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04 Aug 2006

Scramble for the Ball: AFC Over-Unders Part I

Ian: Howdy! And welcome to another Scramble for the Ball favorite: Over/Under predictions on team wins for the upcoming season. We're breaking the column up into four parts: Bad AFC, Good AFC, Bad NFC and Good NFC. Today, we're kicking things off with the bad AFC teams.

Bill: You write one thing about football cards and the next week, ESPN and Yahoo have front page articles about the card industry. There goes that idea. Wait -- did someone mention sports betting talk? I already feel better. Let's do this.

Houston Texans (o/u 5.5)

Ian: Wow, talk about a tough way to start the season. The Texans' first four games are vs. PHI, @IND, vs. WAS, vs. MIA, then they have the bye week. If you're keeping score at home, going into Week 6 the Texans will be 0-4, and the rest of their games will become much less important to their fans and the media than the never-ending "Reggie Bush" debate.

It's a shame, really, because I do think they'll be a better team than they have been. I think Eric Moulds and Andre Johnson will have respectable seasons, and give Domanick Davis some running room (if he's ever healthy). But I think many solid performances will come in losing efforts.

They have some winnable matchups in the second half, but not enough to make up for a disastrous start to the season. That's why I'm going Underhere.

Bill: I'm not convinced the guy who was 64th in WR DVOA last year -- and hasn't been on the positive side of the DVOA ledger since 2000 -- is going to create that much space for Andre Johnson or Domanick Davis. If the Texans are going to win six games, their defense is going to have to improve. Fortunately for them, they can't get any lower -- their 21.2% DVOA was last in the league last year. How much better will they get? Well, Mario Williams will certainly help. For the years we have data, the teams that finished last in defensive DVOA averaged a rank of 23rd the year after; in 2005, the Vikings improved to 19th after their dead last finish in 2004.

All that said, they certainly do have an ugly start to the season. I'm really high on the Texans in '07, but this is a year for learning Gary Kubiak's system and trying to build some sort of stable foundation in Texas. I predict that David Carr will, for the fifth season running, not once have to worry about buying any of his offensive linemen watches, dinner, candy, Otto's BBQ, light rail fare... Under.

Tennessee Titans (o/u 5.5)

Ian: Nice to see that Tennessee starts with a home game against the Jets, which should get their season off on a positive note. But it's all downhill from there. @SD, @MIA, DAL, @IND, @WAS, then the bye week. If I thought they had a strong chance of sweeping the Texans this season, I'd figure they could scrounge out six wins, but I don't even see that happening.

They've got a mess of running backs and a new starting quarterback, and when they enter their bye week at 2-4 it's probably going to be Vince Young time. I believe that in time, he will be an excellent NFL quarterback. But the track record for rookie starters is not good. Sorry Tennessee fans, you're in for a long season. Under.

Bill: I'm not with you on this one. I have pretty high hopes for the Titans this year -- they have a young defensive line that's rapidly maturing behind what's going to be a very good linebacking corps with the addition of David Thornton from Indianapolis. On the offensive side, while David Givens isn't a #1, I think he can be a #1a -- and if Drew Bennett's a #1a too, well, that doesn't exactly add up to anything but I think they'll be able to get 160 balls off of Billy Volek, which should keep Vince Young off the field. They also replaced Brad Hopkins, their worst offensive lineman last year, with Michael Roos, their best. There's a lot to like here. Over.

Buffalo Bills (o/u 6.5)

Ian: Here's a team that's hard to figure. They finished a disappointing 5-11 last season. Willis McGahee managed only five touchdowns, though he did see a rise in rushing yardage from his rookie season. Eric Moulds is gone, and while Kelly Holcomb is the current starter, J.P. Losman is still waiting in the wings.

All that being said, I think the Bills have an excellent chance of topping the six win mark. They get to face the Jets twice (in case you haven't figured it out, I'm really sour on the Jets this season), they have four games against the NFC North (all of which are winnable games for them, especially considering they get to face the Vikings at home), and they get Miami and Tennessee at home two of the last three weeks of the season.

Sure, by the time we're four weeks into the season, many team perceptions will change. But from what I see right now, I'm going with the Over.

Bill: Ian, are you really implying that J.P. Losman waiting in the wings is a good thing? Usually, I think, "waiting in the wings" implies something positive and hopeful. Maybe "lurking in the wings" or "threatening with potential use" would work. It seems like saying, "Well, if this date doesn't work out, it's no problem. I have Tawny Kitaen waiting in the wings." This team really turned down Matt Leinart? So they could draft a safety? Maybe they were just assuming they'd be in position to draft Brady Quinn in 2007. Go Under with extreme prejudice. And, just for fun, your Marv Levy quote of the week:

"'It was different in the old days,' says the 80-year-old Levy, the Hall of Famer who took over as Buffalo's general manager this year, nine years after retiring as the Bills' coach. 'I'll even go back in my experience to Division III. Then if you had a drink if water during practice you were a sissy: 'You shouldn't drink water.'"

Cleveland Browns (o/u 6.5)

Ian: The Browns are just full of question marks. Is Charlie Frye for real? Can Reuben Droughns stay out of trouble off the field? Can Joe Jurevicius carry a bulk of this team's receiving load? Will Braylon Edwards come back healthy? And, perhaps most importantly, will Romeo Crennel be able to create the defensive success in Cleveland that he did in New England?

I'm gonna say "no." "No" to many of the above questions and "no" to the question of whether or not they can win seven games. They have what seems like a fairly average schedule, maybe a bit on the hard side. The schedule is not what's important here-- What's important is whether or not Crennel can implement his system, and implement it effectively. I just don't see that happening with the talent they currently possess. I'm going Under.

Bill: Jurevicius is basically replacing Antonio Bryant in this offense -- his DVOA was better, but he also had Matt Hasselbeck to work with. Edwards is also off the PUP list as of Sunday, which is good -- unfortunately, he'll be lending his crutches to LeCharles Bentley, who can wear any jersey number he wants now that he'll be on the sideline all season. To be honest, though, it wouldn't really have made much of a difference. This is a developing team that had a great off-season ... but also the fifth-hardest schedule in football. Much like the Texans, their year is 2007. Under.

New York Jets (o/u 6.5)

Ian: You can't succeed in the NFL without solid, intelligent quarterback play. The Ravens might have won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at the helm, but while he wasn't flashy, he played extremely intelligent and didn't get in the way of the rest of his team.

[angry Tampa fan] (I can't help it-- I have to make an aside here. Hey Trent -- Why couldn't you play like that in Tampa?!? Why did you HAND AWAY games that the defense was WINNING FOR YOU? You BUM!!!) [/angry Tampa fan]

Excuse me, sorry about that ... Where was I? Oh, yes. You need strong quarterback play to succeed, and the Jets just don't have it. Blame it on injuries if you will, but Chad Pennington just has not gotten it done. Nor do I expect him to get it done this season. Patrick Ramsey? "Wee" Brooks Bollinger? None of these guys are guys I'd want quarterbacking my team. At least they have a strong running game to take the heat off ... Oh, wait, it's hard for the offensive line to open up holes for Curtis Martin and his wheelchair. Getting rid of John Abraham will help them, though.

I think I've said enough. Under.

Bill: Here's my question: why is Eric Mangini switching to a 3-4 when his best defensive players are suited for a 4-3? To find a spot for Bryan Thomas? Come on. Shouldn't he be worried a little bit more about keeping guys off Jonathan Vilma? The Victor Hobson/Eric Barton outside linebacker combination isn't exactly McGinest and Vrabel part II, either, and while the Jets have a good pair of safeties, they need to bury David Barrett with Jimmy Hoffa. Under.

Oakland Raiders (o/u 6.5)

Ian: Does any fantasy player have more upside and downside than Aaron Brooks? He's been handed the keys to a Cadillac, but does he know how to drive? A recent Jerry Porter trade demand looms large, but with Randy Moss and Doug Gabriel, they're not lacking for receivers. Also, LaMont Jordan has proven a solid workhorse back, as well as a solid receiver out of the backfield.

They have a rather balanced schedule. Their division, of course, is a very tough one: San Diego, Kansas City and Denver are all potential playoff teams. Outside their division, they get games against Cleveland, San Francisco, Houston, St. Louis and the Jets, all of which I'd at least consider "winnable".

Hard to predict what's going to happen here-- But I'm gonna go with a surprise rejuvenation of Aaron Brooks' career, and the Over.

Bill: Jordan's a good fantasy receiver for a running back, but his -0.7% DVOA last year isn't anything to write home about. I still get the feeling that Art Shell was Al Davis' panic pick for a coach, and everything coming out of Raiders camp has been, well, sketchy. Speaking of sketchy...

THE RAIDER WAY: A PRIMER

1) Make sure your nose remains hard at all times. This is very important.
2) We've won with a deep passing attack in the past. As a result, this is the only way that we can score effectively in the present, and any attempt to move away to a different scheme must be met with the utmost resistance.
3) With #2 in mind, any time we acquire a strong-armed passer with little accuracy, all his faults must be immediately forgotten. He will lead us to the promised land, where Ken Stabler teaches your kid how to throw the out, Cliff Branch runs all your errands for you, and everyone has ridiculous facial hair.
4) If you don't look like you could be an extra in the Under Armour commercials, you're not toolsy enough for us. In fact, if you're in one of the Under Armour commercial, you have a job. (An aside: did anyone else notice, in one of those commercials, the opposing team runs a sweep on fourth and goal from the ten against the Under Armour team? Who is calling the plays for the opponents there? No one else notices these things but me, I think.)
5) Your swagger must be palpable at all times. This is very important.
6) Penalties for false starts and offsides are absolutely unacceptable, unless you're Howie Long. Penalties for late hits and unnecessary roughness are, in fact, an entirely accurate measure of how tough you are.
7) You must be able to point out your utter, innate grittiness at all times. Carrying around dirt and/or eye black for said purposes is not only acceptable but, again, very important.

OK, enough of that. Every article I read on the Raiders talks about how Art Shell's going to return the Raiders to this disciplined, workmanlike team that doesn't commit any penalties. As Mike Tanier points out in his essay on the Raiders in PFP 2006, guess who set the league record for penalties in a season? The 1994 Raiders, coached by, yes, Art Shell. Under.

Baltimore Ravens (o/u 8.0)

Ian: If you read the last Scramble column, you know where I'm headed with this one. I'm going Over. With Steve McNair re-uniting with Derrick Mason, and getting one of the top tight end receivers in Todd Heap, I expect big things from the Baltimore passing game. Not to mention that Jamal Lewis is another year removed from prison, so he should be getting back in better shape. Also, their defense is still top-notch, with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed leading the way.

Their home games this season include OAK, SD, CAR, CIN, ATL, PIT, CLE and BUF, of which I expect them to go at least 5-3. Road games include TB, CLE, DEN, NO, TEN, CIN, KC and PIT. They should be able to win four of those.

Not only do I expect them to hit the Over on this one, I think this the best bet if you are looking for a non-playoff team from last season to make the playoffs this year. There's plenty of room on the bandwagon; jump on board!

Bill: Here's a question -- what was Jamal Lewis doing in prison that got him out of shape? Was he sitting on a recliner eating Dibs? Who was running this prison, Simon Adebisi? I'm also worried about Ray Lewis' dedication after not joining the Re-up Gang this summer. The Under for Jason Whitlock's Super Bowl champion pick? Muah, magnifique.

Ian: How dare you take the Under on my favorite sleeper team to make the playoffs! An Ed Reed jersey says that the Ravens make the Over.

Bill: Surely you can't be serious?

Ian: I'm always serious when it comes to betting.

Bill: Fine, you're on. If I win, I'll take a jersey of whatever Giants player hasn't been injured or benched by Tom Coughlin.

Ian: One Luke Petitgout jersey, coming up!

Bill: Think Chris Snee has a better chance of keeping his job. Mmm ... nepotism. I kid.

Cincinnati Bengals (o/u 9.0)

Ian: Might as well start with the focal point of the Bengals franchise: Carson Palmer. All indications are that he's going to pull a minor medical miracle and be ready to start for the Bengals Week 1. Amazing. But will he be able to perform up to last season's standards?

So much of the Bengals offense is based on timing. They like to run the hurry-up, ala Peyton Manning and the Colts. They like to audible at the line, and they like to run receiver option routes to let Chad and T.J. pick their spots. Here's where Carson's injury is a big problem.

If he'd been spending time since last season working with his team on their timing and efficiency, I'd expect the Bengals to come out winning and continue with a strong season north of nine wins. As it is though, I expect there will be some time before he gets back in the flow of things, and too much of their success relies on that flow to win week one in Arrowhead, for starters.

If the Bengals win week one, I'll already be pretty sure that I was wrong, but as it stands right now I'm going with the Under.

Bill: So much of the Bengals' player development scheme, apparently, is based on thuggin' and buggin'. Forget the ghastly drop in production that would result if Palmer is replaced by Anthony Wright or Doug Johnson; with a hole at MLB due to Odell Thurman's repeated indiscretions, a likely dropoff coming from CB Tory James at 33, and the overrated Sam Adams (Buffalo's DL was 25th in the league at stuffing rushers last year, and 29th on power runs) being relied on to shore up the run defense, I don't feel real confident about the Bengals' defense improving very much. Throw in the second hardest schedule in football this season, and I see the Bengals staring up at nine wins this season. Under.

Scramble for the Ball Mailbag

Todd S. in Indianapolis:"This is a fantasy football question that will probably ramble out of control. One of the leagues I play in is a complicated salary cap/keeper league. We draft rookies (only) every year, and we're allowed to put up to four of them on a development team for a very minor salary. They can stay on the development team for up to two years, so that you retain control of the players you draft while they get their feet wet in the NFL. (The players don't score any fantasy points; it's sort of an "inactive" roster spot -- like the NBA 13-15.)

So I have a decision to make now, because I have five young players I'd like to protect, but only four spots available. Among the considerations are: which one will have the most impact this year? Which player will have the most impact long-term? The reason the long-term question is important is the savings you get by playing someone you drafted. There is a strict rookie salary scale which is much cheaper than paying a free agent that you bid on competitively. So getting a full year of peak value from a player at a lower salary is better in the long-term than getting half of a good, early year.

The suspects are: Reggie Brown, Braylon Edwards, Roddy White, Matt Leinart, and Vernon Davis. My thinking is that it comes down to activating (and thus paying this year) either Reggie Brown or Roddy White. If one of the two looks to have a much larger peak potential, then I'd prefer to keep him. However, if they're both close long-term, I'll just pick the one with the higher KUBIAK projection for this year.

League info: 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, TE, K, D. Same scoring as the Rotoworld experts draft you just participated in.

My current roster: Drew Brees, Carson Palmer; Ronnie Brown, Domanick Davis, Larry Johnson, Brian Westbrook; Lee Evans, Larry Fitzgerald; Jeremy Shockey. (I currently also have Torry Holt, but I probably don't have enough cap space to keep him while filling out the rest of my roster. Assume that I'll be able to afford another WR2 on the open market if I can't keep Holt.)

What are your thoughts?"

Ian: A long e-mail, but a very interesting one. I choose to post it here because it has a number of interesting angles.

First of all, I've never heard of a league like this. I've heard of many proposals for auction-style keeper leagues in football, but the rookie rules sound quite interesting. Perhaps other people can use it as an idea for their own leagues.

Next, there's the question of Reggie Brown versus Roddy White this season. Both are extremely similar. Young, explosive, and signed to long-term deals. I'd have to give the edge to Reggie Brown though. Until Michael Vick proves he can use his wideouts effectively, I'm not sold that any of them will become valuable fantasy property. Throw in Brian Finneran's injury, and it's extremely unlikely that White will find himself open all that often. Reggie Brown may be dealing with a hamstring issue at the moment, but I'd take him catching passes from Donovan McNabb over Roddy White.

And just to comment on the other three options, they are certainly definite keepers. Edwards should be back after a few weeks, and has shown explosive talent. Matt Leinart may be unsigned right now, but he's still likely to sign eventually, and any Kurt Warner issue could lead to him being extremely valuable property. Vernon Davis is unlikely to contribute much his rookie season, but he has huge upside, and Jeremy Shockey is the kind of guy that could start missing weeks at any time for various reasons, most of which are not football related.

By the way, with a roster including Carson Palmer, Ronnie Brown, Larry Johnson, and Larry Fitzgerald, plus Westbrook and Domanick Davis for depth, I'd say it'll be shocking if you don't have an amazing season, regardless of the rookies you protect. Keeper lists this retardedly good is why I've found it tough to believe that there's a good system for salary-style keeper football. If any of you have a league rules page that seems to work well, post it in the comment thread!

Sheriff Amusa of Nigeria: "Dear sir, i will like to introduce myself to you firstly before telling you my reason of sending you a mail.

my name is sheriff amusa,i am 14 year old, i am a midfielder,i am from nigeria and i played for one of the local club in lagos state here in nigeria.i love football and i play football,i dream football and i feel football and i made a promise to my parents that what i am in this world to do is to play football and serve my God.

Sir all what i have been trying to say is that i am interested in playing for your junor team under 15.i am a midfielder also and i want to learn more from professional like you sir.i need a football agent/manager to help me in my football carrier,please if there's anyhow u can help me i will be very happy,i will be oblarge if my letter is accepted by you.

thanks alot and have a nice day sir."

Bill: I would be oblarge to help you, Sheriff, but unfortunately, Maurice Clarett already screwed it up for you. Sorry little buddy. Maybe in five years. On the other hand, if you'd be interested in assisting me in removing the money out of my late uncle's bank account, we might be able to do business...

And Finally, Some Fantasy Football Advice

Ian: One of the most common questions we get asked is "Know any sleepers no one else has talked about yet?" Well, in the age of double-digit fantasy football magazines, and plenty more websites, it's hard to find a player who's avoided mention. That being said, here's a few rarely-mentioned names that could be in for a strong season:

LenDale White, RB, TEN: Running back is one of the easier positions for a player to make a splash as a rookie. Travis Henry's best days are behind him, and Chris Brown is oft-injured, so don't forget about LenDale as a potential starter for the Titans. He may not be likely to put up big numbers, but starting running backs are always valuable, and he has a great chance to become one before too long.

Mark Clayton, WR, BAL: He's got some hamstring issues at the moment, which should make him available in the last few rounds of your draft. Still, I think he's worthy of a roster spot. He came on pretty strong at the end of last season, and should have room to roam with Derrick Mason and Todd Heap drawing all the attention.

Cedrick Wilson, WR, PIT: He jumped onto the radar with a strong performance for the Steelers in last season's Super Bowl run. Now, he's the default starter opposite Hines Ward thanks to Randle-El bolting for free agency. With Jerome Bettis out of town, I don't expect the ground game to help move the chains as effectively as it used to for the Steelers, and thus the passing game will become a more important part of the offense. This should lead to more opportunities for Cedrick, which he's proven he can take advantage of when given the playing time.

Alex Smith, TE, TB: He showed plenty of promise his rookie season, catching a reasonable 41 passes. Look for those numbers to go up, in addition to his touchdown total, as the Tampa brass is high on this youngster. After the known commodities are gone at tight end, he has as good a chance of anyone to prove a solid weekly starter that you got on draft day for dirt cheap.

I wouldn't draft these guys to be starters coming out of your draft, but their emergence could allow you to trade away someone you drafted higher for help somewhere else you need it. Anyone can draft a top running back or wideout in the early rounds, but it's the late, productive picks that really help you win your league.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell & Ian Dembsky on 04 Aug 2006

61 comments, Last at 17 Aug 2006, 12:14pm by FarSeer

Comments

1
by Boston Dan (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 2:27pm

I hate to jump the gun here, but the most obvious one that sticks out is Seattle at 10.5 wins.

ARE YOU f'ing kidding me?

2
by Andy (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 2:37pm

BostonDan, this is AFC Over/Unders.

3
by ToxikFetus (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 2:43pm

did anyone else notice, in one of those commercials, the opposing team runs a sweep on fourth and goal from the ten against the Under Armour team? Who is calling the plays for the opponents there? No one else notices these things but me, I think.

Nope, you're not the only one. I was practically frothing at mouth the first time I saw that commercial. A sweep on 4th and goal from the freaking 10! My wife almost had to put me down.

4
by Eric (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 2:47pm

I'm not entirely sure, since I haven't seen the commercial for a while, but I always had the impression that it was 4th and 1 from the 10. Regardless, why they didn't just make it 4th and Goal from the 1 is beyond me.

5
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 2:48pm

Vernon Davis is unlikely to contribute much his rookie season, but he has huge upside, and Jeremy Shockey is the kind of guy that could start missing weeks at any time for various reasons, most of which are not football related.

Vernon Davis = 49ers TE. Not on the Giants. He's the least likely to have any impact this year, in my opinion, though he probably will play. The problem is that he'll play for the 49ers.

I'd personally activate White if you're choosing between White and Brown, mainly because if Brown has a good year, he'll probably have an even better year next year, as he'll have played an entire season as a #1 and Philly will start to recognize what else they'll need to have in their offense around him. And we know that McNabb can deliver with a proven #1. Reverse that for White... and it's less certain. I'd say that White is probably the "most short term impact, least long term impact" which kindof implies "activate now."

6
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 2:51pm

Oh, whoops, missed that he had Shockey in the actual team. Missed that. Anyway, point still stands. He's playing for the 49ers. :)

7
by karl (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 3:21pm

Couldn't put it any better than that last sentence. I got Steve Smith somewhere around the 7th or 8th round last year. Carson Palmer came in the 5th or so. Mike Anderson was a flyer in the last round of the draft - everyone in my league was convinced that Tatum Bell was the starter, I figured differently since Anderson was listed #1 on Denver's online depth chart and waited for the swoop.

8
by Bob (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 3:22pm

What is your outlook on the RB situations in NYJ and HOU? Who will replace Martin and D. Davis if they go down? And will they be any good?

9
by karl (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 3:25pm

Re 5:

That point is moot if you think Brown will outperform White this year as well as in the future - you start Brown and keep starting him over the next 6 years.

10
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 3:36pm

That point is moot if you think Brown will outperform White this year as well as in the future - you start Brown and keep starting him over the next 6 years.

Read the description of the league again - it's beneficial to start a rookie (i.e. off the development squad) because they're cheaper. So you start White, because White will probably have a decent year (with Finneran out) and might not have a lot of future upside anyway, and then if Brown has a good year this year, you start him next year and get very good production for very cheap anyway.

11
by Ian (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 3:39pm

Re 8:
The outlook is not good in either situation.
Domanick Davis will probably be healthy enough to play, but will be limited by his knee problems throughout the season. If he does go down for a period of time, Antowain Smith has proven a serviceable starter, but in Houston is not likely to have much fantasy value at all.
As for the Jets... I wouldn't be surprised if Cedrick Houston ends up with more rushing yards this season than Curtis Martin, but neither value will be very high at all. Whoever the Jets starter is will be a bye-week fill-in at best.

12
by Peter (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 3:43pm

No, I'm pretty sure it's 4th and goal from the 10. I remember because 1) I too was mystified by the sweep (but hey, if it's high school or some colleges, that's not really THAT crazy), and 2) I thought "well shit, Under Armour BETTER stop this!"

13
by Bill Barnwell :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 3:54pm

I am almost positive it was 4th and 10. I am not sure how good the Under Armour team is - I basically rate them to be about as good as the Upper Deck/Athletes in Action college basketball teams that randomly show up in preseason each year - so I would imagine running a sweep against them would be a bad idea. They seem like they'd be susceptible to the counter. Just a hunch.

14
by Chuck-O (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 4:28pm

"Jeremy Shockey is the kind of guy that could start missing weeks at any time for various reasons, most of which are not football related."

I honestly don't understand this statement. It seems like an unsupportable and biased throw-in, but I'm open to the idea that I'm missing something here.

I enjoyed much of the rest of the piece.

15
by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 4:44pm

The Goliath team had 4th and 1 again, not 4th and 10.

See the spot here. (Click PTH Archives, then the clip titled "Protect This House 3.")

16
by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 4:45pm

Ignore "again" in the above post. I don't know where that came from.

17
by Ian (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 5:12pm

Re 14:
Shockey is a big-time partier, and seems to have trouble keeping his mouth shut and not saying stupid things. You never know when his off-the-field attitude could get him in trouble with his coaches or the league.
It's true that my statement is certainly exaggerated though; it's pretty much an "unsupportable and biased throw-in". If Shockey does anything out of the ordinary it's gonna generate headlines in the New York Post. In all likelihood, he'll keep his nightlife in check and play all 16 weeks.

18
by Bill Barnwell :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 5:19pm

Yep - definitely 4th and 1. I have no excuse and my shame is now palpable.

19
by Ben (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 5:40pm

The Browns and Titans are going to shock people. Billy Volek has skill and will be motivated by the drafting of a top prospect (See: Drew Brees). LenDale white is a solid Bruiser on the ground. However, the Jaguars and Colts are too good to allow the Titans in.
The Browns however, will make the playoffs. The AFC north will turn out to be a very weak division. Steve McNair will be healthy off-and-on and the Ravens will not be able to settle in at QB. They will field a miserable offense and could be the Bears of last year. The Steelers also have multiple problems. They lost veteran leadership with the departures of Bettis and Randle El. I don't think that they have enough to form a solid RB platoon. Randle El was replaced by Santonio Holmes and he could be face-down drunk and high in the Czech Republic by the time the season starts. Ben Rothlisberger's confidence could be affected by the crash even if his body isn't. Then there's the Bengals. Palmer will feel good and start the season but eventually realize what everybody else knows, it is a year injury. He will play a few ill-fated games before focusing on next year. Plus the off the field issues around the Bengals. If they drop a few games at the beginning then they will be peppered with questions.
That brings us to the 2006 NFC North Champion: The Cleveland Browns
Reuben Droughns had a productive year last year despite the lack of a pass offense. Braylon Edward should return by October and Kellen Winslow, despite being an idiot, is a good player. The Cleveland D will also be much better this year with the additions of McGinnest and Wimbley. They shut down Chad Johnson last year, and have an underrated pass defense. Cleveland finishes 10-6.

20
by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 5:47pm

While we're on the subject of oddly staged football games, it always bothered me that the Arizona Cardinals were playing on Monday Night Football in Jerry Maguire. Especially in late-season, when the fictional Cardinals hadn't made the playoffs for many years and weren't expected to contend.

21
by Sean (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 6:07pm

The word out of Jets camp to this point is that Pennington is lapping the field in the quarterback derby and that he looks very much like his pre-cuff tear self, which is to say like one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Obviously the burden of proof is on him to show he can stay healthy, and there are other things not to like about the roster makeup, but a team with a healthy Pennington at quarterback is winning more than six games. Just saying.

22
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 6:13pm

The Browns will win the AFC North if...

1. The previous division champion and the superbowl champion break down, while the addition of McNair doesn't significantly improve Baltimore.
2. An injured second year wideout starts functioning on a high level immediately upon his return.
3. A tight end with less than two games total becomes an elite player immediately.
4. They get a good pass rush out of an unproven rookie and an aging veteran.
5. Ted Washington, at the age of 38, has the strength to occupy blockers.
6. They can find a suitable replacement for injured C LeCharles Bentley
7. A second year quarterback makes a leap and becomes a genuinely good player.

If five or six of those things can happen, the Browns will win the division. I'm not holding my breath.

23
by Chuck-O (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 6:27pm

Re: 17

Thanks for clarifying. I definitely don't love Shockey's media personna, which is definitely part accurate, part media overblown. As a Giants fan, I do hope he has to keep things in check for more than 16 weeks!

Anyway, good piece-

24
by Whatever0 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 6:30pm

Just my litte pet peeve: Dilfer did NOT play intelligently, and he did get in the way of his team. That defense was just too good for it to matter.

Dilfer played almost as bad in 2000 as Brooks Bollinger did last year: -23.9 DVOA vs. -25. He had 11 INT while attempting only 226 passes. The only thing that seperates Dilfers season from the dozens of other bad QB seasons out there is that the Ravens managed to win the superbowl. The correct assumption to make is that you don't "need" a good QB to win a superbowl, although it certainly improves your chances.

Sorry, I just get annoyed when people whitewash how bad Dilfer was that season.

25
by masocc (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 6:36pm

Could some kind soul link to the ESPN and Yahoo football card articles? I can't find them (though admittedly, I haven't looked to hard because... well, I hate ESPN's site, and finding a past article on Yahoo is... frustrating.)

26
by Ben (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 6:48pm

Re:22
Exactly. And it's gonna happen.

27
by Nate (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 6:50pm

19 - "[The Ravens] will field a miserable offense and could be the Bears of last year."
So, they will go 11-5 and get the second seed in their conference?

28
by Ben (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 7:08pm

Re:27
Wow... definately a gross oversight by me
hmmm....
Edit: The Ravens will field a miserable offense and be the homeless man's version of the 2005 Bears.

29
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 7:14pm

It's clear that Vegas thinks the AFC is going to continue dominating the NFC (or, at least, that Vegas thinks that the average sports bettor is going to think so). Only 6 teams with a losing over/under, compared to 9 teams with a winning over/under.

30
by Bill Barnwell :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 7:20pm

#19 - A few points.

Chad Johnson went for 9-91 against the Browns in their first game, granted, in the second game, they held him to two catches. This may have something to do with the fact that Rudi Johnson ran for 169 yards on them.

The Browns pass D was 23rd last year - they did have a bunch of injuries though. Let's say that they have, in fact, an underrated pass defense. They're still playing a real hard schedule, and they're relying on a QB who doesn't have much of a resume. It's not a stretch to think they will be a better team this year and win fewer games, nor is that anything to be ashamed of. I still think this team's a year away.

However, I would find it difficult to believe that Antwaan Randle El was the veteran leader that held the Steelers together.

#21 - Sean, a team with a questionable at best running game and an inexperienced offensive line? Learning a new defensive scheme? I am a big Chad Pennington fan and I'm skeptical of them winning 7 games, especially in that division.

The ESPN articles are about the card industry as a whole, mostly baseball - I can't find the Yahoo one at the moment. You can access it at http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/index?archive=060731 - go to the bottom right for the series of articles on the card industry.

31
by iwiwus (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 7:30pm

Re: 15

In the 30 second spot, it is 4th and one. But in the 90 second spot the same footage is used and it's 3rd and one. Maybe they think the sweep sets them up for a counter on fourth.

32
by Sean (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 7:42pm

Bill,

I'm not making any grand statements for now (and by grand statements, I mean 7-9)- it would be silly to do so without at least seeing how the team looks in the preseason. But a lot of the negative press on the Jets centers around the four quarterback derby and the assumption that it's the result of the team not having any quality quarterback options. No one is really expecting Pennington to come back, or if they are, they expect a performance similar to last year's. All I'm saying is that if it turns out that Pennington is healthy and ready to play at a 2002-2004 clip, that should make a big difference in the team's prospects.

33
by Ben (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 7:43pm

Re: 30
Randle El was A veteran and his loss along with Bettis takes away leadership from the Steelers.

The Browns are a year away from being a good team that can compete anywhere. But, most of my prediction is based on the rest of the division falling apart. The Browns will win the North simply by lack of someone else to win the North.

34
by Jonathan C (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 8:09pm

Since KUBIAK has bunched all of these revievers into two tiers, the top 7 and everyone else (essentially), who of the lesser WRs (Not Larry through DJAX) has the most upside to warrant a higher pick?

35
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 11:51pm

33: Yea, the Steelers don't have anybody to attempt ill-concieved laterals, they're doomed!

36
by Todd S. (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 12:54am

Thanks for commenting on my questions and thanks for the others that chimed in. I'm actually leaning towards Pat's suggestion at the moment, but I don't have to make a final decision until the end of August. Also, I think I can keep Torry Holt if I cut Lee Evans, which is the current plan-especially after looking at their projections in the wonderful KUBIAK 2006.

For anyone who is really bored, you can check out the league rules linked on my name. My team is 'Roanoke,' and if you poke around the site a little you'll see all of the records I hold for fantasy incompetence. That's right...it took a lot of seasons of me sucking and drafting high to assemble that roster! (And I lucked into drafting Westbrook and Davis in the third and fourth rounds, which makes them ridiculously cheap.)

Thanks again, Ian, et al.

37
by Bill Barnwell :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 1:11am

#34 - Depends on who you ask, I guess. Some people are real high on Chris Chambers, but as I've written before, his low catch %'s in the past make me skeptical that he's going to break out this year.

I would have said Deion Branch, but I'd be a little worried about him not coming to training camp. Then again, I don't think Brady has a choice but to throw him the ball 150 times.

Roy Williams in a Mike Martz offense has some serious potential. I'd say he'd be the guy I'd go for as a seriously underrated WR this year.

Outside of that, I like Javon Walker as a bounce-back candidate in Denver - ESPECIALLY in big-play leagues.

38
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 7:05am

Javon Walker has actually been looking like an absolute STUD in Denver's training camps. Absolutely uncoverable, and catching everything that comes his way. While Denver still holds him out of every 2 or 3 practices as a precautionary measure, from the looks of it, the ACL isn't slowing him down in the slightest. As a result, both Walker and Plummer are solid bets to outperform their current draft positions this year.

Also, I'd recommend taking a late-round flier on rookie TE Tony Scheffler in Denver. He's been one of the big stories of camp, and has looked fantastic. While it might take him a while to win the starting job, he should have it locked up and then some by later in the season, and as Shannon Sharpe showed us, Denver's TE can present a lot of value. I'm not saying grab Scheffler in the 6th here, but he's a great player to take a flier on in one of the last 2 rounds of your draft.

39
by princeton73 (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 9:44am

Just my litte pet peeve: Dilfer did NOT play intelligently, and he did get in the way of his team. That defense was just too good for it to matter.

and the funny thing is, that is EXACTLY what everyone was saying at that time; (don't believe me?--go back & look it up)

Dilfer didn't become a "solid QB", "veteran leader" until AFTER the Ravens let him go

40
by Matt Weiner (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 3:36pm

Dilfer didn’t become a “solid QB�, “veteran leader� until AFTER the Ravens let him go

The Ravens's W-L the next year had a lot to do with that... and Elvis Grbac, who was 24th in DVOA (in 2001) while Dilfer was 7th. (Splitting time with Hasselback, as he was splitting time with Tony Banks the year before.)

41
by princeton73 (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 5:39pm

The Ravens’s W-L the next year had a lot to do with that… and Elvis Grbac

losing Jamal Lewis & Searcy had a lot more to do with that than Dilfer or Grbac

42
by Jon (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 7:35pm

Re: 33 & 35 Yea, the Steelers don’t have anybody to attempt ill-concieved laterals, they’re doomed!

Those laterals and novelty plays by Randle El beat the Browns single handedly. His departure is of course why I'm predicting the Browns to win the division...

No seriously, I love the Browns but they are an 8-8 team even if many things go their way (which never happens). 07 is the year this team will be in very good position to knock off some of the big boys.

The Steelers have plenty of veteran leaders and lots of talent, but most importantly they are consistent in their approach, something we here in Cleveland dream about.

43
by Craig B (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 11:19pm

Re: 42

Gadget plays are how you punish defenses for overpursuing. The Steelers under Cowher have used lots and lots of them over the years.

Last I checked, Hines Ward once threw for a lot of yards in the Peach Bowl. Ced Wilson was recruited to Tennessee as a QB. I wouldn't assume that the WR option pass was deleted from the playbook just yet.

BTW, the scores of the Steeler-Browns games last year were 34-21 and 41-0. Just which game was turned around by one trick play?

Here's the scoring summary of the 34-21 game from Yahoo. Note that (1) Charlie Batch was the primary QB, (2) One of the Browns' three scores was a blocked FG return for a TD, and (3) the final Browns' score came with 0:31 left in the game. Hardly a game that was turned around by a WR pass that converted a 10 point lead into a 17-point lead.

1st Quarter
10:04 CLE TD Reuben Droughns rushed to the left for 5 yard gain (Phil Dawson made PAT) 7 - 0

2nd Quarter
9:02 PIT TD Jerome Bettis rushed to the left for 1 yard gain (Jeff Reed made PAT) 7 - 7

2:21 PIT FG Jeff Reed kicked a 42-yard field goal 7 - 10

0:16 PIT TD Charlie Batch rushed up the middle for 1 yard gain (Jeff Reed made PAT) 7 - 17

3rd Quarter
14:14 PIT TD Antwaan Randle El passed to Hines Ward to the right for 51 yard gain (Jeff Reed made PAT) 7 - 24

4th Quarter
14:56 PIT FG Jeff Reed kicked a 33-yard field goal 7 - 27

4:35 CLE TD CLE blocked 44-yard field goal attempt by Jeff Reed. Leigh Bodden returned for 59 yards (Phil Dawson made PAT) 14 - 27

2:00 PIT TD Verron Haynes rushed to the right for 10 yard gain (Jeff Reed made PAT) 14 - 34

0:31 CLE TD Trent Dilfer passed to Antonio Bryant to the right for 9 yard gain (Phil Dawson made PAT) 21 - 34

Oh yes, the Browns' "underrated" pass defense. Charlie Batch and Tommy Maddox were a combined 17/26 for 172 yards and no TD's or picks. I guess almost any team would have had their secondary picked apart by those two guys...

I think Randle El's main value to the Steelers was as a punt returner. But Willie Reed was often sensational for the Seminoles and Holmes was good enough to share the duties with Ted Ginn Jr. I doubt he will be missed terribly.

44
by Harris (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 12:11am

I don't care if it's 3rd down or 4th down. I don't care if they needed one yard or 10. Who the hell calls a sweep from the 10-yard-line in that situation? Also, why are both teams wearing their home jerseys?

45
by Fnor (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 3:10pm

#44:

To drive home the fact that the visitors believed that it was, in fact, their house. This necessitated the Under-Armor team's protection of said house.

46
by Led (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 3:39pm

12 unders and 4 overs, with an average 0/u of 6.5? I haven't done the math, but your "good AFC" teams are going to have to average something like 10 wins each to balance it out.

47
by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 4:11pm

Re 19:

Ya know, you really shouldnt eat paint chips.

48
by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 4:14pm

Re 38:

I really hope Walker keeps it up...he was my sleeper pick this year.

49
by Becephalus (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 4:44pm

just for fun here are my thoughts after taking a close look at the games....feel free to mock me later :)

SEA 12
CHI 11
CAR 11
WAS 10
NYG 9
ARI 9
MIN 9
TB 9
DAL 9
PHI 7
DET 6
ATL 6
GB 6
STL 5
SF 4
NO 3

NE 12
PIT 12
IND 12
DEN 12
MIA 9
CIN 9
KC 9
SD 9
JAC 9
OAK 7
BAL 7
BUF 5
CLE 5
TEN 5
NYJ 4
HOU 4

50
by jimmo (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 10:42pm

circa 2004: The Chargers will win the AFC West if…

1. The previous division champion breaks down, while the addition of Champ Bailey doesn’t significantly improve Denver.
2. An unemployed 13-year wideout starts functioning on a high level immediately upon his signing.
3. A tight end with less than 25 catches in his career becomes an elite player immediately.
4. They get a good pass rush and steady linebacker play out of a couple aging veterans.
5. Jerry Wilson, at the age of 32, has the quickness and ability to anchor the young defensive secondary.
6. They can find a suitable replacement for holdout C Jason Ball.
7. A fourth year quarterback (3rd year starting) makes a leap and becomes a genuinely good player.

If five or six of those things can happen, the Chargers will win the division. I’m not holding my breath.

Just one example, but I'm sure no one here needs to be reminded that good teams don't stay good, and poor teams get better every year. The Browns winning the AFC North seems as reasonable as predicting the Bears to win the NFC North last year.

51
by Bill Barnwell :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 10:48pm

Jimmo,

Of course. We can do one of those for each team.

Our job then is to figure out which of those teams are most likely to make that jump. The Browns, because of their schedule and quarterback, are in a situation where, I feel, the chances of them making five or six of those jumps that will turn them into a playoff team are highly unlikely.

52
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Mon, 08/07/2006 - 2:57am

50: "poor teams get better every year"?

How about the Niners? ;)

53
by Daniel (not verified) :: Mon, 08/07/2006 - 2:10pm

There's a big difference between the 04 Chargers and the current Browns teams, namely Ladanian Tomlinson. He rushed over 330 times and caught over 50 passes for 1700+ total yards and 18 TDs. Who is going to do that for the Browns? William Green? They may start off well, but after their bye in week their schedule gets pretty tough. If everything goes their way they could win 8 games. Of course that would, for all intenets and purposes, take them out of position to draft Central Ohio native Brady Quinn.

54
by Drew630 (not verified) :: Tue, 08/08/2006 - 3:33pm

Re 19:

The Steelers also have multiple problems. They lost veteran leadership with the departures of Bettis and Randle El.

Bettis will be missed for leadership, but I wouldn't count out Hines Ward. Never realized that Randle El was a leader.

I don’t think that they have enough to form a solid RB platoon.

Why is that? Bettis was a 3rd down back. Willie Parker was the main back. while bettis was gooda t gettin 1 -3 yds, i have to think that Verron Haynes is capable and Staley is back from injury, so there is an average back too. I wouldn't cry over this depth.

Randle El was replaced by Santonio Holmes and he could be face-down drunk and high in the Czech Republic by the time the season starts.

randle-el was the slot reciever. Holmes is more of a down the field Receiver. I would bet that cedric Wilson and Ward are the 1-2 and Holmes comes in to stretch the field. And don't forget, that they didn't use their TE all that much because the had Randle-El last year. I have to think that a first round pick is going to bring something to the table.

Ben Rothlisberger’s confidence could be affected by the crash even if his body isn’t.

Why? It's not like he was riding his bike and got blindsided by a linebacker in the intersection? does he need to worry about random SUV's charging at him when he tries to scramble? He may be a little out of shape, but the Steelers don't seem to rely on him as the main cog in the offensive machinery. He can't be worse than he was in the SuperBowl last year and playing like that would still get them 9-7 this year.

I can see if you are a Browns fan that there is reason for optimism. Lord knows I think Crennel will turn them around. But a WR that has hardly any game experience, a TE that has played 2 games in two years, both coming back from horrible injuries and being elite right away? Losing a premier C for the year on a shaky line to begin with. Sorry, I can't smoke that optimism to a division title for the Browns. They need more time to build on what looks to be a great foundation.

And this is from an Eagles fan, not a steelers fan.

and yeah, the Ravens will suck :)

55
by Sid (not verified) :: Tue, 08/08/2006 - 6:45pm

About Martin:

It's not even clear that he'll play this season.

56
by Sid (not verified) :: Tue, 08/08/2006 - 6:53pm

RE: 19

Even a Cleveland homer couldn't honestly believe that. I'd say Cleveland is a mortal lock for last place.

57
by Craig B (not verified) :: Tue, 08/08/2006 - 11:03pm

Re: 50

Predictions are always easier in a rear view mirror. There have also been many, many teams that were thought of as poorly as the Chargers were in August 2004 that ended up winning 5 or 6 games.

Anything could happen - injuries and accelerated player development are huge factors in the NFL. Always have been, probably always will be. But they don't build large buildings in Las Vegas because the bookies are stupid and the public brilliant.

58
by Jon (not verified) :: Wed, 08/09/2006 - 12:18am

Re:43

I get the feeling you didn't read the second half of my post nor the subtext of the first half. I was responding to a post that called for the Browns to win the division because the Steelers would be "doomed" without "El" and the gadget play. My guess is that you stopped reading after I predicted the Browns to win the division since "El" was gone. Check the second half of the post please for clarification. I was in fact making your exact point. The Steelers don't need "El" because they have plenty of leadership and consistency to win with or without a gadget playmaker. But thank you for the Hines Ward/Ced Wilson tangent, kudos.

I do standby my position that the gadget play was a back breaker of sorts for the Browns that season. Believe it or not the Brown had played the Steelers pretty competitively in their previous 3 games leading up to the game Randall El threw the TD. In those 3 previous games the Browns lost by an average of 10 points and the games were very emotional tight games. Also the Browns previous seven games that season were closely fought (average +/- was 7 points). So when Randall El breaks a game open with a 51 yard gadget play to Hines Ward to put the Steelers up by 17 in the 3rd Quarter that's a major event in the Browns-Steelers rivalry and for the Browns 2005 season.

59
by empty13 (not verified) :: Sun, 08/13/2006 - 9:18pm

In all cases above I think the O/U is pretty close, except TWO.

Cleveland and Buffalo will not finish over. Not close, now.

//////////////////

Grbac always had happy feet. He was a downgrade in 2001 after Dilfer. Whatever skills Dilfer had are now gone, but he continued his win streak in Seattle. Grbac talked his way out of the NFL.

60
by steelersin06 (not verified) :: Tue, 08/15/2006 - 5:38pm

I love Jerome Bettis. I jumped for joy the day the Steelers acquired him. I cried sitting in the stands in Detroit when he hoisted up the Lombardi trophy. I will be in the crowd wearing my 10 year old Bettis jersey the day he is inducted into the Hall of Fame (whether he deserves it is another point I recognize, but there is no way he doesn't get in). All that said, Bettis's (leadership/chemistry, off the field contributions excluded) contributions to the Steeler offense in 2005 are overrated dramatically. He got over 25% of his yards in one game, the snow game against the Bears. Despite being used only sparingly, in situations designed specifically for him, his success rate (according to FO) was only a couple % points higher than Willie Parker's. Bettis provided leadership, chemistry and all kinds of intangibles to the Steelers last year. They will miss that. But he had an average (at best!) year on the field. Despite the talk, Bettis was not especially effective in the 2nd half of games. He was more effective than in the first half, but this was not the Bettis of the late 90s, early 00s. Staley, Haynes and Parker will have no problem replacing Bettis on the field.

61
by FarSeer (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 12:14pm

This season's Houston Texans team will be reminding people of the 1999 Rams or 1999 Colts, or the 1964 Raiders, or the 1929 Giants. OVER