very curious as to what makes you think the Browns are going 9-7. Is it Dilfer? Antonio Bryant? That stellar defense they've had for the longest time? This team will be lucky to even go 6-10.

22
by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 4:41pm

I'm sure everyone is sick of hearing about how good we think Kevin Jones can be this year.

No, really, not all of us are. Please, keep telling us. :)

23
by Reinhard (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 4:49pm

Hey, Brandon, his achilles will be "well heeled." Yeah, very punny, heh.

The 49ers 2006 campaign will immediatly benefit by getting about 30% of their cap space back. Julian Peterson, one of the elite linebackers in the league, is being put into a 3-4 scheme that will maximize his explosiveness and athleticism. As much as the loss of Jonas Jennings puts doubts on McGahee's running, it will benefit the two-headed running attack. Let's not forget that for the first four or five weeks, or something, the 49ers had a player that led the league in receptions, despite being their only weapon. An improved ability to play-action will set up Eric Johnson for first downs, and long gains. Alex Smith is a rookie quarterback, but he knows what is expected of him, and we all know SFs historical success with quarterbacks.

24
by buddha (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 5:30pm

"I know that sounds kind of snarky, but the real point is that its really east to just say stuff without supporting evidence."

You definitely made this point. : )

25
by Stiller Fan in Cle (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 6:26pm

I also don't believe the Browns can win 9 (Re #6). The main (and subjective) reason is that they are battling with SF and Miami for the least raw talent in the league. Crennel will have them playing hard, and they do have an easy schedule outside their division, but I can't see them beating teams for 60 minutes. I think they'll sneak up on some teams and maybe pull out a couple, but I think they'll fall right on the O/U line and win 5.

26
by Basilicus (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 6:27pm

#19 - "I understand that Burlison’s production went down when Moss wasn’t in there. But then who did catch passes in that situation? I don’t have Culpepper’s game log in front of me- did his numbers decline as well?"

Well, I'm too lazy to delve into the receivers' numbers, but Culpepper's numbers definitely went down when Moss wasn't there...this said, Culpepper's 'down numbers' are still better than most QBs.

2004 Culpepper with Moss: 266 of 382 (69.6%) for 3,538 yards (9.26 ypa), 30 TDs and 8 INTs
2004 Culpepper without Moss: 113 of 167 (67.7%) for 1,179 yards (7.06 ypa), 9 TDs and 3 INTs

Re #18 and #20: The Bears had a good, young defense last year with a lot of injuries and a pathetic offense with a lot of injuries. Now they have a lot of those players back, they made some free agent signings and had a strong draft, and a lot of those younger players will continue developing. They dumped a pretty bad offensive coordinator and signed ron turner, who will institute a between-the-tackles running-based offense. I don't think they'll be playoff contenders, necessarily, but especially in the NFC North seven to nine wins seems pretty likely to me.

#21: "I am very curious as to what makes you think the Browns are going 9-7. Is it Dilfer? Antonio Bryant? That stellar defense they’ve had for the longest time? This team will be lucky to even go 6-10."

I like Dilfer a lot...he's perfect for their system in that the way he plays now is simply to avoid mistakes and to be solid rather than to make big plays. Kind of like a very poor man's Tom Brady.

Also, the 2004 Browns have dropped their defensive line that was dead last in rushing TDs allowed but haven't deconstructed a young and talented back eight that last year as a back seven was fifth in passing TDs allowed. As for Antonio Bryant, the Browns definitely got the better end of that trade. I like the Reuben Droughns acquisition a lot and I feel that all these shifts should put them in position to contend in the division as long as they (this'll sound a bit cliche) stay tough and don't give up when they struggle. I see the Ravens also taking a step back because I expect their defense to fall back to the pack a bit while their offense gets better but can't quite make up for that step back. I don't have faith that Lewis/Taylor will be as solid as they've been rushing in the past, though I do expect Boller to start looking like a career quarterback. I also like Roethlisberger to stay strong but struggle more and that aged running game to start looking it. The Bengals are my favorites to win that division this year. I picture the Browns as a team that will endure two or three seasons of 7-9, 8-8, and 9-7 seasons as they build towards a playoff team. So I suppose a lot of conjecture goes into this, but it does for anyone trying to predict how a team's going to do, as our Bears disagreement displays. I'm curious if anyone else agrees that the Browns will be a minor surprise this year.

27
by Gonzo (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 7:12pm

"To me, any coach who can lead a team to over 50 regular season victories and four playoff appearances in five seasons does not need replacing and doesn’t deserve to be called the worst active coach in the game."

With all due respect. . .after the gutlessness Martz showed in the playoff loss to the Panthers a couple years back, I have a hard time calling him one of the best anything.

15 yards from the end zone with THAT offense, a minute left on the clock, a time out in your pocket, and you decide you want to play for the tie? Sorry. . .but I sure as hell don't want that guy coaching my team. I don't care what his regular season record is.

Also, Mike Martz inherited a team coming off a Super Bowl victory. Mike Tice inherited the mess that Denny Green left behind after running the Vikings into the ground.

28
by Josh (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 7:52pm

I think you have to give Cincinnati's defense the benefit of a doubt this season. The biggest problem they had last season was player confusion. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and Marvin Lewis simply coached by differenct philosophies, and the players were often hearing two different things concerning assignments. The new D. Coordinator, Bob Bratkowski, is much closer to Marvin Lewis in terms of coaching philosophy. The Bengals' defense might not rival Balitimore's just yet, but look for them to be much more efficient than last season.

29
by Basilicus (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 8:00pm

Denny Green left a mess? He lead the Vikings to a 36-12 record in the three years before one season in which he went 5-10. The 'mess' he left included Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss, Jim Kleinsasser, Michael Bennett, Byron Chamberlain. Green's last season was the first time in five years the Vikings finished out of the top ten in offensive yards, and they finished a terrible twelfth. I'm sorry, but Green left the beginnings of a new perennial playoff team behind for Tice. Without Linehan and Moss, I expect some decent struggling.

As for Martz, I also disagree with his decision in that particular playoff game against the Panthers. He makes dumb decisions. But he's such a good coach in certain other ways that he makes up for these gaffes well enough to have gone 51-29 in five seasons. So either everyone else sucks much worse than Martz or he's actually got some value as a coach. Bad coaches don't do that well for that prolonged a period of time.

Oh, and for whatever it's worth on the Bears discussion Madden has said he expects the Bears to contend for the division title this year.

30
by dead meadow (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 8:29pm

Well, seeing as everyone likes the over for the Steelers at 10 games, I suggest you get your bet in quick as the oddsmakers don't agree - 8/11 for the under as against evens for the over.

31
by Gonzo (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 9:53pm

"Denny Green left a mess? He lead the Vikings to a 36-12 record in the three years before one season in which he went 5-10. The ‘mess’ he left included Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss, Jim Kleinsasser, Michael Bennett, Byron Chamberlain. Green’s last season was the first time in five years the Vikings finished out of the top ten in offensive yards, and they finished a terrible twelfth. I’m sorry, but Green left the beginnings of a new perennial playoff team behind for Tice. Without Linehan and Moss, I expect some decent struggling."

The "mess" Denny Green left included $30 million in dead salary cap space that was being paid to the likes of Ed McDaniel, Orlando Thomas, Jeff Christy, and Randall McDaniel. I believe one of them was still on the Vikings roster when Green left town. . .maybe two.

Not to mention the fact that he handed a then-38 year old Randall Cunningham an outrageously huge contract extension after the '98 season, only to see him be completely off the roster before the kickoff of the '00 season. The Vikes just finished paying for that contract a couple of seasons ago.

Yes, he left behind Culpepper, Bennett, Birk, Kleinsasser, etc. He also left behind a defense that featured Robert Tate (a converted WR) and Wasswa Serwanga starting at CB, Tyrone Carter starting at S, guys like Lemanski Hall starting at LB, etc. I don't know how the heck that team ever managed to hold any opponent under 40 points. No team is going to be a "perennial playoff contender" with a defense that bad, but that's exactly what Denny Green left Mike Tice with.

Under Green's watch, the Vikings defense got more and more pathetic every year. They looked good statistically in '98, but constantly playing with a 20+ point lead has a way of making defenses look good. How much of a mess did Green leave behind? Here's a list of players that were on the Vikings' roster at the end of Green's last season that are still on the team now:

Daunte Culpepper
Michael Bennett
Matt Birk
Jim Kleinsasser
Lance Johnstone
Chris Liwienski
Cory Withrow

That's it. . .that's the list! A whole 7 players are left from the Denny Green "era" in Minnesota. And a whopping 1 of them on the defensive side of the ball. That's a whole lot of turnover.

Denny Green left Tice a mess, and I'm surprised the Vikings managed to come out of it as quickly as they did.

32
by Peder (not verified) :: Fri, 08/05/2005 - 11:48pm

Gonzo, you beat me to the punch. Five good (and great) offensive players is not enough to make a winning team. Some talent on the other side of the ball is kinda important too.

33
by smash mouth football (not verified) :: Sat, 08/06/2005 - 1:54am

Re: 6 and others

Not meaning any disrespect, but on what basis do the Browns leap from horrible to playoff contenders? I can't see the Browns BETTER than the Ravens and as good as the Steelers and Bengals. Count me as someone who picks the Browns in the range 5-7 wins.

I do think Crennel will have them playing hard, and Savage is a good personnel man. But I think the rebuild will take 2-3 years before they achieve a winning record. And I don't think Trent Dilfer is more than a backup QB.

As for the Ravens, they'll be better than last year. The odds they'll sustain so many key injuries again are just not that great, and their offense is going to be better. This team wins at least 10, and possibly as many as 12 games.

34
by Jerry F. (not verified) :: Sat, 08/06/2005 - 2:11am

"And let’s be honest, after week 3 or 4 he’ll be starting after Grossman breaks one of his metatarsals."

I've been hearing this a lot about Grossman. People seem to think that if a player has ever had a season-ending injury he won't be able to make it through a season ever again. Yes, they have a bad line, but it wasn't even because of the line that he hurt his knee last year.

35
by whatever (not verified) :: Sat, 08/06/2005 - 4:15am

The people making these predictions are retarded. Take a look at last year's stats with the predictions. A monkey randomly selecting over or under could have done as well. Funniest one I read was how high they were on Washington.

36
by Heath (not verified) :: Sat, 08/06/2005 - 12:04pm

As a Browns apologist (which can be seen throughout multiple messages on this fine quality website from last year) this team has direction for this first time since the mid-80's. Direction has a way of working wonders. They actually also have ownership and management working together to improve quality. We might actually be able to use the words "stability" "Cleveland" and "football" in the same sentence. (Kellen Winslow not included)

I think Frye's the QB of the future and will probably see him this year since Dilfer's never healthy for 16 games - The running attack should be interesting to say the least and the OL is actually improved. The defense is going to be lost for a few games sorting this 3-4 thing out. What the Browns have is no depth. Anywhere. (Unless you are 6 deep in line at the men's room at Cleveland Browns Stadium)

Will this translate this into wins? Probably not. Will this team end up with the number one draft choice? No. Will this team suck as many think? No.

Personally I think the 2005 season is going to cause some Browns fans anxiety attacks or weight losses due to the gut-renching they are going to be subjecting themselves to this year. I'm thinking 5 wins will be the actual number, 6 wins thinking as a fan and 7 as being over the top. This team will be in many if not all the games this year. Crennel will not let them quit.

37
by tucker (not verified) :: Sat, 08/06/2005 - 12:54pm

Not being a browns fan I am fairly shocked at how logical you sound,Heath.

38
by bookie bob (not verified) :: Sat, 08/06/2005 - 4:00pm

I think the Bears line is either outdated or wrong - vegasinsider, the supposed source of lines tells me it opened at 6.5 and is now at 7.

39
by tucker (not verified) :: Sat, 08/06/2005 - 4:18pm

The ravens improved on offense, will stay the same on defense. Cincinati is getting better offensively, made a slight upgrade on D. Pittsburgh didn't do a whole heck of a lot on either side of the ball. Their running game is suspect because of age and the defense lost a few key players. The browns really cant do any worse. Applying this analysis to last seasons results gives us these predictions.Ravens 10-6
Steelers 9-7
Cincinati 9-7
Browns 6-10

40
by Israel (not verified) :: Sat, 08/06/2005 - 4:32pm

#39 writes about the Steelers "Their running game is suspect because of age and the defense lost a few key players. "

They lost no one significant on defense - Kendrell Bell and Chad Scott were mostly injured. Their losses this year are on offense, particularly the line. Starks is untested and Simmons may hold down Bell's spot - and they have no real backup for either.

41
by Basilicus (not verified) :: Sat, 08/06/2005 - 9:59pm

I have to agree with the criticisms of the Steelers. They're still a playoff team, but they'll fall back to the pack a bit.

I just realized that Bill Cowher has 130 regular season wins in 13 seasons and in that span his teams have only missed the postseason four times. That's just amazing.

I was impressed by the Bills and disappointed by the Packers in their Green Bay Fan Day scrimmage. Losman looked raw and he made a lot of misjudgements, but the Packers D was just not together enough to take advantage of any of them. Losman did look farther along than I expected, though. He looked a lot more collected and his footwork looks very much improved.

The geek side of me was also highly amused that for a highlight montage during the fourth quarter of the Colts-Falcons game, they played a piece of music from Unreal Tournament.

42
by somebody (not verified) :: Sun, 08/07/2005 - 1:16pm

RE 41:

Speaking of disappointing scrimmages, i just saw highlights of the redskins-ravens scrimmage from baltimore. As a redskins fan i'll just say the jason campbell era hopefully will start before the leaves turn brown.

43
by Heath (not verified) :: Sun, 08/07/2005 - 8:59pm

Re: #37 - (seems the chic thing to do)

Tucker - are you shocked that I'm personally logical? Or, that a Brownie fan as myself is logical? If you think I'm a logical Browns fan, there are actual others with using their heads for more than a hat rack around here.(Pardon me as I type this with tongue firmly in cheek)

I think Aaron's even thinking of how cool orange & brown might look -

FWIW - I hope to goodness we don't see Ol' Romeo in the all orange polo from last year. Nice guy - I hope he sticks to the grays and browns - the big fella in orange may cause some techinical difficulties on some TV games.

I've been deprogramming "Butchdavis-ese" for the last 8 months - maybe I'm brain-washed - or "I'm blogging with character or guts" (Butch Davis' inside joke). Here in Cleveland Browns Nation, it is refreshing to hear Romeo Crennel-talk. Direct, flat, mono-tone and to the point.

44
by MCS (not verified) :: Mon, 08/08/2005 - 8:23pm

Regarding comment 14. Arkaein, I've been saying the same thing in the discussions on this site for some time now. Sherman has made some bad calls, but all-in-all he is a strong X's and O's guy and a weak GM. This season should tell the story about Sherman. I should note that I have also stated that one and out does not make a successful coach. Expectations are higher than that in any city not named Detroit.

Other Comments: Visiting family in GB and I had some time to watch some of today's practices. Note that unlike the fine Lions practice facility in Allen Park, MI (for those that don't know, I live in the Detroit area), the Packers provide bleachers for the 1500+ people that were freely watching today's practices.

Nothing compares to football in Green Bay. Nothing.

Yes, I'm a homer.

A couple of comments:

1. I like Bates. He is full of fire and he is the first guy to get in the face of his defenders about their play. . . either good or bad.

2. Rodgers looks sharp. Nall does not.

3. Favre is still a clown. Laughing and joking his way through practice. Although he still finds time to advise Rodgers and O'Sullivan.

He looks to have dropped a bunch of weight. No man-crush or anything, but he looks lean and mean (my wife took as many butt shots as she could get). I think he realizes that this is probably his last shot.

I think the reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.

45
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Tue, 08/09/2005 - 8:26am

All the strong defense in the world won't help the Steelers win a mean division if they can't put points on the board, and right now it looks quite plausible that a combination of losses to an already shallow O-line group and age and injuries at RB will cause a serious fall-off in the running game. Throw in the loss of Burress and Ward's hold-out, and I think we may be starting to see reasons beyond the psychological why Roethlisburger could struggle this season. He's going to have to be good at a whole lot more than handing off for the Steelers to win.

46
by Jef Flournoy (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 9:08am

I don't see the Browns having one easy win on their schedule. Sometimes low numbers can scare people away but 5 looks high for the Browns. Thanks for the info!!

47
by Bryan (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 1:22pm

Ok -- I'm a huge Steelers fan, but I don't understand how people think the Ravens are not going to be REALLY good this year. Their offense is predicated upon the run, but Boller should have his best year with two legitimate passing threats now. I've been saying this for years, and I still firmly believe it -- there is NO ONE better after the catch than Mark Clayton. He will make a huge impact.

The defense will probably be the best in the league. They are fielding hands-down the best secondary ever. Samari Rolle is a top 8 CB, McAllister is a top 5 CB, Ed Reed is the best defensive player in the league (over 300 yards of interception return last year -- are you KIDDING me???), Demps is an above average safety, and Deion is tied with Aaron Glenn as the best nickel back this year.

Their front 7 is for the most part still in tact.

So, you have probably the best D in the league, a very solid offensive line with an outstanding RB, and a WR corps that just got dramatically improved.

Steelers/Ravens/Colts will win the AFC this year, with Vikings/Cowboys winning the NFC. Should be a fun ride.

48
by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Thu, 01/26/2006 - 2:38pm

This thread has some of the most fun predictions:

"And, oh yeah, that Culpepper fella is still one of the 3-4 best QBs in the NFL. And I’ll go way out on a limb and predict that Minnesota’s defense this year will be the best it’s been in about a decade. "

"My analysis says the Pack should be about the same in 2005, going 10-6."

"“Easy� schedule or not, I have a hard time seeing this team winning more than 5 or 6 games. I’d never take the OVER on the Bears. Not this year."

"Ok — I’m a huge Steelers fan, but I don’t understand how people think the Ravens are not going to be REALLY good this year. "

There are one or two accurate predictions, as well.

49
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