The NFC will be strong in 2006. In fact, despite my predictions, any one of these teams could finish the season on top of the East.
I like the Eagles most because they are basically the same team that went to the Super Bowl two years ago. They don’t have TO now; they didn’t need TO to win the NFC in ‘04. Donovan and Brian Westbrook have looked good early.
The Cowboys should get into the playoffs, and if they do, the addition of Owens was the answer to Parcells’ playoff questions. Dallas’ defense isn’t as stout as it needs to be. But offensive talent will keep them in every game.
The Washington Redskins went out and attempted to buy themselves a championship squad. It hasn’t worked for them yet; I don’t know why this season will be any different. I like the Redskins’ defensive unit, but washington isn’t as well rounded as the rest of the East.
Many people will say that there is no way the Giants will finish last in this division, after winning it last season. It happened to the Eagles last year, and it won’t surprise me one bit if it happens again this season. I don’t think the Giants got much better defensively, and Eli Manning is too inconsistent to own the East two years in a row. Tiki Barber is one of the leagues’ best offensive players, but I don’t see the Giants outplaying the Eastern powers.
Overall, this is the strongest division in the NFC, and quite possibly all of football. The Eagles will surprise while the rest of the East will fight for a wild card spot.
While the NFC South will give the East a run for the NFC’s strongest division, I can’t see the Saints winning more than 6 games, which weakens the South’s resume.
The Panthers are the best team in the NFC. I’m not as high on the addition of Keyshawn “The Mouth” as the rest of the football world seems to be, but I’m sure he’ll help the Panthers cause. The biggest off-season move the Panthers made was when they named De’shaun Foster their #1 back. Foster gives the Panthers an explosive runner they didn’t have when Stephen Davis was the starter last year. Health will be key for the Panthers, but if they hold together defensively, and keep Steve Smith on the field, they get 12 victories easy.
The Buccaneers could be scary. If Chris Simms can take the next step, Tampa will walk into the playoffs. Cadillac Williams runs with speed and a power you don’t often see in runners his size. His growth since his rookie season should help him carry the load in Tampa. The Bucs defense is solid, but with age becoming an issue, injuries could uproot Gruden’s chance at a title.
The word on the teleprompter is that Mike Vick has improved his accuracy and touch. If this fib is finally true, expect the Falcons to battle the Panthers for the top spot. If his passing problems continue, the Falcons will be less than mediocre. An improved defense could take the Falcons to the playoffs, but only if Atlanta can score touchdowns.
New Orleans won’t be the pushover they were much of last season, but I don’t see a winning record either. This division is too tough, and there are too many good teams to expect much winning out of NO this season. Drew Brees will help, and Reggie Bush will be a handful of highlights each week, but defensive struggles will hurt the team all season long. Next year should be better for the Saints.
Atlanta and Tampa will take a run at the toast of the South, but Carolina should find more consistency this season, which will push them into a first round bye, and a possible Super Bowl bid.
This Division isn’t as bad as it was last year, but the Lions and Packers haven’t gotten better. Don’t be fooled, the Bears are the class of the North.
Chicago has the defensive power to halt each of their division foes. Offensively, Chicago should be much better this season behind either Rex Grossman or Brian Griese. Expect Brian to grab the top spot. He’s too talented, and Rex is too inexperienced. The Bears defense will carry them, but they’ll have more competition this time around.
Minnesota got better in nearly every faucet of the game. But I don’t think Brad Johnson and two inexperienced backups can win week after week. A better offensive line and one of the league’s most underrated defenses could make for a playoff push.
Detroit hasn’t gotten better. Their coaching staff has changed, but the same lazy players remain on the roster. One bad egg can spoil my breakfast. That’s what I always say. When some roster cleansing takes place, get back to me.
The Packers? Green Bay? Come on. This isn’t the year for the Pack. If Brett Favre needed anything, he needed an improved offensive line. He didn’t need more starters to hit free agency. A lack of additions won’t aid Favre’s return, as he’ll struggle to find enough time to launch his missiles. Last in the North for the Pack.
Chicago is the only team in the North with a chance to make noise in the postseason. But, if Minnesota can get creative offensively, they could push the Bears now.
The Hawks remain at the top of the West, but the margin will be much smaller this time around. The Cards and Rams will pose a fight, while the 49ers will be tougher in ’06.
The Hawks will make another push for the Super Bowl. Many will highlight the loss of OG Steve Hutchinson, but the Hawks got better this off-season. Nate Burleson is perfect for Seattle’s West Coast passing game, and Julian Peterson (when healthy) is as dynamic as any young linebacker in the game. Better competition will push Seattle.
The Cardinals finally got the runner, Edge, they’ve been trying to get since…. Forever. On paper, Dennis Green’s squad looks like playoff material, but football is played on the field. Warner is often injured, and rookie QB, Matt Leinart, remains unsigned. Injuries could limit Arizona’s ceiling.
The Rams should be more disciplined with Mike Martz out of the picture. Steven Jackson will get the chance to carry the load, while Mark Bulger should get better protection in a more balanced offensive attack. If St. Louis can stay injury free, and take advantage of a talented receiver corps, a playoff spot isn’t out of the question.
The 49ers won’t make the playoffs. They won’t finish at or above .500. There will be no playoff push from San Francisco. However, the 49ers are improving. Every game will be a battle. Every game their youngsters will improve, and by seasons’ end the Niners will be a 4-quarter battle for every team in this division. Look for Frank Gore to rush for over 1,000 yards, while Alex Smith morphs into an NFL quarterback.
I can’t see the Hawks stumbling a season after losing the Super Bowl. This group is too good to fail. The West will be stronger this year.
In the AFC’s weakest division, a new team will claim the top spot. The Patriot Dynasty that has been the class of the NFL over the last 6 years has dissolved into a watered down version a championship team.
By losing key players to free agency, the Patriots have made room for the Dolphins to swim to the top. Miami’s off-season acquisition of Daunte Culpepper will pay immediate dividends. Pep’s ability to fire the ball around while making plays with his feet will be exactly what Nick Saban ordered. Coach of the year?
The Patriots won’t be the powerhouse of years’ past, but they won’t disappear either. They still have studs on both sides of the ball. And if Corey Dillon can run like he did in 2004, the Dolphins could get a fight from New England. Oh, and they still have a guy named Tom Brady. He’s all right.
The Buffalo Bills won’t get better until they commit to a quarterback. Seeing as though they’d really have to play above their talent level to make the playoffs, the smart decision would be J.P. Losman. Younger is better. One of the leagues’ most underrated defenses will keep Buffalo close, but touchdowns are too important to expect much from the offensively challenged Bills.
The New York Jets should end the season with the #1 pick in next year’s draft. That is of course, unless Chad Pennington can find his own form, Curtis Martin can return to be effective, and Laveraneus Coles plays like the talented wideout he was 3 years ago. Those three ifs, matched with inspired play from rookie 1st round picks D’Brick Ferguson and Nick Mangold, could get the Jets 7 wins. That’s the ceiling in New York, a ceiling in which even small people will bump their heads. How low can they go? That’s a better question.
The Dolphins and Patriots will battle for the free playoff spot from the East. A wild card probably won’t come from this division.
The AFC North reminds me of the NFC South. There are three teams that could take North title, but my favorite to do the deed is Cincinnati.
The Bengals’ playoff hopes lie in the health of their signal caller, Carson Palmer. If Palmer can start from day one, I have to take the Bad Boy Bengals to take the North Division. If Palmer doesn’t play until Week 4, the hole may be too deep for Cincinnati to climb out of. This team is too talented, when healthy, for me to pick anyone else. If Marvin Lewis can keep his players out of jail, they should head back to the playoffs.
The Baltimore Ravens have a whole new identity with Steve McNair leading their offense. A playoff identity? I think so. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are a coin flip for the games’ most explosive defender title. Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason are solid WR threats. Jamal Lewis was once a 2,000-yard rusher, and he’s still just 26. Todd Heap is vastly underrated. Look out for the hop in Baltimore’s step.
The Steelers may be the World Champs, but I don’t see a repeat performance in their future. Too many teams improved, while the Steelers lost key players from their playoff run. Big Ben is ready to prove naysayers wrong, but without a power back, can Pittsburgh fight off the new and improved Ravens?
Cleveland has youth all around, but right now, that’s the problem. Charlie Frye is not ready to lead a playoff contender, and key addition LeCharles Bentley is out for the year, not leading a powerful offensive line. When Braylon Edwards returns from injury, Frye’s youth is a thing of the past, and Kellen Winslow has a full season under his belt, the Browns will be solid. Right now, they’re last in the AFC North.
This is my craziest prediction thus far. But wouldn’t it be fitting that the Colts lose Edge, and their strangle hold on the AFC South? And the Jags finally take the top spot the year Jimmy Smith retires. Crazy.
Jacksonville did what they needed to do most and got better in the secondary; Brian Williams will help the Jaguars blossom. For the first time in a long time, the Jaguars have depth offensively. Young WR’s Wilford, Williams, and Jones can make big plays, while the depth of Fred Taylor, Greg Jones, and Maurice Drew can fight through injuries. Defensively, Jacksonville will be stout… Enough to take the top spot from Indy? Yeah, I think so.
Like I said, the Colts won’t dominate this division like they have the last few years. The Colt workhorse, Edge, has moved to sandy pastures, and now Indy will rely on Manning more than ever before. I don’t think the regular season will go as smoothly for Indy, but look out for a tested Colts team come playoff time.
The Texans will crawl out of the cellar this season. They won’t be a contender in the AFC, but there is no doubt in my mind that Houston will triple their win total from a year ago. Help on the offensive and defensive line, where games are won and lost, should get the Texans back on the right track. Eric Moulds is a brilliant addition for a young group of receivers. If Dom Davis can stay healthy year ‘round, 8-8 isn’t beyond belief.
The Titans will struggle to win ball games all year long. Losing Steve McNair almost assured another season picking early in the draft. Defensively, the Titans are young and athletic, but they’ll give up too many big plays for an offense that is too young. I like the direction the Titans are moving, but 2006 isn’t the year for Tennessee.
If the Raiders can play up to the level of their talent, this could be the toughest division in the AFC. KC, Denver, and San Diego all have the push to make a run at the post season.
Kansas City is my early favorite, just based on the immediate difference Herman Edwards will bring to the team’s personality. The loss of Roaf will be tough to overcome, but if Kyle Turley can get back to his old form after two years off, the Chiefs will be okay. Plus, there’s a chance Roaf comes back for one more season. Most importantly for KC, the addition of Ty Law should really improve KC’s defense.
The Broncos were the best team in this division last season, losing in the AFC Championship to end the season. The Broncos made a few key moves that could return them to the playoffs, the biggest acquisition being Javon Walker. If Walker can give Plummer another sure handed weapon, expect big things from Denver.
It’s hard to place a team with big time playmakers on both sides of the ball 3rd in their own division, but I don’t know what else to do. Phillip Rivers is starting for the first time in his career, and even if he’s destined to be the next Carson Palmer, even Carson didn’t make the playoffs in his first season. With LT, Antonio Gates, and Shawne Merriman guaranteed to be on highlight reels every weekend, anything is possible for the young Chargers.
Oakland needs to show me more before I go out on a cracked limb and pick them to finish with more than 3 wins. As talented as they are, I haven’t seen much that promises otherwise. It’s all about a “want” to succeed, and I just don’t think they have it. I sure hope Randy Moss has a big fantasy year though.
This is a three-team race with Larry Johnson doing his thing to lead the way.