2009 NFL Football Preview and Week One Picks
Football is Back (Finally)
It's that time of year again, and if you're like me, it is not a minute too soon. I like a good hockey game and an MMA pay per view makes for a good evening, but for me nothing compares to the National Football League. That compact sixteen game season, where every game is crucial, just can't be beat for the build up of drama and excitement. Unlike all those other sports with 80-100 games a year, there is no room to take a day off in the NFL.
As I did last season during the playoffs, I will be writing weekly hubs picking the games both for the actual winners and against the point spread. Thanks in large part to the Cardinals winning when they were supposed to get trounced in the playoffs and then losing in the Superbowl, once I finally believed in them, I did fairly mediocre overall last season. I had some good weeks and some bad weeks, eventually averaging out to 5-6 straight up and 6-5 against the spread. I also threw in a couple sucker bets on the Superbowl (the over/under and the coin toss), and appropriately enough, ended up covering one and losing one.
I expect to do better this year, although I do tend to start slow and then come on strong at the end (I've won in three out of the four years I've participated in pick'em leagues). I'm not sure exactly why that is, but one of my theories is that I'm not much of a college football fan and it takes a few weeks to judge how the players coming in from the draft will impact teams. Anyway, the moral to the story is that if I stumble a bit out of the gate stick with me and I'll right the ship by midseason. However, before I get into picking individual games, this hub will be devoted to predicting the winners of each division, as well as the playoffs and the eventual Superbowl winner. In future weeks I will devote more time to analyzing the individual matchups, but in the first week it's kind of a crap shoot anyway since you don't have any actual games to judge teams by.
So go break open your piggy bank, get all your money together (a second mortgage is a possible option), and get ready to bet it all on my Superbowl pick.
That's Gonna Hurt in the Morning
You Pick the Winner
Who do you think will win the AFC East title in 2009?
The AFC East
I fully expect that New England's offense will be back to the level it was prior to Tom Brady's injury. There's just two potential weaknesses I see coming into the season for the Pats. One would be the defense with them having lost Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, and Richard Seymour, as well as defensive coordinator Josh McDaniels since last season. The other possible problem is a offensive line that looks a bit leaky. I think they have enough talent to overcome the O-line issues. It might cost them a game or two against some aggressive defenses, but most of the time there will be an open receiver before Brady goes down. The defense is going to be a bigger problem. Expect a lot of shootouts this year when they play the better teams on their schedule.
Miami is primed to threaten New England for the division title, but I think they are going to have a bit of a sophomore slump. The main reason being that the Dolphins won't be sneaking up on people this year. They'll be solid and win more than they lose, but they won't quite get over that hump just yet.
New York is the team that might pull the surprise this year (not the faltering down the stretch kind of surprise they came up with last year). I'd attribute this to two rookies; QB Mark Sanchez and coach Rex Ryan. Sanchez has looked good in the preseason, but things are a little different once the games actually count, so you have to be a bit skeptical in spite of what happened last season in Atlanta and Baltimore (and in Pittsburgh a few years back). The other rookie is the ace in the hole. Rex Ryan has got the defensive pedigree (seemingly) without the tunnel vision that prevented his dad from developing an offense when he was a head coach. He's also got the personality and bravado that comes with the name. Great defense and a swagger can be the ingredients for a top notch team. If the Jets win early, they could ride that a long way.
The one team that is shaping up to be on the outside looking in is Buffalo. The offense looked abysmal during the preseason and Trent Edwards looked like he was completely lost. Granted Terrell Owens wasn't playing then, but there is a limit to how much he can do to help and not as much of a limit to how much he can hurt a team. The over/under on TO having some sort of meltdown and taking the Bills down with him is week six.
At the end of the day it's the Patriots again, although the days of walking through the division without breaking a sweat will soon be over.
You Pick the Winner
Who do you think will win the AFC North title in 2009?
The AFC North
In the AFC North, Pittsburgh is the obvious favorite just off the basis that they won it all last year and have been in the mix every year except one since Ben Roethlisberger took over. The still have the dominating defense and Big Ben has gone from throwing the ball every once in a while so the other team can't just defend the run on every down to a big time QB who can carry the offense. Unfortunately, the Steelers' offensive line has been progressively getting worse each year. So the run game that was once a huge strength has been going down hill. The other problem is that Roethlisberger has been getting beaten up by opposing pass rushers. The eternal question the past few years has been will Ben hold up through the season. Last year the answer was yes, but how many more three, four, or eight sack games can he withstand without some sort of major injury?
As usual, Baltimore has a lot in common with Pittsburgh. In many ways they are like the ghost of Steelers past. They have a solid defense a young, steady quarterback that isn't asked to do much except not make mistakes, and a strong run game that carries the offense. The biggest difference is the age of the defense, but it seems like that has been the dig on them every year since forever and it has yet to hold them back. They'll be a solid team again, but I think their weakness at receiver will be hard to overcome this season.
In Cincinnati it will be yet another mediocre year. They Bengals may produce a few fireworks on offense, but the defense will be horrible, as is the tradition. There's no reason to believe that anything will be any different this year than it has been in recent history.
Cleveland, on the other hand, has the potential to be a bit different. Unfortunately for Browns fans, if there is any change it will be for the worse. As hard as it is to do worse than the 4-12 record they posted last year, everything about this season has the stink of disaster on it. Mostly it revolves around new coach Eric Mangini, whose previous nickname "Mangenius" has become an ironic joke at this point. His ultra authoritarian style of coaching will wear thin quick once the loses start rolling in (and they will).
At the end of the day I think it's a typical dogfight between Baltimore and Pittsburgh for the division title. This time I think the Ravens come out on top, although it could really go either way. The Steelers will take a slight step down and the Ravens will step up to fill the gap.
You Pick the Winner
Who do you think will win the AFC South title in 2009?
The AFC South
Last year Indianapolis started slow and then came on strong at the end. Mostly that was because Peyton Manning was injured at the beginning of the season. That's not an issue this year, but the Colts do have some huge question marks. Not the least of which is the retirement of Tony Dungy. You have to figure there is a potential for some fall off there. The question is how they will adjust to the absence of Marvin Harrison. Of course, he was pretty much absent all of last year and they managed without him. I don't really see the offense being a problem. The defense has actually been getting progressively better the past few years. The one big potential on field problem might be with the special teams, who played pretty badly last year.
Unlike Indy, Tennessee started strong and kept right on rolling. Going into the playoffs it looked like they would dominate on their way to the Superbowl. It didn't quite work out that way, but they aren't a much different team plowed through the regular season in 2008. Kerry Collins is there at QB to throw just enough to keep the opposing defenses honest while handing off most of the time. The one big question is how will the defense compensate for the free agent loss of Albert Haynesworth. In the past when he's been out with injuries the defense as struggled. However, replacing a player in the middle of the season is a bit harder than when you have a chance to adjust to him not being there. I think they will manage and the defense will still be a major strength in 2009.
Things will be pretty typical in Houston. They have some sort of pact with the devil which stipulates that they have to finish 8-8 every year. So, once again, they will start out crappy and then finish with a flourish to reach eight wins. During the offseason, everyone will talk about how strong the Texans finished and how much they look like a team that is going to have a break out year in 2010. And the devil will laugh a long hearty laugh.
The Jaguars are looking down the barrel of a dismal season. David Gerrard is at best a mediocre QB and the receiving corps isn't going to help him much. Maurice Jones-Drew is a pretty decent RB, but half the offensive lineman are rookies and the defense isn't going to be afraid to stack the line with that scary passing attack. The defense is nothing to crow about and the special teams are very middle of the pack. If Jacksonville wins six games this year they'll be overachievers.
At the end of the day it'll be a lot like last year. Tennessee will win the division, followed very closely by Indy.
You Pick the Winner
Who do you think will win the AFC West title in 2009?
The AFC West
By the end of this season the AFC West will officially be the worst division in the NFL. Possibly, the worst in the history of the NFL. San Diego will win by default being the only decent team. I actually believe that if you traded the Chargers with the last place team in any other division, that last place team would compete for the division title in the AFC West. That's just how bad everyone except San Diego is. So, I'm not going to spend a lot of time discussing this comedy of errors.
As I said, San Diego will be the default winner. I think their defense will be a bit less than it as been in previous years, while the offense will hold up fairly well. However, I do think LaDainian Tomlinson has seen his best days. Fortunately, it just doesn't matter much in this division.
I think Kansas City is the one team besides the Chargers wh has some potential. However I think the Chiefs are a couple years away from supplanting San Diego as the western power.
It's hard to pick just who is going to be worse between Oakland and Denver. I think the Broncos probably win out (barely) based on talent. However, Josh McDaniels might have set a record for alienating a team. Of course, Al Davis has spent the past decade alienating anyone associated with the Raiders, so he has quite a head start in that respect.
At the end of the day, as I said before, San Diego wins the division by default. I'll be surprised if anyone else in the AFC West even has a winning record.
You Pick the Winner
Who do you think will win the NFC East title in 2009?
The NFC East
This year the NFC East will feature a couple dogfights. Two teams will be battling over first place, while the other two will be battling over last place.
New York looked like the favorite going into the playoffs last year before getting ambushed by the Eagles. A big part of that had to do with the hole at receiver created when Plaxico Burress put a hole in his leg. The Giants haven't really replaced Burress this year, but their offensive line is good enough to allow Eli Manning to play it safe and let the running game do most of the work. It also doesn't hurt that the defense is solid as usual and will keep games close enough for them to win it without needing to score a bunch of points.
The Eagles snuck into the playoffs and then caught fire and made it all the way to the NFC Championship last year. There's no reason they shouldn't compete for a playoff spot again this year, but there a few questionable spots that might throw a wrench in those plans. First, the defense hasn't played particularly well in the preseason. Of course as mentioned earlier, it is only the preseason. However, you do have to wonder if the loss of longtime Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson (died from cancer) might set them back a bit. Then you have the often injured Brian Westbrook, who is getting up there in years. LeSean McCoy has shown some signs that he may be able to step up and fill in for Westbrook, but it's never a good thing to have to count on a rookie. Outside of that, the Eagles are pretty solid on defense they have a good crew at receiver and Donovan McNabb has a couple more good years in him. Personally, I see Michael Vick as a non-factor. I wouldn't be shocked if Andy Reid managed to put together a few trick plays to use him, but he's just not durable enough to play as a running back and not accurate enough to play as a quarterback. It takes a lot of selective memory to classify Vick as one of the top QBs in the NFL as he has been labeled after his arrest.
Dallas is one of those teams that will be fighting to avoid last place. I tend to believe that they will manage to grab third place. The Cowboys still have a pretty good amount of talent even with Terrell Owens making the move to upstate New York. In fact, if anything that will help a bit. Problem is I think the damage is already done. I don't think the team has any respect for Wade Philips after he let TO and Jerry Jones (on TO's behalf) walk all over him. Not that Philips was particularly assertive in the first place. They'll have a solid defense and a above average defense, but when it really matters, they'll falter just like the past few years.
Washington is that other team that will be battling over last place. I think the Redskins will ride their offense and Jason Cambell's arm all the way to the bottom. Bringing in Albert Haynesworth will help with their biggest defensive weakness, which was an inability to get to the quarterback. It just won't be good enough to offset a very ordinary offense and a consistently subpar special teams. They could conceivably be competitive on the strength of the defense, but I don't see it happening.
At the end of the day it's going to be a battle to the end between the Eagles and the Giants. I think the Giants pull it out again this year.
You Pick the Winner
Who do you think will win the NFC North title in 2009?
The NFC North
Obviously the big story in the NFC North (and the NFL in general) is that Brett Favre retired and then thought about coming back before thinking about it some more and then deciding to kinda make up his mind to retire and then thought it over again before deciding to maybe think about possibly deciding to consider coming back. Then once everybody forgot about him, he signed up to play for Minnesota so he could punish Green Bay for worshiping him like a saint for decades.
In my opinion Minnesota made a huge mistake signing him. They already have a Superbowl contending team. They don't need a superstar quarterback to save the day. All the Vikings need is a guy who can play solid ball, not mistakes, and get out of Adrian Peterson's way. They coulda coached Tavaris Jackson to be that type of QB for them. They aren't going to be able to coach Favre to be that type of player. Favre is gonna want to be the focus of the offense and he just doesn't have it anymore. Plus, he's already said he doesn't think he can hold up for a full season physically and even before the preseason ended he was already complaining about injuries. Sounds like he's setting his excuse up for when he doesn't play well and is looking for a convenient excuse to kinda retire again halfway through the season.
That whole revenge fantasy Favre has about Green Bay isn't going to be so easy to carry out. Aaron Rogers might not be ever be good enough for the Hall of Fame, but he is definitely good enough to do the job for the Packers. They've got a great group of receivers and a great offensive line. The one spot that might give them some trouble is the running game, but most of the problems with that last year was due to Ryan Grant being injured. Defense was their biggest stumbling block last year. After switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4 during the offseason the defense dominated in the preseason. Of course, that comes with the familiar caveat that it was just the preseason and doesn't necessarily mean anything, but it was well beyond just a slight improvement.
Chicago is another team with a ton of buzz about their incoming quarterback. Although I think Jay Cutler is pretty overrated and will really miss those receivers he had in Denver, he still an upgrade over Kyle Orton (who is in Denver now) and Rex Grossman. He has the physical skills. I just don't think he has the mental skills. Also, he doesn't have anywhere near the receivers he had in Denver. Devon Hester is a capable deep threat and Greg Olsen is a legitimate weapon at TE, but that's about it and he won't get much help from the running game. On defense the Bears won't be particularly bad, but unless their defensive backfield improves dramatically over last year, they won't be particularly good either.
The Lions don't have much of a chance to be good, but they couldn't possibly gt any worse (yeh I know, sue me). They are deep into rebuilding mode and some people might say that's been the case since the 50's. All jokes aside, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Detroit came out angry and played with enough passion to win six or seven games. That may not be a lot to most teams, but when you put up a giant goose egg the previous year, it is a step in the right direction.
At the end of the day I think Green Bay runs away with the title. Chicago and Minnesota might give them some trouble early in the season, but I think both of them will fade down the stretch.
You Pick the Winner
Who do you think will win the NFC South title in 2009?
The NFC South
Atlanta is stacked on offense. The Falcons already had a dominant running back (Michael Turner) and a great group of receivers. Then during the offseason they added Tony Gonzalez, one of the all time best receiving tight ends. Matt Ryan would have to have quite the fall from grace in his second season not to have another huge year. The defense should be pretty solid again. The one scary spot will e the linebackers where they lost Keith Brooking in free agency. The front four could be better than last year and the defensive backfield is capable, if not spectacular.
The Saints aren't too shabby on offense either. Drew Brees threatened to break Dan Marino's single season yardage record and he might just chase it again this season. He's a great QB and he has some of the most talented receivers to throw to and one of the best offensive lines to give him time to find those receivers. Plus the running game is no pushover, thanks in large part to that O-line. On defense, New Orleans isn't quite as dominant as the offense should be, but they are good enough to hold up their end. They might have a bit of trouble if Will Smith and Charles Grant, who are both defensive ends, end up serving four game suspensions (for banned supplements), but if they overcome that potential hurdle they should make out pretty well.
Carolina should be in the mix, but I don't see them being much of a threat to Atlanta and New Orleans. Jake Delhomme never was much more than a marginal quarterback with a strong arm. He's getting to be over the hill and the last few years the Panthers have lived off the running game. On the upside he still has Steve Smith to throw to and that counts for a lot. The running game will be adequate (but a bit of a step down from last year) and the defense will be capable. All in all they'll make some noise, but not enough to be there at the end.
Tampa Bay looks to be at the bottom of the pile. They are starting with a retread QB (Byron Leftwich) who is just marking time until they decide rookie Josh Freeman is ready to take over. To complicate things further, they've already fired the offensive coordinator before the season even began. On top of that the Buccaneer's usually strong defense completely unraveled at the end of the season. It's gonna be a few years at least before Tampa Bay is done rebuilding this franchise.
At the end of the day, I think it'll be close a close contest between New Orleans and Atlanta, but New Orleans will come out on top.
You Pick the Winner
Who do you think will win the NFC West title in 2009?
The NFC West
Arizona finally rewarded all those people that have been picking them as the surprise "breakout" team every year since the 80's. They shouldn't disappoint again this year. In fact, in terms of the regular season, they should do a little better this year. There is a question about overcoming the loss of offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Even if there is a bit of a drop off, they still have an explosive offense with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin making things easy for Kurt Warner. They also have Tim Hightower and rookie Beanie Wells taking care of the ground game. The big "IF" is whether the Cardinals defense will continue playing the way they played in the playoffs during their Superbowl run or revert to the form (or lack thereof) they displayed during the season when they gave up points like a department store Santa handing out candy canes.
In San Fransisco, I believe Mike Singletary has them headed in the right direction and they may threaten the Cardinals for the division crown. However, I think they are still a year or two away from really pulling it together. Their offense just isn't up to snuff and a big part of that is the lack of a quality quarterback. The 49ers defense probably won't be setting the world on fire either, but they are fortunate enough to be in a division full of terrible defenses. In fact, they were actually the best scoring defense in the NFC West even though they gave up over 23 points a game. Some (any) improvement on defense would go a long way toward making them contenders in this division.
Seattle on the other hand, is headed the wrong direction. First of all, I think Jim Mora Jr. is overrated and he was the wrong guy to replace Mike Holmgren. Secondly, this team is too old to run with the new pups in the league. Matt Hasselbeck is injury prone and Seneca Wallace isn't good enough to replace him as the starting QB. The receivers aren't horrible, but they aren't anything to write home about either. Neither are running backs Julius Jones and Edgerrin James. On defense, the Seahawks are pretty solid at linebacker, but it's all downhill from there. They are downright awful in the secondary and the line is average at best. They'll be giving up plenty of points and they don't have the offense to keep pace with it.
The Rams are another team I think could have the potential to be good a couple years down the road. It's definitely going to be down that road though, because they just don't have the talent to do anything right now. They are horrible on offense with the one lone bright spot being Steven Jackson (when healthy). As bad as St. Louis is on offense, they are even worse on defense. They are in for a brutal year.
At the end of the day, I think Arizona is going to take over for Seattle as the perennial winner of the NFC West. At least for the next couple years.
So boiling everything down, we have the Patriots, Ravens, Titans, and Chargers as the division winners in the AFC. Along with that, I believe the Colts and Jets will make the playoffs as the AFC wildcards. In the AFC Championship game , it'll be the Titans over the Jets.
In the NFC, we have the Giants, Packers, Saints, and Cardinals as the division winners. Along with that, I believe the Eagles and Atlanta will make the playoffs as the NFC wildcards. In the NFC Championship game, it'll be the Saints over the Packers.
In the Superbowl, I'm picking the Saints over the Titans. So there you have it, now you know what will go down in the NFL during the 2009 season.
Note: Rather than doing a 32 team poll asking who you think will win the Superbowl, I would like to encourage you to feel very free to let me know what you think of my predictions (good or bad) and list your own predictions if you disagree with me.
My Picks for the Week One Games
Just in case you aren't familiar with the various terms, "straight up" means simply which team actually wins the game and "against the spread" means you are betting that the margin of victory will be within a certain amount of points. If you are giving points, then you are betting your team will win by at least that many points. If you are getting points, then you are betting that your team will either win or lose by less than the point spread for the game. So for example, if you are betting on the favored team with a 4 point spread they would need to win by at least 4 points in order for you to win. Conversely, if you bet on the underdog they would need to either win the game or lose by less than 4 points in order for you to win.
Let's get to those picks. The point spreads are in parenthesis next to the underdogs. My picks are listed next to the game listings. Each game has two picks. One straight up pick and one pick against the spread. Feel free to play along at home.
Atlanta vs Miami (+4) -------- Straight up: Atlanta / Against the Spread: Miami
Cincinnati vs Denver (+4.5) ------- Straight up: Cincinnati / Against the Spread: Cincinnati
Minnesota @ Cleveland (+4) -------Straight up: Minnesota / Against the Spread: Minnesota
Indianapolis vs Jacksonville (+7) ------- Straight up:Indianapolis / Against the Spread: Indianapolis
New Orleans vs Detroit (+13) ------- Straight up:New Orleans / Against the Spread: New Orleans
Dallas @ Tampa Bay (+6) ------- Straight up: Dallas / Against the Spread: Tampa Bay
Philadelphia @ Carolina (+1) ------- Straight up: Philadelphia / Against the Spread: Philadelphia
Baltimore vs Kansas City (+13) ------- Straight up: Baltimore / Against the Spread: Baltimore
Houston vs New York Jets (+4.5) ------- Straight up: New York / Against the Spread: New York
New York Giants vs Washington (+6.5)-------Straight up: New York/Against the Spread: New York
Arizona vs San Francisco (+6.5) ------- Straight up: Arizona / Against the Spread: San Francisco
Seattle vs St. Louis (+8.5) ------- Straight up: Seattle / Against the Spread: St. Louis
Green Bay vs Chicago (+3.5) ------- Straight up: Green Bay / Against the Spread: Green Bay
New England vs Buffalo (+11) ------- Straight up: New England / Against the Spread: New England
San Diego @ Oakland (+9.5) ------- Straight up: San Diego / Against the Spread: San Diego
I didn't do bad at all with my straight up picks even though it took some outrageous last minute comebacks on Monday to pull out both my picks in those games. Overall, I ended up 13-2 on the scoreboard. Unfortunately, things were a bit less impressive at the sportsbook. Those late comebacks just weren't enough to salvage it for me and both Monday night dogs covered to put me into the negative with a 7-8 record against the spread. As you may have noticed I'm not counting the Pitt-Tenn game because I didn't write this preview until after the Thursday game. For what it's worth, I did pick the Steelers to win, but not cover.
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