Carolina Panthers Preview

1 September 2008

It seems like every year Carolina is somebody’s pick to surprise everybody and do it all. I think, for once, that isn’t the case.

Offensively there are some concerns.  Jake Delhomme is coming off an elbow injury that cost him all but three games last year.  Those three games he was terrific, but a major injury like this could linger.  He’ll be without Steve Smith for a couple of games for breaking Ken Lucas’ nose for him.  As long as Delhomme stays healthy Smith should put together a strong season.  Joining him is D.J. Hackett (from Seattle) and Muhsin Muhammad.  He played well in Carolina, so maybe he’ll have a decent year.  On the ground they will employ both Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.  Personally, I’m afraid of DeAngelo holding up.

On Defense the Panthers have several big name players such as Julius Peppers and Jon Beason, who is an absolute beast.  He tallied 140 tackles.  They were middle of the road on yardage allowed total, yardage allowed – passing, and yardage allowed – rushing.  They will need to get to the QB more as they ranked 31 in the league with 23 Sacks.  That’s just not going to cut it.

The team as a whole won’t cut it either.  There are too many holes to expect a major turnaround this year.  We’ll have to wait and see their approach.  I don’t see the playoffs on the future for Carolina.  I see around six or seven wins.

Fantasy-wise the Panters have some playmakers.  Jake Delholmme is an adequate backup, although he could end up being one of the top sleeper picks at QB.  Both Jonathan Stewart and DeAngleo WIlliams figure to get carries.  I like Stewart better, but that’s because I feel he’s more likely to get the red zone touches.  Steve Smith is worthy of a #1 to #3 WR depending on league size.  He’ll miss a couple of games for breaking Ken Lucas’ nose, but fantasy owners are more worried about their last few weeks.  You can take a chance on Muhsin and Hackett in larger leagues.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Preview

1 September 2008

 

The Bucs are coming off a 9-7 that saw them win the NFC South. They were pretty quiet this offseason, with the exception of being a player in the #4 saga.

Offensively they are pretty old.  Jeff ”Cherry” Garcia is 38.  Joey Galloway will turn 37 this November.  Ike Hilliard is 32.  Michael Clayton sucks.  Oops, how did that slip in there.  That’s your passing attack.  Some old heads and some scraps.  Antonio Bryant came over from San Francisco, and he could provide a boost to their passing game.  Their ground game will again be led by overachieving Earnest Graham.  He took advantage of a break last year to rack up over 1200 total yards and 10 TDs.  Not too shabby if I say so myself.  The Bucs brought Warrick Dunn, who’s 33, to share the load.  Michael Bennett will probably get worked into the mix as well.  Alex Smith showed some promise at Tight End.

Their Defense is anchored by Derrick Brooks, imagine that.  He put together a 109 tackle season.  Barrett Ruud (114 tackles) and Cato June helped round out a solid Linebacking corps.  Jermaine Phillips (83 tackles, 4 picks) was a solid contributor at Strong Safety.  Phillip Buchanon and Ronde Barber round out a stellar secondary.  Greg White, Jovan Haye, and Gaines Adams provided a nice pass rush.  I expect even bigger things for Adams in his Sophomore year.

Cherry Garcia does just enough to pick up victories.  He doesn’t turn the ball over and let’s his strong Defense go to work for him.  That combo will be enough for the Bucs to pick up another nine or ten wins this year.   They will make the Wildcard and be immediately shown the door.  At least they are getting invited to the dance.

Fantasy-wise Tampa has little to offer.  Garcia is only good during the bye week of your starting QB.  If you’re going to roll with him make sure he has a nice matchup that week.  Earnest Graham has great potential if he can prove last year wasn’t a fluke.  Joey Galloway is the weapon you’ll want in the passing game.  I won’t endorse Antonio Bryant fully, but he is worth considering. 

 

The Saints saw their window as Now so they made some moves in the offseason that suggest they are going for it.  The added Jeremy Shockey to an already potent Offense.  On Defense the brought in new faces like Jonathan Vilma, Sedrick Ellis, and Randall Gay.   We’ll see how these moves work for them.

On offense they stacked. Drew Brees is a Top 5 QB in this league.  He consistently tops 4000 yards.  Adding Shockey at Tight End gives him another threat, and the best one at that position since Antonio Gates in his San Diego days.  He has some solid wideout to get ball to as well.  Marques Colston showed last year wasn’t a Sophomore Slump.  I look for a monster season out of him this year.  David Patten had a nice, quiet season.  Many feel that Robert Meachem will have a breakout season, myself included.  Brees will also have threats out of the backfield in Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, both have proved to be capable receivers.  If Deuce McAllister can return to form and give them the tough running between the tackles, this could prove to be the league’s best offense.

You know what you are getting from the Offense.  It’s the Defense that will let us know if they are pretenders or contenders.   The Defense is anchored by Will Smith.    Rookie Sedrick Ellis will look to compliment Smith and put pressure on the QB.  They need more production out of Charles Grant.  Their Linebackers are led by Scott Fujita, Mark Simoneau, and Scott Shanle who all had 68+ tackles last year, along with Vilma, who is looking to rebound from a down 2007 season.  They have some decent Safeties in Roman Harper and Josh Bullocks, who were their second and third leading tacklers last year.  Randall Gay and Bobby McCray were brought in to mix at Cornerback with Mike McKenzie and Jason David.

If you ask me, the Saints will benefit from their roster moves.  It may take a little while to gel, but I see them winning their division, getting hot in the playoffs, and losing in the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots.  They’ll go 12-4 in the regular season.

Fantasy-wise the Saints are stacked.  Brees is a Top 5 QB.  Colston is a Top 10 RB.  Shockey could be a Top 5 Tight End if he stays healthy and doesn’t become a distraction.  Reggie Bush could be poised for a breakout year.  Deuce McAllister and Pierre Thomas are worth roster spots or in the very least worth keeping an eye on.  Robert Meachem is a nice sleeper to stash on your bench.  David Patten is someone to keep in mind during bye weeks.  Martin Gramatica should have plenty of opportunties to score some points.  The Defense may prove themselves worthy of a bye week/matchup fill-in.

Cleveland Browns Preview

31 August 2008

The Browns were the surprise team last year.  Now that they can’t sneak up on anybody, I’m interested to see how they will do.

Offensivley they were one of the best units last year.  Derek Anderson was an unbelievable find racking up nearly 3800 yards and 29 TDs.  He suffered a concussion this preseason, which hopefully won’t carry with him into the seasons.  If it does, Brady Quinn will be waiting in the wings.  From what he’s shown this preseason, he needs a little more time learning the position.  At Running Back Jamal Lewis had a surprising year as well.  He tallied over 1550 total yards and 11 TDs.  He was particularly effective down the stretch.  At Wide Receiver the Browns added Donte Stallworth to compliment Braylon Edwards.  At Tight End Kellen Winslow is one of the game’s best. Their Offensive Line is great, anchored by second-year Left Tackle Joe Thomas.   They are even well-stocked in their return game with Joshua Cribbs.

Defense is, and will continue to be, their weekness.  They did add Shaun Rogers, which should help.  LB D’Qwell Jackson (101 Tackles) and FS Sean Jones (96 Tackles, 5 INTs) are their biggest playmakers.  They had a few guys with 4 or 5 Sacks, but nobody who put real pressure on the Defense.  Hopefully Rogers can either provide that pressure or draw enough attention that somebody else will be able to.

I think they will be decent this year, but I don’t see a playoff berth in their cards.  The AFC is just too loaded.  8 or 9 Wins is what I expect.

Fantasy-wise the Browns are stacked.  I’m not a huge DA guy, but he did produce monster numbers at QB.  I cant’ justify taking him early, so he’d only make it to my team if he fell into my lap.  Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow are beasts in their respective positions.  Jamal Lewis should be productive again, and as long as he seems to be associated with a decline like the Edge, he’ll be a great value.  Donte Stallworth is worth snagging as a 4th or 5th WR.  Phil Dawson is a solid Kicker.  I wouldn’t reach for him, but if he’s there on your last pick, he’s worthy of a roster spot.

 

David Campanelli, one of my best friends and a Steelers fanatic, was kind enough to review his Steelers for me. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a moderately successful year, especially considering it was Mike Tomlin’s first season as coach, replacing long-time coach Bill Cowher. But what will happen in his second season? The team, more and more, is taking on his personality, where many of the mainstays from the Cowher years (Joey Porter, Alan Faneca, Clark Hagans, etc.) are gone. but as Tomlin molds the franchise to “his team” rather than the team he inherited, he has a tough challenge in 2008.

The challenge begins with the schedule. The Steelers have the toughest schedule in the league this year (based on opponents winning % from 07), and play in an increasingly tough division. The Browns are the “it” team of the moment, the Ravens are always dangerous, and even though the Bengals seem to be in some disarray they always play the Steelers tough. The Steelers also play the Eagles, Giants, Cowboys, Colts, Titans and Patriots. Ouch. They should win the division, but it will be a tough battle.

The second challenge is rebuilding the offensive line. The Steelers biggest offseason move was letting Alan Faneca walk in free agency. Now Alan Faneca is an all-time great Steeler , go back to Week 14 in 2005 when the Steelers beat the eventual NFC North Champ Chicago Bears. That win set off a string of 8 straight wins, culminating in a Super Bowl victory. Alan Faneca starred in that game, dominating more than i have ever seen an offensive lineman (particularly a guard) dominate a football game. Without that performance they do not make the playoffs and do not win the Superbowl. You always hate to see a franchise guy and future Hall of Famer leave the team, but the contract the Jets gave him was ridiculous. He’s turning 31, and he’s not the dominate force he once was. The Steelers line, particularly in pass protection was terrible last year. This unit, minus Faneca will be the key to what the Steelers are able to accomplish this season. But Left tackle Marvel Smith is reportedly back to full strength after off-season surgery finally fixed a lingering neck problem. Faneca’s replacement Chris Keomeatu is their secret weapon. He’s nasty and will show it on the field this year.

The reason why the offensive line development is so key is because the Steelers have as much talent at the skill positions as they have in ages. Ben Roethlisberger is turning into an elite QB. Hines Ward is still Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes is poised for a huge breakout year. Newly drafted wide out Limas Sweed is the big target Big Ben was looking for, although he might be a year away from being a contributor. Heath Miller is the best pass catching TE the Steelers have had since the days of Eric Greene. The RB corps should be good again this year. Fast Willie Parker is coming off a broken leg, but he seems fine. He’s been overused the last couple of years so having Rashard Medenhall spell him and work the goal line should be great for both backs. Mendenhall could be the steal of the draft at the 23rd pick. Also, for the first time in ages the Steelers have a legit pass catching 3rd down back in Mewelde Moore.

Defensively the Steelers will be solid, if not outstanding. They need to develop a pass rusher, other than James Harrison who can get to the QB without too many “gimmicky” blitzes to help them get there. That man should be LaMar Woodley, their 2nd round pick from last year. If the two OLBs can apply pressure on their own, this D gets immensely better. Also, watch out for Lawrence Timmons, their 1st round pick from last year, who has been flying around camp hitting anything that moves. The Steelers moved him inside and he should challenge Larry Foote for the starting spot at some point this season.

Fantasy Focus: From a fantasy perspective the two guys to go after are Big Ben and Santonio Holmes. Roethlisberger is the best of the 2nd tier of QBs, and should really be the 5th QB off the board. His only drawbacks are the numbers of picks he throws and sacks he takes. But both of those should improve this year. Santonio Holmes is going to be the breakout WR in fantasy this year. I’ve been taking him just after the top 10 WRs are off the board, right after a guy like Plaxico Burress. The RB situation is one I’d stay away from. Willie Parker was a yards horse, but has never scored a lot of TDs. With Mendenhall stealing carries, and yards, Parker’s value drops. Mendenhall will get the goal line carries, but i don’t know that he’ll get enough touches in between the 20′s to be a huge fantasy factor. Finally, Jeff Reed remains one of the most overlooked kickers in fantasy football. The Steelers will score a lot of points this year, and he’s always been consistent, despite kicking at unfriendly Heinz Field. Let everyone else draft a kicker and then take Reed with your last pick in the draft.

 

The Benglas are such a mess.  Chad Ocho Cinco wants to get paid and then he gets hurt.  Carson Palmer gets his nose broken for him.  Rudi Johnson can’t play and expects to be traded.  Housh has been slowed by a hamstring injury.  Marvin Lewis, a great defensive mind, can’t field a strong defensive unit.  He tried to rid the team of Chris Henry and his distractions, but was forced to welcome him back.  What a mess.

Offensively, if they can put together a healthy unit, they should be fine.  Carson Palmer is still a Top Ten QB in this league.  He’s big and strong and can make all of the throws.  They have a trio of capable backs in Chris Perry, Rudi Johnson, and Kenny Watson.  If Chad Johnson can deal with his partially torn labrum, he’s still one of the top receivers in the game.  T.J. Houshmandzadeh is a big-play threat and a TD machine. Chris Henry is a very talented receiver, but is far too often finding himself on the wrong side of the law.

Defensively, they are a mess.  They will miss Justin Smith and Madieu Williams, who have moved on to the 49ers and Vikings respectively.  Sure, Rookie LB Keith Rivers should help matters, but he can only do so much.  Landon Johnson and Dhani Jones will help at Linebacker.  Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph give them a pair of young, talented Cornerbacks.  Deltha O’Neal and Dexter Jackson provide some experience and leadership.  They just aren’t equipped to put pressure on the Quarterback, which makes life hard for everybody. 

So where do I see the Bengals finishing?  In a battle with Baltimore to avoid the basement of the AFC North.  Six maybe seven Wins.   Marvin Lewis will be shown the door after the season.  The roster blown up.  Yeah, it’s not going to be pretty.

Fantasy-wise the Bengals still have the goods.  Carson Palmer is a top-end starting QB.  Chad Ocho Cinco and Housh are top-end WRs.  Chris Henry will likely be a solid #3 or #4 WR when all is said and done (assuming he doesn’t get arrested).  Rudi Johnson, Chris Perry, and Kenny Watson are all capable of getting it done.  It’s just a matter of who will get the touches.  Ben Utecht is a sleeper candidate at Tight End.  Shayne Graham should be a solid Kicker.  I wouldn’t touch that Defense.

Baltimore Ravens Preview

30 August 2008

The Baltimore Ravens brought in John Harbaugh to be their new Head Coach this offseason.  They are still known for their Defense and Harbaugh will have to play up to that strength because he’s limited offensively.

At QB Kyle Boller’s shoulder has eliminated him from the QB competition.  Troy Smith looked to have the starting gig locked down until he was derailed with tonsillitis.  That opens the door for Delaware Rookie Joe Flacco.  I figured Flacco would get the starting job at some point this year, but didn’t anticipate it coming in Week 1, as it appears to be the case.  Whoever mans the offense has a few options at their disposal.  For the ageless Derrick Mason, who caught an amazing 103 catches last year.  He also has the underachieving Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams.  If Todd Heap can stay healthy he would add a little more firepower.  At Running Back Willis McGahee’s knee has kept him out of action.  He will be limited early on.  Fortunately for the Ravens Rookie Ray Rice has looked excellent in the Preseason, and could have a major role early on.  Life will be a little tougher though without Jonathan Ogden. 

Defensively this team is still led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.  They are complimented nicely by Kelly Gregg, Dawan Landry, Bart Scott, Terrell Suggs, Chris McAllister, and Samari Rolle.  They aren’t the dominating Defense they once were, but they still one of the better units in the league.  Age could come into play for the Ravens, as many of the key starters are on the wrong side of 30. 

The Ravens aren’t going to offer any false hope of making the playoffs next year.  If they can get to 6 Wins they should consider it a successful season.  They are just lacking too many weapons on Offense and are too vulnerable on Defense because of their age.  This team could very well win 3 games next season.

Fantasy-wise the Ravens offer very little.  Willis McGahee is worth having, but I don’t have an easy felling about him.  Based on where in the draft you get them, I would rather have Ray Rice on my team.  Derrick Mason is worth having as a third through fifth wideout.  No matter who is quarterbacking this team, Mason makes a nice security blanket.  Todd Heap is worth the risk as a low-end starting TE or high-end backup.  He needs to prove he can stay on the field.  The Defense is still worthy of being one of the top Defenses selected, but don’t be foolish and take them too early.

Detroit Lions Preview

29 August 2008

The Detroit Lions are at it again.  They rid themselves of the Mad Scientist Mike Martz so maybe they will have a little more balance in their offense.  They still have that Matt Millen fella hanging around.  I’m not sure what it would take for him to get canned.  I guess at least it gives us something to talk about.

Offensively the Lions are hoping Calvin Johnson can stay healthy and bring his preseason explosiveness into the real games.  He was slowed by a back injury for much of last year, but has looked great thus far.  He forms a dynamic duo with Roy Williams that should allow Jon Kitna to post solid numbers.  They have good complimentary receivers in Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald.  On the ground they drafted Kevin Smith out of UCF.  He’ll team with Tatum Bell to give the Lions a decent 1-2 punch. 

Defensively this team was a mess last year.  They gave up passing yards like the people on the Strip handing out those Call Girl cards.  Ernie Sims and Paris Lenon made a solid 1-2 punch at Linebacker.  They both tallied over 100 tackles last year.  Shaun Rogers moved onto Cleveland so DeWayne White and Jared DeVries will be asked to put pressure on the QB.

I expect another season in the cellar for the Lions.  The rest of the division sports solid defenses, one thing that Detroit clearly lacks.  If they can claw their way to 7 Wins, I’d be impressed. 

Fantasy-wise the Lions have some options.  Jon Kitna is a great backup and borderline starter given the pair of dandy wideouts he has in Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams.  I expect Calvin Johnson to outperform Roy this year.  Kevin Smith could provide them with a weapon out of the backfield, which is something that’s been missing in year’s past.  If you’re in a large league, Tatum Bell is worth a flier, but I’d keep him on the waiver wire in smaller leagues.  Don’t go anywhere near that Defense except to start everyone that faces them.

The Redskins head into the year with a new Coach (Jim Zorn) and a new Offense so their may be some growing pains initially. Jason Taylor has been added to the mix as well as a bevy of new weapons on Offense for Jason Campbell.

Their ground attack should be solid again.  They have a nice offensive line anchored by Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen.  Clinton Portis is one of the steadier Running Backs in the league and  Ladell Betts is one of the better backup RBs.  In the air Jason Campbell has a pair of speedy veterans in Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El.  The Skins also drafted highly touted Rookie Widouts Devin Thomas (6’2″ out of Michigan State) and Malcolm Kelly (6’4″ out of Oklahoma).  Talk about lighting a fire underneath your starters.  They Skins did the same at Tight End adding USC Rookie Fred Davis to position they were already strong at with Chris Coooley.  If my math doesn’t fail me that’s six solid options at WR and TE.  That’s the way to offset the transition to a new offense.

Defensively they are going to miss Sean Taylor this year.  His tragic death shocked his teammates and gave them something to rally around.  Now that they are more removed from it and the emotions aren’t as raw, they will miss his production.  LaRon Landry is a star in the making, but Taylor will still be missed.  Jason Taylor will be asked to provide and emotional spark as well as heavy pressure on the QB.  Taylor and Andre Carter should be a formidable duo up front.  The Linebacking corps is headed up by London Fletcher, who led the team with 128 tackles last year.  I don’t feel like they are in the better half of the defenses in the league.

The Skins have a pretty tough schedule hosting New Orleans and Arizona and going to NYG, Dallas and Philly in their first five games.  Throw in the Browns, the Steelers, the Seahawks, and home games against their NFC East mates, and you get a picture of the tough road ahead of them.  I’m afraid that the Skins will hold down the cellar position in their division.  They’ll probably win 6 or 7 games.

Fantasy-wise I really like Clinton Portis and Chris Cooley.  Portis is a guy who gets a bunch of carries, including red zone touches, and receptions.  Cooley has been quite productive the past few years and has a knack for producing TDs.  Some like Santana Moss to have a solid year.  I am not one of those people.  He’s far too inconsistent for my taste.  I don’t recommend the Rookies until they either prove they can contribute on a regular basis or win a starting job.  Jason Campbell is an adequate backup QB, who could be used in your starter’s bye week or given the right matchup.  The same goes for Washington’s Defense.

New York Giants Preview

29 August 2008

The team is truly Eli Manning’s now that Tiki Barber and Michael Strahan have retired in subsequent years.  Not to mention the respect he gained as he picked up his game on the Giants improbable Super Bowl Run.  Not that they are the Champs, everybody will be gunning for them.  Playing in one of the toughest divisions in football doesn’t help matters.

Offensively I don’t see a lot of differnce between last year’s model and this one.  Their Offensive Line is still intact.  The triple-headed rushing attack of Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Derrick Ward will wear teams down.  Eli Manning will pass for around 3500 yards and 22-25 TDs while throwing around 16-18 INTs.  Plaxico Burress will continue to be Eli’s top target, but I expect Steve Smith to finally start to show his worth.  Kevin Boss will try to replace Jeremy Shockey.  While he won’t produce like Shockey, he won’t disrupt like Shockey either. 

Defensively life will be more difficult with the retirement of Michael Strahan and the season-ending injury suffered by Osi Umenyiora.  Those 22 Sacks are going to be hard to replace.  I expect Justin Tuck to become one of the most dominating forces in the game, but he won’t be enough.  They will need some production from elsewhere.  Not only are there star lineman gone, but #2 tackler Gibril Wilson went to Oakland and #3 tackler Kawika Mitchell went to the Bills.  Rookie Kenny Phillips should help their secondary, but they will need their defensive front to put pressure on the QB or Giants fans could have some long Sundays.

I don’t see the Giants making it back to the playoffs, much less repeating.  Losing Strahan and Osi will prove too costly.  I’m predicting a 7 to 9 win season for the G-Men.  The Giants like being underdogs though so anything is possible.

Fantasy-wise Eli is a low-end starter/high-end backup fantasy QB.  He simply throws too many INTs for my liking as a fantasy guy.  Brandon Jacobs is the highest value of the RBs and Ahmad Bradshaw is the one I would use as a handcuff.  Plaxico makes a decent #1 WR or an outstanding #2.  Steve Smith and Amani Toomer are worth a flier in late rounds.  The same goes for TE Kevin Boss.  My expectations of their defense lowered after the Osi injury.  They still are worth a start vs. the right matchup.


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