St. Louis Rams Preview

4 September 2008

Few teams had to deal with the kind of injuries the Rams did last year. Although they are getting older (Torry Holt and Orlando Pace especially), they still have the skill players to get it done. They welcomed in Al Saunders to inject life into their Offense. They have a talented QB in Marc Bulger. If he can stay healthy, he should be able to return to form. They brought in Trent Green to hold the clipboard. He’s good for a game or two in a pinch if need be. Steven Jackson held out for and eventually got the big bucks. He’s deserving, but I don’t get what took so long. He would have been better served to get into camp and get the rust off. He should be fresh from missing the preseason, but could come out of the gates a little slow. The Rams will need to be cautious with him to avoid an hamstring or groin injury, which tend to happen when you try to do too much too fast on a football field. Torry Holt is still the leader of the WR corps, but they’ll have to make due without Isaac Bruce, who moved onto San Fran. Drew Bennett is penciled in as the other starter, but he’ll have to prove he can stay healthy. Dane Looker and Dante Hall should factor in the receiving game as well. At Tight End they are hoping to get more production out of Randy McMichael, who was underwhelming in his first season with the Rams.

On Defense the Rams drafted Chris Long to help their Defensive Front. He joins Leonard Little, La’Roi Glover (6 Sacks), and second-year first rounder Adam Carriker. This should be a pretty strong unit if they can stay healthy. Will Witherspoon (110 Tackles, 7 Sacks) is an outstanding Middle Linebacker. Cornerback Fahkir Brown picked off 5 passes last year. Safeties Oshiomogho Atogwe (75 Tackles, 8 INTs) and Corey Chavous (75 Tackles, 3.5 Sacks) give them a pair of solid Safeties.

If they can stay healthy they will challenge for the NFC West. This division is pretty wide open. I still think the Seahawks will find a way to win it. The Rams will win around 8 games.

Fantasy-wise Steven Jackson is worthy of a top four selection. He is a dynamic runner that is capable of catching the ball out of the backfield. Al Saunders has a pretty good history with RBs. Torry Holt is still worthy of being a #1 WR, but he’s no longer a Top 5 WR. Marc Bulger is taking a shot on as a fantasy starter, but you should have a capable backup. Randy McMichael is worth a look at Tight End. He’ll probably start off as a reserve, but could prove worthy of a starter.

Arizona Cardinals Preview

4 September 2008

The Cardinals are a mess.  Matt Leinart can’t beat out an aging Kurt Warner for the gig.  Anquan Boldin is unhappy.  They are still one of the worst franchises in all of sports.  They can score some points though.

On Offense Kurt Warner gets a chance to see what he can do.  He threw for over 3400 yards and 27 TDs even though he didn’t play the full season.  He has two great weapons in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, who combined for 2200+ yards and 19 TDs.  Bryant Johnson left the desert for the Bay, but he’ll be replaced by Steve Breaston (second-year out of Michigan), Jerheme Urban, and Early Doucet (rookie out of LSU).  Leonard Pope, at 6’8″ provides a great red zone threat.  On the ground Edge is coming off an awesome year.  He ran for 1200+ yards and 7 TDs and added another 200 through the air.  Tim Hightower, he has one of the coolest names in the NFL, will steal some of Edge’s carries, particularly in the red zone.

Defensively the Cards will have to make due without the versatile Calvin Pace.  Gerald Hayes (98 Tackles) and Karlos Dansby (97 tackles) anchor the Linebackers.  Chike Okeafor did not play last year, but had at least 7.5 Sacks the previous four seasons.  Darnell Dockett had 9 Sacks at DT and Antonio Smith had 5.5 at DE.  Cornerback Roderick Hood and Safety Antrel Rolle each picked off five passes last year.

The NFC West is wide open.  All four teams have a realistic shot at the Division Crown.  I think Seattle holds them off one more time, but Arizona really pushes them this year.  Their Defense is truly the key to the season because the Offense will get theirs.  I see them winning anywhere from 7 Wins to 11 Wins, although I’d lean more toward that low end.

Fantasy-wise Fitz and Boldin are solid #1 & #2 WR choices.  I like Fitz better, but Anquan is no scrub.  Edge is worth having, especially if he can be your #3 RB or a flex player.  Tim Hightower really seems to be pushing him for touches.  Hightower is worth stashing on your bench as a handcuff.  Kurt Warner is worthy of a fantasy starter as long as he stays healthy and the line holds up.  Don’t bother with Matt Leinart until he proves he’s capable.  Arizona Defense is a possibility given their relatively weak Division.  Neil Rackers is a solid Kicker.

Seattle Seahawks Preview

4 September 2008

The Seahawks will sure look different without Shaun Alexander. Sure, he was a fraction of himself the past couple years, but it’s always a little sad when a Running Back’s time expires. It sometimes happens in the blink of an eye. Thankfully SA got paid before he hit the wall because he gave the franchise a lot. On to the players that are actually still on the Seahawks.

Offensively this is still very much a pass-first Offense.  Matt Hasselbeck has quietly been one of the best QBs in the league since 2003.  Last year was his finest in terms of yardage and TD passes.  Unfortunately he doesn’t have many weapons at his disposal at present.  D.J. Hackett moved on the Carolina.  Deion Branch tore his knee, although he’s going to try and give it a go this weekend.  Bobby Engram injured his shoulder.  He still has Nate Burleson, who scored 9 TDs last year.  Starting opposite of Burleson is Courtney Taylor, a second-year player out of Auburn.  Jordan Kent (second-year out of Oregon) and Logan Payne figure to get in on the action as well.   Rookie Tight End John Carlson out of Notre Dame, Jeb Putzier, and Will Heller give Seattle some depth at Tight End.  On the ground Maurice Morris, Julius Jones, and T.J. Duckett figure to share the load.  Shaun Alexander can’t feel great about getting replaced by that garbage.

Defensively Seattle remains one of the better units.  Lofa Tatupu (109 Tackles, 4 INTs), Julian Peterson (74 Tackles, 9.5 Sacks), and Leroy Hill (81 Tackles) make a great Linebacker unit.  Patrick Kerney was busy getting to opposing QBs 14.5 times.  Darryl Tapp added 7 Sacks.  Marcus Trufant (85 Tackles, 7 INTs) anchors the secondary.  This is a strong unit with few weaknesses.

I expect the Seahawks to win the NFC West again.  They are just too solid on Defense and will find a way to score points on Offense.  They’ll likely win 10 games next year and fall early in the playoffs.

Fantasy-wise I like Matt Hasselbeck, Nate Burleson, and Seattle Defense.  Bobby Engram and Deion Branch are worth stashing on your bench until later.  Maurice Morris and Julius Jones are roster worthy.  I wouldn’t touch Duckett.

Philadelphia Eagles Preview

4 September 2008

Jase Patrizio, one of my best friends and an Eagles fanatic, was kind enough to preview the Eagles for me.

Health is such a commodity in the NFL today. If your playmakers can’t avoid injury it obviously changes the shape of your team’s season. Last year for the Philadephia Eagles there were injuries to many key players. Brian Dawkins (11 games), Lito Sheppard (10 games), L.J. Smith (10 games) and the oft-injured Donovan McNabb missed 3 games due to an ankle injury in Miami. However this is all part of the game unfortunately. It can get pretty stressful when coupled with the difficult family situations Coach Reid had to deal with in both of his sons poor judgement. Since it’s Philadelphia there’s even more urgency for the team to get back to the Super Bowl. It will be a tough road but it can be done. The New York Giants have proven just that last year. It’s simply critical that the team’s elite stay healthy this year or it could mean big changes.

WR Kevin Curtis is already on the shelf until at the very least October with a sports hernia injury which kept McNabb off the field last year. 
The team finished up strong with big wins over Dallas and New Orleans but went 8-8 and missed the playoffs and finished in last place in an extremely competitive NFC East. There were a few concerns last year which I believe the Eagles covered in the draft and in free agency. Last year the return game cost them a few close games and really didn’t put the offense in the best position it could be in. The team was ranked in the top ten in both passing and rushing but couldn’t finish off drives while in the red-zone. Defensively they were last in the league in takeaways and had a league low 11 interceptions. We all know that a good defense can be a good offense. There is some concern also with the offensive line, veterans Jon Runyan (13th season) and William Tra Thomas (11th season) aren’t getting any younger and we saw what happened when Winston Justice filled in…Osi Umenyiora collected 6 sacks. I am not sure this issue has been addressed though.

The Birds landed one of the biggest defensive free agents on the market in Assante Samuel (22 interceptions in 75 regular season games, and five more in 14 career postseason). I think this was a great move with concerns about the health of the secondary and as far as increasing opportunities for takeaways. Now they have great depth at CB with Samuel, Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard. Pair them with healthy safeties Brian Dawikins and Quintin Mikell and this could be a very dominant defensive backfield. This will also allow Jim Johnson to be aggressive against any offensive line with defensive ends Trent Cole and Juqua Parker, who replaces the disappointing and departed Jevon Kearse. Broderick Bunkley and Mike Patterson are big run stoppers who will be aided by a young but fast LB corps of Chris Gocong, Stewart Bradley and Omar Gaither. The Eagles didn’t make any significant moves on the offense front in free agency. They tried to get Randy Moss and there were many rumors swirling about a Lito + draft picks for an elite WR like Ocho Cinco or Larry Fitzgerald.

The draft is where the Eagles could have gotten some nice talent. They picked up LDT Trevor Laws from Notre Dame with their first pick who will take reps with Mike Patterson.  Laws led Notre Dame with career highs in tackles (112) and sacks (4.0), while adding three blocked kicks on special teams. His 112 tackles were the most by a defensive lineman in the major college ranks, and one shy of Notre Dame’s single-season record among defensive linemen, (Steve Niehaus, 113 in 1975). With their second round pick which has the whole city buzzing is WR/PR DeSean Jackson.  The 5’10″ – 175llb product from Cal who scored 29 total touchdowns in 36 career games as a wide receiver and return specialist. He also set a Pac-10 Conference record with six punt returns for touchdowns in his career. He will contribute immediately as Curtis and WR Reggie Brown are dealing with injuries. Jackson is lightening fast, has good hands and is not afraid to go across the middle. He will most likely be playing with a chip on his shoulder due to his size and weight. I don’t know about you Eagles fans out there, but I am excited to see this guy play.

Even more exciting is that the Eagles have an explosive weapon in HB Brian Westbrook. He is one of the league most dangerous players. He is truly an elusive back with his speed, hands and smarts. Westbrook lead the NFL with 2,104 yards from scrimmage, was 3rd in rushing yards, second in touches and had 7 touchdowns (8 if Jon Runyan didn’t tell him to kneel on the goaline against the cowboys). He’s also proven that he’s a durable back too missing only 1 game in the last 2 seasons. Correll Buckhalter will continue to back him up, behind him is Lorenzo Booker acquired via trade for a 4th round draft pick. This is interesting because this is a guy who has westbrook-like characteristics and could be a threat when paired with him in split back sets.

At tight end LJ Smith gets the franchise tender and will try to stay healthy this season so he can help the eagles improve scoring inside the redzone. Brent Celek filled in admirably for him late last year and has been moved up the depth chart as #2 TE in front of Matt Schobel.

Philly Phans are already calling for the Kolb Era to begin, Personally I think McNabb will be healthy this year and return to Pro Bowl form as long as he can deliver the ball accurately and quickly. I think he needs to work on his timing and that will boost his confidence and make him more comfortable. I would also like to see him go deep like he was doing two years ago with Donte Stallworth (which DeSean Jackson could fill). He has one of the stronger arms of all the quarterbacks but needs to have his WRs Curtis (also another burner when he returns), Reggie Brown, Hank Baskett, Jason Avant and Greg Lewis focused on catching balls and beating the press and taking advantage of the playaction. They can line Westbrook up anywhere and open up coverage and create mismatches which should allow for this.

If the Birds as a whole can stay healthy, if the defense can be solid by generating turnovers and if the offense can resolve its red zone inefficiencies I believe that the Eagles have a chance to make the playoffs and to challenge for the NFC title. I can see them going 10-6 this year and winning two games in the playoffs.

Fantasy wise: Westbrook is your best bet for an elite first round RB before LT and AD. Donovan McNabb has the ability to be a top ten quarterback who can has the  potential to be a starter when the matchup is favorable.  He may be a more solid started when Curtis comes back.  When he does return expect Curts to be a low-end #2 or a solid #3 WR. Reggie Brown could be a solid #3 WR. LJ could be a nice backup TE and worth a bye week replacement or if the matchup is ripe. The defensive unit could be a top 10 unit and is looking to turn things around this year. David Akers is a decent fill in for your starting kicker is on bye.

Excellent job Jase. I too have the Eagles making the playoffs.

Fantasy Football Out on a Limb is back for another season.  I scour the rosters to select a player who I feel will outperform a higher profile player in that given week.  I base my decisions on matchups, how the players are trending, and the ever-important hunch.  To mix things up I’ll occasionally do some two on one matchups or even pit RB or WR duos against each other.  Sometimes I’ll spot a player some points. 

Scoring
6 points for rushing or receiving TD
4 points for a passing TD
0.1 points per yard for rushing or receiving
0.05 points per passing yard. 

Quarterback
 
Tony Romo
over Tom Brady
They are two of the best QBs in the league.  They both are linked to hot chicks.  They both have easy matchups (Romo vs. CLE and Brady vs. KC).  I think missing the preseason will leave Brady a little rusty.  Romo should be sharp and pile on the numbers vs. the Brownies.

Running Backs
 
Michael Turner
over Ryan Grant
The Burner gets to make his Atlanta debut vs. Detroit with a Rookie QB at the helm.  You get the feeling they are going to try and protect him and lean on Turner & Co.?  Me too.  Ryan Grant gets to face a tough Minnesota Run Defense without Brett Favre.  Considering what Grant showed before last year, his fluke factor has to be questioned.

 
Selvin Young
over Darren McFadden
The backs square off as Denver and Oakland collide.  I hate to rely on a Bronco Running Back, but I think he gets off to a better start than Run DMC.  First of all, he’s facing a much easier Defense.  Secondly, he doesn’t have as talented a back (Justin Fargas) to share with.

Wide Receivers
 
Larry Fitzgerald
over Randy Moss
I hate to gang up on the Patriots, but I see a team that will be much more balanced this season.  I don’t see quite as many multiple TD games for Moss.  If Kansas City gets physical with him, Moss could see a dip in his productivity.  With Kurt Warner at the helm, Fizt could be one of the busiest wideouts in Week 1.

 
Jerricho Cotchery over T.J. Houshmandzadeh
Brett Favre is going to get Cotchery involved early in often as the Jets take on Miami.  I see a long TD reception for Jerricho as he quickly becomes Favre’s favorite target.  Meanwhile, Housh is trying to recover from a hamstring injury with a QB that could be gun shy following a broken nose.  Top top it off, he gets to face Baltimore.

SUPER STRETCH
 
Ray Rice
over Fred Taylor
Maybe I’m crazy for making this prediction, but I think Ray Rice gets off to a real nice start to his NFL career.  He gets to face Cincinnati and McGahee is pretty banged up.  That should give Rice the touches he needs to make an impact.  Meanwhile Taylor has to share a backfield with MJD and face a tough Tennessee team.

Tennessee Titans Preview

3 September 2008

Another year and another season that Vince Young does not have the weapons he needs to make a progression as a QB.  I don’t understand the logic.  The free agent market was pretty thin for WRs, but there were some decent options such as D.J. Hackett or Bryant Johnson.  They would have been an upgrade for VY compared to the junk pile he gets to throw to.  It’s clear that Vince Young will have to do more damage with his feet to be successful in ’08.  At least he does have a potential go-to-go in Tight End Alge Crumpler, who fared well with another athletic QB in Atlanta.  So just who does VY have to throw to other than Crumpler?  Justin McCareins, Justin Gage, and Brandon Jones.  Excuse me while I clean the puke out of my mouth.  There were plenty of young WRs in the draft and they come away with Lavelle Hawkins in the 4th round.  Seriously?  Get VY some weapons already. 

On the ground LenDale White was a pleasant surprise with 1100 yards and 7 TDs.  Let’s just hope he stays motivated and doesn’t allow his conditioning to go into the tank.  He has a pair of speedy RBs behind him on the depth chart in Rookie Chris Johnson and second-year back Chris Henry.  I don’t understand why the take Johnson in the first round when he essentially does what Henry does.  I guess they are admitting they blew that pick.  Instead of getting VY a receivng threat they pick up a backup RB.  Brilliant.

Defensively the Titans rid themselves of the Pacman fiasco.  The straw that stirs the drink on D is Albert Haynesworth.  He was easily their best defensive player last year.  He takes so much pressure off the rest of the D-Line.  Kyle Vanden Bosch took advantage of that by racking up 12 Sacks.  Linebacker is also a strength led by David Thornton (122 Tackles) and Keith Bulluck (88 Tackles, 5 INTs).  Corland Finnegan (95) and Nick Harper (77) racked up the Tackles for Cornerbacks.  Second-year Free Safety Michael Griffin and Chris Hope look to improve their Safety play.

So where do I project Tennessee?  Dead last in the AFC South.  Indy and Jacksonville are superior teams and Houston is more balanced.   Of course, VY could take matters into his own hands and destroy my way of thinking.  That said, I’m expecting 6-8 Wins from Tennessee.

Fantasy-wise you can gamble on LenDale White to do it again.  Vince Young is worth taking as a backup, especially if you have a solid starter.   Chris Johnson is worth taking in case LenDale gets hurt.  Alge Crumpler makes a solid backup Tight End.  Tennessee Defense and Rob Bironas should both be solid as well.

Houston Texans Preview

3 September 2008

Pop Quiz. Who led the Texans in rushing yards each of the past two seasons?  Would you be surprised to find out it was Ron Dayne.  Well, there will be a new one this year as Dayne and the Texans have parted ways.

On Offense Houston will need Andre Johnson to stay healthy.  He was a monster when healthy last year, and he’s their only hope to compete with the Big Boys in their division.  The Texans have two capable QBs in Matt Schaub and Sage Rosenfels.  It’s nice to have a safety blanket if your starter goes down. Besides Johnson, the Texans have some other decent options at wideout.  Kevin Walter quietly turned in 800 yards last year.  Andre Davis provided some big plays.  Jacoby Jones could be provide some unexpected production.  Their running game is a mess.  Ahman Green has not held up his side of the bargain.  He’s dealing with a groin injury.  They also brought in Chris Brown, who has had a history of injuries as well.  Don’t be surprised if Rookie Steve Slaton takes charge of this backfield and finishes as your starter.  They have one of the best Tight Ends in the league in Owen Daniels.  He caught over 60 passes for nearly 800 yards. 

On Defense Super Mario Williams is making Houston look smart for taking him, especially given some of the struggles out of Reggie Bush and Vince Young.  He had 14 Sacks last year.  DeMeco Ryans (128 tackles) and Morlon Greenwood (118 tackles) are a terrific pair of Linebackers.  Amobi Okoye just turned 21 and had 5.5 Sacks as a Rookie.  I expect great things out of him.  C.C. Brown recorded 84 tackles out of the Free Safety position.  Fred Bennett and Will Demps were solid.

This is an improving team. I love their Defense.  I don’t think they are quite ready to challenge Indy and Jacksonville, but I think they will be better than Tennessee this year.  They should win half of their games this year, and if they can improve on Offense, could surprise some teams and sneak into a Wild Card spot.  Not likely, but with their Defense, anything is possible.

Fantasy-wise I love Andre Johnson.  He should be a top ten WR this year.  Matt Schaub is a decent backup fantasy QB.  Kevin Walter makes a solid #4 or #5 WR to be used in bye weeks and in an injury pinch.  Their RBs are a mess, but I like Slaton the best.  At least he has upside.  I fully endorse Owen Daniels.  He cuold have a breakout season at Tight End.  Houston Defense is a good one to grab.  I wouldn’t use them vs. Indy or Jax, but they should do well against lesser teams.

Jacksonville Jaguars Preview

3 September 2008

The Jags are coming off an excellent season that nearly ended in a trip to the Super Bowl.  The expectations are high in Northern Florida.

On Offense they are led by David Garrard, who played nearly mistake-free football last year (18 TDs to 3 INTs).  He just oozes confidence and his teammates believe in him.  He has the luxury of two dynamic Running Backs to make his life easier.  Fred Taylor is coming off a brilliant year that saw him run for 1200 yards at 5.4 per carry.  Maurice Jones-Drew is a human bowling ball that picked up nearly 1200 total yards and 9 TDs.  They truly provide a scary 1-2 punch because they both can go the distance on any given play.  Reggie Williams proved to be a TD threat with 38 catches for 629 yards and 10 TDs.  They added Troy Williamson (who’s quick as hell, but can’t catch) and Jerry Porter (whose hamstring is already acting up), but I’m not sure how much of a factor they will be.  Dennis Northcutt was solid last year (44 catches, 601 yards) and will likely catch his share of passes.  Matt “Crackman” Jones was nearly cut.    Marcedes Lewis is a nice sleeper candidate at Tight End.

On Defense the Jags excel.  Reggie Nelson and Brian Williams are an excellent pair of Safeties.  Rashean Mathis is a solid Corner.  Paul Spicer brings the heat from Defensive End.  They are looking for improved production out of Reggie Hayward as well as in impact from Rookie Derrick Harvey (who was the last first-rounder to sign).  John Henderson and Rob Meier are the Interior Lineman as Marcus Stroud has moved on to Buffalo.  At Linebacker the Jags line up Daryl Smith, MIke Peterson, and Clint Ingram.

I look for Jacksonville to take one of the Wild Card slots in the AFC.  I think they will match their 11 Win total from last year.  They have the ability to win it all, but I don’t see them winning more than one playoff game.

Fantasy-wise David Garrard is best suited to be a fantasy backup.  If you ignored the QB position and stocked up elsewhere, I can justify using him as your starter.  MJD is a worthy #2 RB because of his versatility and his TD production.  Fred Taylor is best suited as a #3 RB or a flex position starter.  I don’t like any of their wideouts, but Marcedes Lewis is a nice late pickup for a backup Tight End.  Both Jacksonville Defense and Josh Scobee are good values in the last two rounds of drafts.

Indianapolis Colts Preview

3 September 2008

The Colts 2007 campaign can be summed up in one word…injuries. They lost a key member on both sides of the ball (Marvin Harrison and Dwight Freeney), yet they were still one of the league’s elite teams. I see no reason that changes this year.

On Offense you know the cast of characters. Peyton Manning is their brilliant QB who may start a little slow as he recovers from knee surgery, but he’s still put up his usual 4000 yards and 28+ TDs. He’s got weapons galore with Reggie Wayne emerging as one of the top WRs in the NFL. He also has old pal Marvin Harrison back and second-year wideout Anthony Gonzalez. Their running attack is led by Joseph Addai, who like Manning and Wayne is one of the best at his position. He had over 1400 total yards and 15 TDs last year. Dominic Rhodes is back to help share the load, as is Rookie Mike Hart out of Michigan. The is a question mark for the Colts at the Center position. Jeff Saturday could miss the bulk of the season with a knee injury. Although he’s one of the leaders of their Offensive Line, Manning is savvy enough to make the necessary adjustments to keep the offense running like a well-oiled machine.

On Defense, it will be interesting to see if Dwight Freeney can regain his burst. His return will take some pressure off Robert Mathis allowing him to do his thing. The heart of the Defense is Bob Sanders. If his body can hold up, he’ll anchor that secondary and provide run support. The Defense is instantly improved when he’s on the field. Gary Brackett was their leading tackler (116) at Linebacker. He added four INTs. Their Cornerbacks Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden had 87 and 83 tackles last year respectively. Their other Safety, Antoine Bethea, picked off 4 passes. This unit can be solid if they can stay healthy. If they can’t the Offense will just have to score more.

The Jaguars will challenge them, but the Colts will win the AFC South once again. They’ll win 12 or 13 games and have a legitimate chance to win another Super Bowl. Personally I think New England or San Diego will dispose of them in the playoffs, but you can never count Peyton out.

Fantasy-wise you know the drill. Take Addai and Wayne in the first round. Peyton in the second. Later grab Marvin, Dallas, and Anthony Gonzalez. Late rounds you can grab Rhodes as a handcuff, Indy D, and Adam Vinatieri. Just be cautious because you may not get top production in your Fantasy Super Bowl.

Chicago Bears Preview

3 September 2008

 

David Funk of the Fantasy Sports Depot was kind enough to preview his beloved Bears for me.  Here is a look at his solid work.

 

There has been more talk about the starting quarterback controversy in Chicago in the past two years, that it’s easy to forget this is a team that is one year removed from playing in a Super Bowl. The Bears are hoping that Kyle Orton can bring consistency to the position, and won’t have to be in situations where he’s relived upon to win games.

The running game was equally as bad, if not worse, than the quarterback play for the team a year ago. Troubled and mostly ineffective running back Cedric Benson is now gone from the team, and Tulane standout Matt Forte was drafted to challenge for a starting job anyway. Former Lions running back Kevin Jones was signed to help restore a running game as well.

The offensive line for the Bears is a question mark especially with the uncertainty of first round pick Chris Williams hurting at this time. The team is thin on depth as a result, and this isn’t good news for an offense that has issues and concerns in other areas already.

The Bears have talent have wide receiver, but they’re mainly unproven. Marty Booker returns to Chicago to give the team a veteran presence while Brandon Lloyd and Mark Bradley have something to prove. Earl Bennett, the team’s third round choice this year, could figure into the equation, too. But the big move was Devin Hester moving to wide receiver full-time to give them a big-play threat, and he’s expected to be just that for them.

On defense, Chicago fell off last year because of injuries, ineffectiveness, and consistent play-calling.  Brian Urlacher is being looked upon to return to form this year, and Lance Briggs is also back to return what should be one of the league’s best linebacking duos.

The defensive line will have to get back to controlling the line of scrimmage which proved to be a problem at times a year ago. Tommie Harris is a force up the middle, and Mark Anderson will have to provide a consistent pass-rush at for the team to get back to having one of the league’s better defenses.

The secondary is returning healthy which wasn’t the case for a stretch last year. Emphasis was put on adding depth to the unit in the draft to ensure this isn’t an issue for the second year in a row.

Hester will be given many opportunities to score on returns, and the Bears special teams unit is one of the best in the league. Robbie Gould is a reliable kicker and the return coverage has been a strong point for them, too.

Lovie Smith has been a successful coach since he came to Chicago, but has been criticized by many for the decisions made on the offensive side of the ball in particular. The distractions of Benson, Tank Johnson, and the starting quarterback job has dominated much of the talk in the Windy City the last two years.

Fantasy-wise, Hester is a strong pick especially in leagues that count return yardage and touchdowns. Tight end Greg Olsen could be a sleeper pick as well.

The Bears should have enough to contend for a division title because other teams also have question marks at the quarterback position as well as elsewhere. The team will have to get back to winning games the way they did in 2006 with a power running game and strong defense to get back to the playoffs. Special teams play will be good, but should they not get back to their ways of 2006, it will be a long and very cold season in the Windy City in 2008.

Nice job David.  I’m putting the Bears on a 7-9 season and 3rd in their division.  Sorry pal.


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