Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
29 Aug 2007
by Bill Barnwell
|SCRAMBLE FOR THE BALL SPONSOR|
|Attention Football Outsiders Readers: Get a free week of winning NFL picks from Doc’s Sports Handicapping Service. You will receive the same picks Doc’s paying members receive from all 5 handicappers on their “Advisory Board” and there is absolutely NO OBLIGATION what so ever for this offer. Call 1-866-238-6696 or email email@example.com with “Free Football Outsider” in the subject line.|
Note: Bill Barnwell picked his AFC over/unders in last week's Scramble.
PFP 2007 Projection: 6.0 Wins
The Cardinals have certainly made progress. Their biggest concern at the moment is that Matt Leinart's blind side is going to be protected by fifth-overall pick Levi Brown, and unless he's the second coming of Marcus McNeill, we can expect Brown to struggle before settling in. (Remember, Leinart is left-handed, so his blind side is protected by the right tackle, not the left tackle.) New regimes also usually take a year to find the players they like and construct a roster fitting their systems and needs. If everything goes right, like it did with Eric Mangini and the Jets, the Cardinals could make a surprise playoff run. It's more likely that Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals will need a year before they get to that point. Under.
PFP 2007 Projection: 7.6 Wins
The Falcons' line has been taken off the board in the aftermath of the Michael Vick situation. Let's judge their potential performance against the FO projection instead. While the projection system doesn't think the Falcons will lose much by replacing Vick with Joey Harrington, the system does not feel the utter depression that sets in when you're relying on Joey Harrington each week. The bigger problem is Bobby Petrino, who just doesn't profile to me as someone who's going to be a successful pro coach. He's revamping the Falcons offensive line, and if that means no holes open up for Jerious Norwood, it's going to be a long year in Atlanta. Under (the projected 7.6 wins).
PFP 2007 Projection: 8.9 Wins
One of the strongest positive and negative indicators we have in our projection system is performance on third down vis-a-vis performance on first and second down. Carolina's offensive DVOA on first down was a respectable 0.3%, and on second down, a downright good 7.5%. On third down, though? Carolina's offensive DVOA was a whopping -34.5%, worst in the league. This is a dramatic sign that Carolina's likely to improve on their offensive performance of a year ago. Unfortunately, there aren't many other signs offensively that would also point towards an uptick. The real boon would be if the Panthers offensive line could stay healthier than last year. I am going to go with the book (ever so slightly) and select Under for the Panthers.
PFP 2007 Projection: 8.3 Wins
Here's one of the teams where I have to disagree with the projection system. The Bears have too much talent and are too consistently great on defense to regress this much. If Tommie Harris goes down again, then yes, the Bears will be in trouble. I don't think that's enough of a possibility for me to swing a bet with the book on the Under, though -- there are so many good things with the team (the acqusition of Adam Archuleta, who was superb in St. Louis in this system, the consistent offensive line, the quiet development of Mark Bradley as a potential starting receiver if he could stay healthy) that I'm willing to give Rex Grossman the benefit of the doubt and promote him on his strange developmental curve to "somewhat consistent competency" this year. This team also has the third-easiest schedule in the NFL this year. Over.
PFP 2007 Projection: 6.4 Wins
There are several reasons why the Cowboys were given such a weak projection by our system. First and foremost is their performance offensively on third down, which far surpassed the Cowboys' work on first and second down. They were, by our measures, the healthiest team in football last year and one of the healthiest since we've started tracking injuries, which (especially with such an old team) is not likely to reoccur. They have a difficult schedule, fifth-hardest in football. Furthermore, they also withered as the year went along -- the defense was fourth in the league through Week 11, but then the worst in football following that; in those final six games, as measured against his previous six, Tony Romo's completion percentage went from 69% to 60%, and his net yards per pass from 8.6 to 6.5. The projection system gives them only a 17% chance of winning nine or more games, and there's nowhere near enough evidence here for me to argue against it. Under.
PFP 2007 Projection: 7.1 Wins
You remember how, year after year, people predicted the NL East would be won by someone besides the Atlanta Braves? And year after year, the Atlanta Braves would win the NL East? Eventually, people got to a point where they started predicting the Braves by default, not even bothering to try and convince themselves that they would fall off their throne. The Lions are like that, but the exact opposite. Under.
PFP 2007 Projection: 9.5 Wins
Green Bay is one of our breakout picks this year, and that's even despite a league-best third down defense that's likely to decline this season. First-round pick Justin Harrell has the best pedigree a first-round pick not named Johnathan Sullivan can have: SEC defensive tackle. The offensive line is melding, Donald Driver is fully healthy and Ruvell Martin has looked good enough in camp to push Greg Jennings. Don't worry about the unsettled running back spot. If there's a hole, the Packers will be able to find a back who can push through it. Your surprise playoff team of the year. Over.
PFP 2007 Projection: 7.5 Wins
Tarvaris Jackson was better in 2006 than Alex Smith was in 2005. That's the nicest thing we can probably say about Jackson, Brad Childress's project who may end up being usurped if Kelly Holcomb can learn the offense quickly. Essentially, the Vikings are a team easily separated by halves; they have half of a great offense, half of a great offensive line, half of a great defense and half of a great defensive line. With the excellent Antoine Winfield declining with age, the lack of an outside pass rush (despite spending first-round picks on Kenechi Udeze and Erasmus James) looms as the Vikings' bugaboo whether or not Jackson exceeds expectations. The PFP mean projection is somewhat based on schedule, but I think this team will struggle even against bad opponents. Under.
PFP 2007 Projection: 7.4 Wins
Third down performance enters into the equation both offensively and defensively in projecting the Saints' performance. Their offense was far better on third down than would be expected; meanwhile, their defense was atrocious on third down after being average on first and second down. We know that skill position players normally take two to three years to develop, which is why Saints fans can be excited about the possibilities of Devery Henderson (number one in WR DVOA) and Reggie Bush's development this year, along with the possibilities surrounding Marques Colston. Unfortunately, we can't say the same for first-round pick Robert Meachem, who has yet to get his act together and left some observers second-guessing his selection. Then again, the Saints did find Colston in the seventh round, so maybe they deserve the benefit of the doubt on wide receivers for a year or two. With all that being said, the Saints' lack of depth up front is likely to hurt them, especially since Hollis Thomas isn't going to turn in another Pro Bowl year at defensive tackle. Oh, if Johnathan Sullivan could only feel full. The Saints will exceed their projection, but I don't think they're going to hit ten wins. Under.
PFP 2007 Projection: 7.0 Wins
I'm going to try and talk about this in a somewhat objective manner. The Giants have many issues. They play the third-most difficult schedule in football. Their best offensive player retired and their best defensive player has been strongly considering it. Their most important player has seen his development stagnate. His blind side is going to be protected by the Giants' former backup guard. Their corners are alternately old, injured, mediocre or inexperienced. They have two strong safeties, one of whom will need to play free safety. Oh, and they have a lame-duck coach who no-one believes in. Deliver us Jake Long, please. Under with extreme prejudice.
PFP 2007 Projection: 11.0 Wins
It's been really fascinating to see the feedback of mainstream fans to the release of Jeremiah Trotter. Most seem to accept that the Reid/Banner administration know what they're doing by now, albeit while wishing that Trotter had stuck around. Some resort to the ad hominem "REID DOESN'T KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON WITH HIS OWN FAMILY HE CAN'T RUN A TEAM!!!" attack. Others complain that veterans don't get enough respect, and finally, say that the braintrust doesn't know how to operate a team, as evidenced by the fact that they don't have any wide receivers. Expect Reggie Brown to make that sentence null and void this season, and expect the Eagles to press on just fine without Trotter. With the deepest lines on either side of the ball in the league, they're even able to take the hit if All-Pro right guard Shawn Andrews can't go. If I'm expecting declines from the Giants and the Cowboys, those wins have to go somewhere, and the Eagles are target No. 1. Over.
PFP 2007 Projection: 5.8 Wins
There's been a lot of talk on our discussion forum about how KUBIAK and the projection system are "broken" when it comes to the Rams. It's entirely possible that there are variables we haven't yet accounted for, but when we factor in the variables that work for everyone else, the system spits out poor numbers for the Rams. It's not as if there's no reason to believe in the projection: The skill players are not likely to be as healthy as they were last year -- which we're already seeing with Torry Holt. Their line is anchored by a rapidly aging Orlando Pace, the one important Rams player who did get hurt last year, Marc Bulger threw interceptions at a flukishly-low rate early in the season, and the Rams actually acquired Mike Rumph of their own free will. There's a 12 percent chance, according to the system, of the Rams winning nine or more games. I'm willing to believe in that, even if it's underrating the Rams somehow. Under.
PFP 2007 Projection: 8.1 Wins
Our predictive powers say that the 49ers have the easiest schedule in football in 2007. In 2005 and 2006, we said that about the Bears; they went from 5-11 to 11-5 to 13-3. Schedule helps, a lot. So will adding the best defensive player on the market, acquiring a true No. 1 receiver, and replacing the weak link of your team (right tackle Kwame Harris) with a first-round pick. Concerns about Frank Gore's injury-prone nature are overblown; this is one of the smartest organizations in the league, and they know well what they're doing. If their front seven solidifies more quickly than expected, they win the division. If not, they're still a decent bet to win eight or nine games, and that's worth taking the Over.
PFP 2007 Projection: 8.0 Wins
The thing is that I really have to choose the Over here, merely because I've got Arizona winning five games and St. Louis winning seven. Someone has to take this division, and while there are a lot of negative things in Seattle, realistically, there are still enough positive things to pull it off. For that to happen, the offensive line has to be healthier than last year; if anyone gets hurt, they have even less depth than they did in 2006. They can afford to lose Darrell Jackson following the ascension of D.J. Hackett, but they have no tight ends of any note. Marcus Tubbs, absolutely essential to the Seahawks' defensive line, has only recently (as in this week) returned to practice following microfracture surgery on his knee. On the other hand, they'll have a full year of Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander. To me, that's enough to push them over nine wins and win the division, even if it is a last gasp.
|Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason’s wacky Gil Thorp blog.|
PFP 2007 Projection: 9.0 Wins
Ah, the team only a mother (or FO projection system) could love. Tampa was the NFC's most-injured team in 2006, but with fewer spleens left to rupture, that's probably going to regress some, which helps their projection. What Tampa really has to overcome is aging, particularly on the defensive side. On offense, if everything goes right (especially with Jeff Garcia and what was an abysmal offensive line in 2006), they have the weaponry to actually show off a serious attack. In a division where I'm saying everyone else will hit the under on their projection, someone has to actually win some games. Over.
PFP 2007 Projection: 8.2 Wins
I'm going to say that the Redskins not only hit their Over, but they host a playoff game. Why? A lot of things. Their third-down performance on defense is going to improve, and they've upgraded their weaknesses with the additions of LaRon Landry, Fred Smoot (who is at least better than Mike Rumph, for sure) and London Fletcher-Baker, plus the return to health of Cornelius Griffin. On offense, while Brandon Lloyd will continue to be Brandon Lloyd, the Redskins will have had a full year to digest the Al Saunders offensive playbook, with Lewin Career Forecast favorite Jason Campbell behind center from training camp on. While we're not sanguine on Clinton Portis' chances of staying healthy for a full year, he'll be able to split time with Ladell Betts. I may be a fool, but I think that I'm buying low here on an underrated team.
Gerry: My dynasty league team is absolutely loaded right now. 12-team league, Carson Palmer, Charlie Frye, David Carr and crap at quarterback; LaDainian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander at running back with good depth in Brandon Jacobs and Michael Turner; Roy Williams, Mark Clayton, D.J. Hackett, Vernon Davis and crap at wide receiver; Stephen Gostkowski and Nate Kaeding at kicker; Giants and Denver at defense. For all intents and purposes, it's a straight touchdown league with passing touchdowns equal to others, although you can get a bonus point for 300 yards passing, 100 yards rushing or 100 yards receiving. Picking last as the champ, I am envisioning that Russell, Johnson, Peterson, Lynch, Quinn, Bowe, Meachem, Davis, and Gonzalez will be gone. One other rookie may go, but in the past we have almost always had at least one free agent go at some point in the first round, so I am guessing the above will be the list of rookies gone by my pick.
I doubt I can get a player who will improve my team for this year, so I need to think down the road. Running back depth may become a problem with Alexander's inevitable decline continuing. My quarterback depth needs addressing, but next year's rookie class looks to be exceptionally deep for quarterbacks. Wide receiver is the place I could upgrade the most, so is that where you would go if you were me? Right now, my short list is Kolb if I decide to address quarterback this year and Steve Smith (who has been catching everything in Giants camp, and has Toomer aging in front of him) if I don't. Which position would you focus on? What would your short list be?
The thing about The Other Steve Smith is that he also has to compete with Sinorice Moss for playing time, and a lot of people forget about Sinorice Moss because he pretty much disappeared for the 2006 season. I agree that wideout is probably the best place to look for depth, and you're right that most of those guys will be gone by the time you get to pick. If Anthony Gonzalez falls to you, he would be the guy I would take regardless of who else is out there -- the Colts simply don't miss on first-round picks, especially at skill positions. I would focus on guys who will be seeing more playing time towards the end of the year in unsettled situations -- that includes Minnesota, where Sidney Rice and Martin Nance (who might be the most impressive player in Vikings camp this year) could be playing roles in an offense with the competent Kelly Holcomb behind a (half) good offensive line by midseason.
Later on, there might be some players who are still available as free agents, but are essentially rookies because of their lack of experience. Mark Bradley on Chicago is a fantastic player when he's healthy (37.4% DVOA) ... but he's never healthy. Jerome Mathis on Houston is a speed demon who's returning from injury and could see some deep throws if Matt Schaub stays upright. Derek Hagan of the Dolphins is a possession receiver who goes over the middle, and that's exactly what the Dolphins offense is lacking at the moment. With Samie Parker's hold on the starting job slipping, Kansas City might turn to Jeff Webb or Chris Hannon to replace him. All of these guys are relatively low-profile, but could help your team toward the end of this year while remaining effective keepers for years to come.
Next week, Scramble previews Week 1 of the NFL season, just like how the real Web sites do it: with video games.
52 comments, Last at 06 Sep 2007, 2:09pm by Sid