Bold and useless predictions: NFC edition
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 07, 2009
The CHFF crew has crunched all the numbers, not to mention a few dozen bags of nachos and potato chips, to compile our bold and useless predictions for 2009, complete with one nut-chilling Cold, Hard Football Fact for all 32 NFL teams.
Here's our NFC edition. The AFC edition will be out shortly. And by shortly, we mean sometime before kickoff of the Tennessee-Pittsburgh game Thursday night.
Bold prediction! New York fans will turn on Eli Manning and his $93 million contract when he struggles with his typical 75 passer rating this season.
Useless prediction! No NFC East quarterbacks will be jailed following a dog-fighting scandal this year.
Cowboys Cold, Hard Football Fact: Tony Romo has the same career passer rating as Peyton Manning (94.7).
Giants Cold, Hard Football Fact: The Giants averaged an abysmal 4.8 yards per pass attempt after Plaxico Burress went out in November. The Giants went 1-4 over those final five games. To put that figure into perspective, consider that the Panthers averaged 4.8 yards per rush attempt in 2008.
Eagles Cold, Hard Football Fact: Philly ranked second in our all-important Defensive Hog Index last year, behind only the Super Bowl champion Steelers.
Redskins Cold, Hard Football Fact: The Redskins surrendered just 3.83 yards per rush attempt in 2008 and added stonewall Albert Haynesworth to the defensive front this year.
The Glamour Division lost its most high-profile players when Terrell Owens was sent packing for Buffalo by yet another NFL team. But the GD also picked up a controversial, high-profile playmaker in Michael Vick – so it's a net break-even for the most talked about quartet in football.
With four star-studded, major-market, traditional old NFL powers, the NFC East remains the premier collection of teams in the NFL. It should be its typical bloodbath here in 2009.
The Redskins made the curious move this off-season of packing its already stout defense with Albert Haynesworth and spending beaucoup bucks in the process (beaucoup is French for "Dan Snyder is out of his mind"). This decision comes at the detriment, we believe, of an offense that was in much greater need of that kind of injection of talent.
The Redskins still do not have a franchise quarterback – which almost always spells trouble in the NFL. Neither one of the long-shot QBs of the future – prolific college gunslingers Colt Brennan and Chase Daniels – will be on the team this year. Daniels was cut the other day. Brennan was placed on IR. That leaves Todd Collins – who is 811 years old in football years – the No. 2 man behind Jason Campbell. Neither will inspire confidence and the lack of a premier quarterback will haunt the Redskins once again in 2009.
The Cowboys remain dead to us until we get some signs of postseason life. The loss of Terrell Owens, the Jimi Hendrix of the gridiron, certainly won't help the cause – especially as the lofty numbers in Tony Romo's short career are likely to decline as a result. The team did not look good last year (9-7, third in the division) and they've not looked impressive in the generally meaningless preseason. Romo, of course, is still a youngster who has never won a single playoff game, despite the inordinate amount of headlines he's generated in the glorious position of signal caller for America's Team. Wade Phillips, meanwhile, remains the winningest coach who's never tasted a playoff victory. So that combination and a 10-spot will get Phillips a three-minute lap dance at the Pleasure Dome.
However, the Cowboys seemed to have a very impressive draft based upon the criteria that we use: filling your statistical needs from the year before. One glaring problem for the Cowboys in recent years has been the underperformance of a secondary that's been filled with big-name draft picks. The team went to the secondary well again in the draft, this time taking a pair of play-making cornerbacks out of Cincinnati. But neither player, DeAngelo Smith or Mike Mickens, made the 53-man roster. So it will be a long season if the Cowboys struggle against the pass once again (86.2 Defensive Passer Rating last year) – especially if they find trouble moving the ball on offense with Owens out of the picture.
The Giants were a dominant force for much of 2008 – but then went one-and-done in the playoffs. In fact, the offense died once Plaxico Burress went out of the lineup late in the year (see the Cold, Hard Football Facts on the Giants above). Here in the off-season, they poured a crazy amount of cash (a $93 million deal) into quarterback Eli Manning – an amount of cash that seems to conflict with his sub-par career 76.1 passer rating and anemic career average of 6.4 YPA. It's a curious move that speaks to the power of pedigree and a single drive in a player's life.
That leaves the Eagles. Philly was one of the more interesting teams in football last year – statistically dominant in many ways, but they ended the year just 9-6-1. They even suffered the indignity of a tie with Cincinnati, which was 1-8 at the time. But Philly did battle into the NFC title game. With eight games against the weak AFC West and the marginal NFC South, and a big injection of playmaking talent in recent drafts and in the form of Michael Vick, the class of the NFC East should feast on its schedule here in 2009.
Division champ: Philadelphia
Bold prediction! The Packers, thanks to a rejuvenated defense, will dominate the NFC North in 2009.
Useless prediction! Brett Favre (157 career fumbles) will set the all-time fumbles record at Lambeau Field on Nov. 1. The current record is held by Warren Moon (161).
Bears Cold, Hard Football Fact: Jay Cutler averaged 282.9 passing YPG last year in Denver. If he can keep up that pace in Chicago he'll set the franchise passing yards record in just 52 games.
Lions Cold, Hard Football Fact: 31 of the 53 players on the opening-day roster did not play for the 0-16 Lions last year.
Packers Cold, Hard Football Fact: Aaron Rodgers posted a near perfect passer rating in the preseason: he completed 29 of 41 passes (70.7%) for 465 yards, 11.3 YPA, 6 TD, 0 INT and a 147.9 rating.
Vikings Cold, Hard Football Fact: Minnesota will attempt to become the first team in history to lead the NFL in run defense for four straight seasons.
The once proud Black & Blue Division – known to us as the Black & Blow Division – has certainly earned our nickname in recent decades. Since the Packers swept to victory way back in Super Bowl's I and II, the four members of the division have combined to win just two Super Bowls in 41 years (Chicago in 1985 and Green Bay in 1996).
The Vikings this summer made one of the great institutional gaffes this side of Al Davis's Raiders, dumping an untold amount of emotional time and energy into the belief that Brett Favre is the only thing that stands between them and a Super Bowl. They could not be more mistaken. And the fact that they made this mistake should cause deep emotional distress for tortured Vikings fans.
Like Minnesota, the Bears are one of the more frustrating teams to follow in all of football. One reason for the frustration in ChicagoLand is the startling inconsistency in recent years. This decade alone, they've swung from as few as four or five wins (three times) to as many as 13 (twice), including a conference title, with little rhyme or reason to the fluctuations. The other source of frustration is pitiful play of the its quarterbacks – well documented here and elsewhere, of course. Jay Cutler gives the team its first big-armed gunslinger in ages. If he lives up to the hype and the defense comes to play, and a guy like Devin Hester can find his groove on offense and became the gamebreaker he was on special teams, the Bears will make noise in the Midway and beyond.
The Lions did the only thing they could do in the wake of the humiliating 0-16 debacle of 2008. They completely dismantled the organization, from coaching staff to quarterback to pretty much the entire roster. The decision made this week to start No. 1 pick Matt Stafford ahead of the veteran Daunte Culpepper is a huge concern for us. The Lions might be better this year, but they definitely won't be good. The obvious thing to do is to start Culpepper and feel out your team, and slowly work in the rookie who's bound to struggle even in the best of circumstances. The list of very successful rookie quarterbacks is shorter than our midget, troll-like arms, while the list of unsuccessful rookie quarterbacks in NFL history is longer than the unemployment lines in Detroit. The concern, of course, is that Stafford will become another Joey Harrington.
The Packers fielded one of the most formidable defenses in football in their 13-3 season of 2007, but that unit crumbled like Twix bars in a CHFF feeding frenzy in 2008. The results were disastrous for Green Bay. Despite an outstanding season by Aaron Rodgers (93.8 passer rating), who replaced That Other Guy who used to play quarterback for Green Bay, the Packers stumbled through a 6-10 season. Despite the record, Rodgers proved that he could play quarterback in the NFL at a high level.
So Green Bay's hopes lay in the ability of the team to rebuild its defense – and they devoted plenty of off-season resources to this effort, including the acquisition of beefy DT B.J. Raji and playmaking LB Clay Matthews with their first two picks. And, under new DC DC (defensive coordinator Dom Capers), they've switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4, to take advantage of their collection of young stud LBs and the coach's own expertise. We rarely put much stock in the preseason, but it was quite promising for the Packers: the defense was stout and the first-team offense looked unstoppable, especially in the passing game, where Rodgers was practically flawless.
Division champ: Green Bay
Bold prediction! Matt Ryan will challenge for, and perhaps win, league MVP honors thanks to his 3,900 passing yards, 29 TDs and 98 passer rating for the 11-5 Falcons.
Useless prediction! Jake Delhomme will pull a Chad OchoCinco and officially change his name to Jake Gunslinger.
Buccaneers Cold, Hard Football Fact: Tampa surrendered 111 points through the first eight games of 2008, and 123 points in the final four games.
Falcons Cold, Hard Football Fact: Matt Ryan passed for 3,440 yards last year. Only Peyton Manning passed for more yards as a rookie (3,739 in 1998).
Panthers Cold, Hard, Football Fact: Carolina rushed for 2,437 yards last year and averaged 4.83 YPA. Both marks were easily the best in franchise history. Even more impressive for a team that had produced just two 1,000-yard backs before DeAngelo Williams smashed the franchise records with 1,515 yards, 18 TD and 5.5 YPA last year.
Saints Cold, Hard Football Fact: Drew Brees is the only quarterback in history to pass for more than 4,400 yards in three straight seasons.
Atlanta is the popular favorite to carry the NFC South and our favorite, too. Their rise from the indignity of 2007 to become a playoff team with a rookie quarterback in 2008 was one of the great success stories in football last year – overshadowed only by Miami's rise from 1-15 to AFC East champs. Second-year quarterback Matt Ryan has all the makings of the Next Great Quarterback in the NFL. And, for what it's worth, he was very impressive in his limited preseason snaps (114.0 passer rating on 36 attempts).
The Falcons also produced what may have been the best draft of 2009, based upon the factor we hold most dear: filling your statistical needs of the year before. Atlanta struggled on its defensive front in 2008, but has dumped tons of draft-day resources into the unit in 2009, including No. 1 pick DT Peria Jerry. He recorded one sack in the preseason.
Tampa Bay made a lot of moves over the off-season, but the concern here is that new Bucs will look a lot like the old Bucs.
Head coach Jon Gruden is gone, of course, joining the ESPN broadcast crew in the Monday Night Football booth. Monte Kiffin has also skipped town, joining his son Lane on the staff at the University of Tennessee. Kiffin, as most CHFF readers and football fans in general know, is a legend of the game. His Tampa defenses were consistently among the best in football, and the famous Tampa 2 defense still in vogue among many teams in the NFL is largely his creation.
Gruden's replacement as head coach, Raheem Morris, was a long-time defensive assistant under Kiffin, however, so it is possible that we'll see a continuation of Tampa's defensive toughness. More of the same on defense is good.
But more of the same on offense is not good. Morris has had a free-for-all at quarterback this summer – with few signs of life from any of the new arms. QB Josh Freeman, Tampa's top pick in the April draft, has impressed nobody in the preseason – and we know that rookie QBs take time to develop in the NFL. Veteran Byron Leftwich won a Super Bowl ring as Ben Roethlisberger's back-up in Pittsburgh last year, but there's little on his resume to believe that he's a champion-caliber quarterback on his own. He'll provide nothing more than a veteran presence until Freeman proves that he is or is not worth a No. 1 pick.
Carolinas is the Chicago of the NFC South – a team that's wildly inconsistent from year to year. They've topped the division in 2003, 2005 and 2008 (reaching the Super Bowl in 2003) but failed to top .500 in 2004, 2006 and 2007. The 2008 Panthers were intriguing. The looked like conference title contenders last year, with a 12-4 record, a dominant ground game and some impressive December wins. But then Jake Delhomme laid an ostrich egg against the Cardinals (5 INTs) in the playoffs, and the promise of December was over without a whiff of success in January.
The preseason has not been kind to Carolina, either. The Panthers went 0-4 and generally played poorly across the board. And off the field, there were the rather surprising resignations last week of team owner Jerry Richardson's sons Jon and Mark from senior management, which caused a swirl of rumors and speculation around the league. CHFF has long stood by the belief that steady management in the NFL leads to success on the field, so the shake-up in Carolina does cause some concerns.
If the ground game can dominate like it did last year, and we see more of the Good Jake of the 2008 regular season (spectacular 7.9 YPA) and less of the Bad Jake of the postseason, the Panthers have a fighting chance. Otherwise, we suspect it could be one of the down years that traditionally come in the wake of one of Carolina's inspiring years.
The Saints may be the toughest team to dissect in all of football. They're certainly proof of one of the most important maxims in the history of the Cold, Hard Football Facts: Passing yards DO NOT matter! Passing efficiency means everything. The Saints have basically done nothing over the past three years but let Drew Brees sling the ball all over the field, but without the requisite efficiency needed of winning QBs (specifically, considering his number of attempts in recent years, he's not been particularly effective at getting the ball in the end zone).
Last year, Brees completed 413 passes, the third most in one season in NFL history. The record belongs to Brees himself, who completed 440 passes in 2007, easily the best in history (Rich Gannon, 418 in 2002, is second). His total of 13,910 yards in three seasons is the second most in history (Dan Marino passed for 13,967 yards from 1984 to 1986). What have the Saints got for these efforts? A 25-23 record over these same three seasons. New Orleans needs to complement the prolific Brees in so many areas before they become a serious Super Bowl contender.
Division champ: Atlanta
Bold prediction! Behind the surprising performance of quarterback Shaun Hill, the 49ers will make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Useless prediction! The NFC West will produce the first team in history to reach the playoffs with a 7-9 record.
- 49ers Cold, Hard Football Fact: San Francisco is 7-3 in games started by Shaun Hill.
Cardinals Cold, Hard Football Fact: Arizona was the first team in history to host two playoff games against teams with better records.
Rams Cold, Hard Football Fact: The 2008 Rams ranked dead last in our Relativity Index, a measure of how teams perform relative to the quality of their opposition. That's right, dead last is even worse than the 0-16 Lions.
Seahawks Cold, Hard Football Fact: Since their Super Bowl season of 2005, the Seahawks are 3-13 against teams with winning records, including 1-8 last year.
The NFC West sent its champion to the Super Bowl last year – normally a good sign for any division. But the fluky conference title for the Cardinals belied the fact that this was easily the worst division in football last year. The division's amazingly bad 5-30 record against Quality Opponents pretty much says it all about the 2008 NFC West.
The Cardinals went just 9-7 last year, and their 6-0 record within the division, and 3-7 record against everybody else, is further evidence of the futility of the division.
But quarterback Kurt Warner worked some of his postseason magic, leading Arizona into the Super Bowl – where his critical INT to James Harrison cost his team what would have been the most shocking championship run in history. Up until then, the Cardinals had just about everything go their way. But it's hard to envision a scenario where everything falls into place once again – especially if Arizona doesn't show massive improvement on pass defense. Remember, they surrendered 36 TD passes last year, far and away the worst in the league.
In St. Louis, we hold out faint hope that the Rams could actually improve enough to almost compete for the division title by 2010 (no big feat in a quartet in which an 8-8 record could carry the day). The Rams made all the right moves this past off-season, from drafting Orlando Pace-replacement Jason Smith in the first round and LB James Laurinaitis in the second, to hiring head coach Steve Spagnuolo, the architect of the amazing Super Bowl title for the Giants less than two years ago.
But the loss to injury in the final exhibition game of DT Adam Carriker, part of the trio of promising young Defensive Hogs in St. Louis, will put a crimp in Spagnuolo's effort to recreate the the Hogs-led title he inspired in 2008 with the Giants. The Rams were also dreadful statistically in the exhibition season despite their 3-1 record. In fact, the St. Louis defense surrendered an average of 6.1 yards per play this summer, while the offense generated just 4.3 yards per play. As stated elsewhere, we don't put much stock in the preseason, but that gap of -1.8 yards per play is astoundingly bad and will lead to another long, long season if there's not dramatic improvement when the games matter.
Seattle sat as the undisputed king of the NFC West for much of the decade. But that kingdom crumbled last year thanks to injuries – especially Matt Hasselbeck's – and the lame-duck reign of head coach Mike Holmgren. However, the 2009 Seahawks will look a whole lot different than the 4-12 version of 2008.
New head coach Jim Mora Jr. has shown (though not yet proven) that he can win in this league, lifting the 2004 Falcons to the NFC title game in his last head coaching gig. Hasselbeck looked spectacular in the preseason (111.7 passer rating) and No. 1 pick LB Aaron Curry showed the first signs that he could become an impact player in this league.
San Francisco, meanwhile, is the team that intrigues us the most. As noted recently, we were enthused that Mike Singletary named Shaun Hill his No. 1 quarterback this year and believe he could (key word: could) become the next Tom Brady type in the NFL: an unheralded nobody who proves he can outgun many of the big-name players in the game.That doesn't mean he'll become the next Tom Brady ... just that he could be the next to write a similar story in a league that has a long history of mis-reading quarterbacking talent.
However, we were concerned that it took the 49ers brain trust so much time to make a decision when it was clear by any objective measure other than the position that they were drafted that Hill was the obvious guy to start over Alex Smith.
The fact that No. 1 pick Michael Crabtree is the only player from the 2009 draft still unsigned is a bad sign for the 49ers – but a worse sign for the wide receiver. The last big-name player who held out of camp was Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell in 2007. We've seen how well that decision has panned out for him.
Division champ: Seattle
Wildcard: San Francisco
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