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NFL quick hits

It’s funny, really – since the Eagles didn’t play on Sunday, I felt like I had the day off. I’m not entirely certain why, since normally all I do on a Sunday is watch the Eagles. I guess our beloved Birds provide the same amount of stress as a difficult day at the office. (Editor’s note: Try reading this crap all day…) Anyway, it freed me up to check in on the rest of the NFL – here’s what I observed.

– Tampa Bay has a very good defense. Tampa Bay’s offense, minus Jeff Garcia and Earnest Graham, might cost them a playoff birth. The Falcons gave up three turnovers and never really got top receiver Roddy White going, and still squeaked out a win, mostly because Tampa Bay’s offense was putrid. Atlanta did get a huge game from Michael Turner, who rushed for 152 yards, and a stellar performance from John Abraham, whose three sacks brought him to a very quiet 15 1/2 for the season. Give Atlanta credit – they ran the ball well, kept the Tampa Bay’s offense out of the endzone, and pulled out an ugly win. They had the look of a playoff team, and now Eagles fans have to hope that either Minnesota beats them next week, or that disappointing San Diego can beat a suddenly struggling Tampa Bay team next week.

– The Giants are reeling. They did not look good against the Cowboys, giving up eight sacks and never really getting anything going offensively. Not having Jacobs hurt the running game to a point, but I doubt he would have been able to bash his way through the Cowboys defense. Anbody still think this team will be as productive without Plaxico? (Editor’s note: He was always a shot in the leg for their offense). Steve Smith did his job, but Terrence Newman completely shut out Domenik Hixon. The Giants are left to battle for the top seed in the NFC against Carolina next week, and it will be interesting to see how they respond.

Did the loss of this guy handcuff the Giants Super Bowl chances?

Did the loss of this guy handcuff the Giants Super Bowl chances?

– All Pittsburgh does is win. It’s ugly, sloppy, unappealing and nerve-wracking (Editor’s note: Sounds like a date with The Pundit), but they manage to squeak out W’s week in and week out. Their battle against Baltimore was a smashmouth, lunch pail grind from the get-go, and despite the low score, was entertaining throughout. The Ravens will be a very tough team to face if they make the playoffs, and I expect them to come out humming against Dallas next week. Meanwhile, the Steelers will be preparing for a huge showdown against the Titans…

– …who somehow gave up 207 receiving yards to Andre Johnson and lost to the Texans on Sunday. Should Fisher have sent out Bironas for a 51-yard attempt late in the fourth? Maybe, but if Bironas misses it, I guarantee you everyone is talking about how poor that decision was. Fact is, Kerry Collins wasn’t making his throws, and it killed him right until the end of the game. An huuuuuge game against Pittsburgh next week, with the number one seed in the AFC on the line. Oh, and where has this Texans team been all season? A better start to their season, and they’re in the playoff mix right now.

-Way to go, Tavaris Jackson. Now damnit, I want to see that type of performance in a win against Atlanta next week. (Editor’s note: Don’t think of yourself, Tavaris – think of Philadelphia).

– Hey, Buffalo Bills: what in God’s green earth were you thinking dropping back to pass? Run the ball, damnit! Your defense was playing well, and you had run the ball successfully all game long! How many ways can you find to lose football games? You make losing an art. (Editor’s note: Nobody circles the loss column like the Buffalo Bills. And that’s my rumbling, stumbling impression of an archaic routine).

Nobody knows the trouble I've seen / Nobody knows my sorrow...

Nobody knows the trouble I've seen / Nobody knows my sorrow...

– Fantasy Note: I would just like to thank the core of my successful fantasy team this season for absolutely tanking this week, which happens to be my league’s semifinal. A big, warm thank-you to Brandon Marshall, Roddy White, LaDainian Tomlinson, Clinton Portis, Chris Johnson, and Tony Gonzalez for combining to score 51.5 points this week. Now, all I need to defeat my opponent is a meager 56 points from Donovan McNabb tomorrow. That shouldn’t be too tough – all he needs to do is throw for 450 yards and five touchdowns, while running for another 50 yards and two TD’s. (Editor’s note: Eh, just another night at the office, right?)

– What we have to look forward to, after the Eagles tomorrow night: Cowboys vs. Ravens. Two defenses playing at a very high level right now, two teams with everything to play for. Falcons vs. Vikings. Atlanta is still fighting to make the playoffs, and if the Vikings win out, and the Giants lose their next two, the Vikings can actually sneak into the bye (they play each other on the last week of the season). That, and they’ve won their last four, and are red-hot right now. Giants vs. Panthers. Top seed in the NFC goes to the victor. This one should a brawl. Titans vs. Steelers. Top seed in the AFC likely goes to the victor (Titans win seals it, Steelers win puts them atop the AFC, would still have to beat the Browns in their season finale). This one should be a war. Eagles vs. Redskins. Eagles playing for their playoff lives, Redskins fighting to salvage some respect from a season teetering dangerously on the edge of disaster. Two NFC East teams that don’t like each other always makes for a good game. Patriots vs. Cardinals. The Patriots are fighting to make the playoffs, and the Cardinals are fighting for a bit of momentum heading into the playoffs. Bucs vs. Chargers. Believe or not, the Chargers can still win their division (by winning their last two, and having the Broncos lose their last two. They play the Broncos the last week of the season). Meanwhile, the Bucs will clinch a playoff spot if they win their last two games. It’s gonna be fun, baby.

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NFL Preview Part Two: AFC South

Houston Texans

Strengths: Very solid passing attack, with Matt Schaub distributing to stud Andre Johnson and reliable options Kevin Walter, TE Owen Daniels and Andre’ Davis. At this point in there careers, is anybody going to argue that the Texans should have drafted Reggie Bush over Mario Williams and his 14 sacks last year? MLB DeMeco Ryans is the heart of the defense, and Morlon Greenwood is solid. Second year DT Amobi Okoye has a ton of potential.

Weaknesses: The running attack averaged 99.1 yards per game last year, 22nd in the NFL. The running back situation is still murky at this point, with Ahman Green and Steve Slaton the two likely to receive the most carries. The O-line was a question all of last year, and though first round pick Duane Brown has looked good so far, he’s just a youngster. Defensively, can they stop the pass? It doesn’t look like anyone on this unit will be able to generate a pass rush other than Mario Williams. That doesn’t bode well for the secondary, especially with Dunta Robinson out for at least six games. Fred Bennett and Jacques Reeves aren’t exactly striking fear into the hearts of WR’s far and wide. They haven’t exactly been stout against the run, either – they need Okoye and Travis Johnson to suck up blockers so Ryans and Greenwood can roam unblocked.

The question marks: Who will step up at RB, and can somebody please help Super Mario? The zone running scheme seems to fit Slaton’s skill set, but the question with him is the same you ask of Green: can he stay healthy? And as for that rush – they brought in Roosevelt Colvin, likely for third down situations, but he has less than impressed. (Editor’s note: Whoops, he just got cut. Uh oh). Anybody seen Luigi? (Editor’s note: Maybe they could get some mushrooms to make them bigger from Jameel Cook).

Fantasy forecast: I have Andre Johnson ranked as my 5th best receiver. Pray for health. Matt Schaub is an excellent number two, and could put up good enough numbers to be your starter by the end of the year. Keep an eye on Walter, Daniels and Davis – all were viable options at different times last season. The running backs should be selected later and scoured for on the waiver wire – somebody is going to claim starter status.

Overview: It is hard to imagine the Texans being much better the 8-8 mark they posted last year. They’ll score points, especially if they stay healthy, but the defense has a lot of question marks. If the defensive line can improve its play, establish a pass rush and keep blockers off of the LB’s, they should slow opposing offenses just enough for the Houston offense to win games. But if the D falters, they may find themselves as the 4th best team in this division again.

Indianapolis Colts

Strengths: Yeah, they’re good. On offense, they attack you with Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark, plus a reliable offensive line. Bob Sanders leads a unit that finished second in passing defense and third in total defense last year. All of that without having Dwight Freeney in the lineup for 7 games. If they can generate more of a pass rush this year (28 sacks last year was tied for 26th in the NFL), they’ll be even more dangerous.

Weaknesses: They weren’t stellar against the run last year (15th in yards allowed, 10 TD’s), but it certainly isn’t a glaring weakness. The health of Manning, Harrison, Sanders and Freeney is not guaranteed. The offensive line depth will be truly tested due to the departure of Jake Scott and the injury to Jeff Saturday (Editor’s note: Boy, he’s reaching).

The question marks: It’s all about staying healthy. They cannot afford injuries to Manning, Freeney or Sanders, all of whom have either recently been injured (Mr. Manning), are coming off a season in which they were injured (Mr. Freeney), or an offseason in which they had surgery (Mr. Sanders). If one of them goes down, they’re in trouble.

Fantasy forecast: I have Peyton Manning ranked as my 3rd QB, Addai as my 3rd RB, Reggie Wayne as my 4th WR, and Dallas Clark as a top 5 TE. Harrison is a mid-round pick, and Gonzalez should go late. Their D is not a bad option. Colts are always pretty safe fantasy bets.

Overview: I mean, the Colts are consistent. Peyton Manning runs the offense so efficiently, and they have such talented skill position players, its hard to imagine that they won’t be a top team again in 2008. The best way to attack them is to find creative ways to put pressure on Manning and to run the ball, chewing up clock. Or, you could just outscore them. Good luck with that. I consider them to be one of the four legitimate Superbowl contenders in the AFC.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Strengths: Their running game is top notch, and was the second best in the NFL last year. Expect Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew and the solid offense line to keep jugging. David Garrard had a break-out season last year, and if he stays healthy, should improve. He threw 18 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions last year! That’s game management, people,  and he’s an above average scrambler to boot (Editor’s note: Ugggghhhh). Their defense will miss Marcus Stroud, but new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and excellent secondary depth should go a long way to keeping their defense effective. If they can pressure the QB and accumulate turnovers, the running game can grind it out and eat clock. That is, in a nutshell (Editor’s note: Did you ever wonder what kind of nut people have in mind when they use that phrase? I’ll say pistachio, but only because they’re underrated), their recipe for success.

Weaknesses: They will miss Marcus Stroud, though its not their biggest concern. That would be the wide receivers, where they’re hoping (Editor’s note: Um, I think “praying” would be more appropriate) that additions Jerry Porter (Raiders) and Troy Williamson (Editor’s note: I believe South Carolina was the last place he actually showed up) can bolster a fairly weak corps, though Williamson is looking like a possible cut. The jury is still out on whether or not Reggie Williams and Matt Jones can become consistent players. If the receivers struggle to get open, Garrard will be forced to do to much on his own, which is how QB’s end up on the sideline.

The question marks: The WR’s and the defensive line. We’ve gone over the WR’s already, but the defensive line? Isn’t that one of the strength of this team? It will be, if Rob Meier can adequately replace Marcus Stroud and rookies Derrick Harvey (Editor’s note: Yes, he finally signed) and Quentin Groves can contribute to the Jaguars pass rush. If Meier can’t keep blockers off of the linebackers and get penetration in the gaps, the run defense will suffer. And if the young guys can’t help generate front four pressure, Peyton Manning will do his thing against them. Again.

Fantasy forecast: Maurice Jones-Drew is a top 25 fantasy player. Fred Taylor will probably stay in your fantasy starting lineup all year. Garrard is worth a second QB pick for now, though he may quickly ascend to starter status. Be cautious selecting their receivers; they’re all bench guys for now. Not a bad defense pick.

Overview: They want the Colts and the division title. Bad. The running game is excellent, and they’re going to control clock. The defense may end up being a 3-4 by season’s end, which will mean QB’s are going to have to get used to brand new blitz schemes. Their secondary is solid, and Rashean Mathis is a very, very good corner. I think they are one of the four Superbowl contenders in the AFC (Editor’s note: He doesn’t want to reveal it here, but I do: this is the year they catch the Colts. Just a gut feeling).

Tennessee Titans

Strengths: Vince Young’s legs. Their running game was very good last year (5th best in the league) and will get better with the addition of Jake Scott and burner Chris Johnson, who has seemed to impress everyone so far. Albert Haynesworth is a beast in the middle, Kyle Vanden Bosch had 12 sacks last season, and they have a very good stable of LB’s led by Keith Bullock and David Thornton. They are stingy against the run and picked off opposing QB’s 22 times last year. Their defense will keep them close all year long.

Weaknesses: Vince Young’s arm. 8 TD’s to 17 INT’s is brutal. Alge Crumpler should help, but the receiving corps is probably this team’s weakest unit. And can they score in the red zone?

The question marks: It’s Vince Young. Without a doubt, the entire season hinges on the arm of number 10. He doesn’t have to carry the load of this team, but can he at least be more accurate with his throws and make better decisions? If he can manage the game and mix in big runs, the Titans, though not flashy, will have an effective offense. Though don’t expect his WR’s to make his life easy.

Fantasy forecast: Yeah, right. This is not a team conducive to fantasy football points. LenDale White isn’t a bad third to fourth option in your running back stable. Chris Johnson is worth stockpiling – he has big play potential. Alge Crumpler will probably be VY’s favorite target, so don’t be afraid of using him as a first TE if you’re up at the end of a TE run. Their defense will keep the games lower scoring and get some turnovers, so they aren’t a terrible option.

Overview: Boy, its really hard to predict this flashy but inconsistent team. (Editor’s note: Riiiiiiight). Defensively, they’ll be stout. Haynesworth is a stud, maybe the best DT is football. I don’t think anybody would say he has to step it up. (Editor’s note: Uggggghhhhh. That wasn’t even good. The Pundit really stuck his foot on his mouth with that one. Sorry, couldn’t resist). Offensively, they’ll run the ball well and pass it poorly. Really, the question is how poorly? Because if it’s better than last year, they’ll probably be in the playoff hunt again this year. If it doesn’t improve at all, they’ll finish 4th in the AFC’s deepest division.

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Fantasy Football Forecast

Alright, so as previously mentioned, I did not want to do a full fantasy preview earlier because I didn’t want anyone in the league I’m in to steal my genius (Editor’s note: The Pundit needs to get out more). But, I figured I should devote at least one post to the sensation that is fantasy football. Thus, I have devised a list of my top 25 players, and have come up with a collection of names to look over for waiver wire deals, steals and trades. Make sure to have at least three of my top 25 on your team, even if it means bamboozling (Editor’s note: Who said booze?) that guy in your league who has no idea of how to draft players and is excited that he got Drew Brees in the first round. Give him Marvin Harrison or something. (Editor’s note: Can Harrison’s new nickname be Colt .88 Special?)

1. LaDainian Tomlinson

2. Brian Westbrook

3. Joseph Addai

4. Tom Brady

5. Adrian Peterson

(Why Addai over Brady and Peterson? Why Peterson at 5? Simple: Addai is the safest pick of the three. It’s unlikely that Brady can repeat his legendary season of last year, especially because losing Dante Stallworth will hurt their passing attack. And you already know the fears with AD: defenses stacking the box and his injury history. Is Peterson worth the risk considering he was only 5.3 fantasy points better than Addai last year? The Colts traditionally field fantasy studs; I see no reason why Addai should regress this year.)

6. Steven Jackson

7. Marion Barber

8. Randy Moss

(Barber over Moss, and a slew of other running backs? I don’t think Moss will put up the ridiculous numbers of a year ago; meanwhile, Barber was already a stud, and now he’s getting all of the reps. Running backs are normally more consistent than receivers, and I think Barber is going to have a big year – I almost put him ahead of Jackson, but with TO and Witten around, he’ll lose some touches.)

9. Tony Romo

10. Peyton Manning

(Three QB’s in the top 10? And Romo ahead of Manning? Football is changing. The days of the 400 carry workhorse are temporarily over. Many teams are platooning backs now and relying more heavily on their passing attacks. Romo is the real deal, and with TO and Witten, he has excellent options. Meanwhile, Manning will still produce, but Marvin Harrison isn’t the guy he once was, and the Colts offense doesn’t conjure up the same degree of fear in defenses it once did.)

11. Terrell Owens

12. Clinton Portis

13. Ryan Grant (New QB in town means he may shoulder a heavy workload – and boy was he good when he became the starter last year, totaling 158.1 fantasy points despite only 10 starts.)

14. Marshawn Lynch (The rushing yards are there – 1115 yards last year. Expect him to score more than 7 total touchdowns this season, and hopefully do better than 18 receptions for 184 yards).

15. Braylon Edwards

16. Reggie Wayne

(Comparing these two is fun. Edwards finished last season with 224.9 fantasy points, while Wayne finished with 211. Edwards was a touchdown machine, scoring 16 – Wayne is a yardage machine, amassing 1510 last season. The main difference? Edwards should benefit from having a dangerous second receiver added to the mix in Stallworth, while Wayne will lose some touches due to the return of Marvin Harrison. Stallworth may steal a touchdown or two from Edwards, but he will also make it more difficult to double the electrifying Edwards, which could lead to a higher yardage output than last year.)

17. Willis McGahee

18. Maurice Jones-Drew

19. Larry Johnson

20. Frank Gore

21. Andre Johnson (This may seem a bit high for Mr. Johnson, but consider this: in only 9 games last year, Johnson posted 133.1 fantasy points. That’s an average of 14.8 points for game, meaning had he stayed healthy, Johnson likely would have been worth about 230 points last season. That would have been better than every receiver except for Mr. Moss. If he’s healthy, he’s a steal here – if not, he’ll still give you decent numbers when he’s on the field. 21 seemed like the right spot for him.)

22. T.J Houshmandzadeh

23. Drew Brees

24. Larry Fitzgerald

25. Marques Colston

Obviously, this list will be controversial, perhaps unorthodox, and certainly debatable. It is also pure gold (Editor’s note: Oh, that’s just arrogant). Again, be sure that you have at least three of these players on your team: QB-RB-WR, QB-RB-RB, or RB-RB-RB, which was how I went (Editor’s note: LT, Clinton Portis and Ryan Grant: not bad, Mr. Pundit). Now, on to my Golden Nuggets of Genius.

– Follow the Patriots carefully. Without Dante Stallworth, someone is going to step into the third receiver spot and get some looks. Conventional wisdom would suggest Jabar Gaffney, though don’t forget about Chad Jackson.

– I wouldn’t recommend drafting him, but if he gets a nice start, snag Aaron Rodgers quickly. The Packers offense thrived on short crossing patterns that allowed Greg Jennings and Donald Driver to gain yards after the catch. If he can manage the offense and avoid turnovers, Rodgers could be this year’s Derek Anderson.

– Be wary of drafting running backs from Denver and Tampa Bay, but seek them through the waiver wire later in the season. Mike Shanahan’s offense could move the ball with The Pundit at running back (Editor’s note: Speaking of fantasy…) and the Bucs added Warrick Dunn and Michael Bennett to their backfield this year. Remember, Earnest Graham started last year as a special teams player.

– Darren McFadden might not be this year’s Adrian Peterson, but he should be a solid player whom establishes himself as the Raiders’ guy. If one of your household name picks starts slow, try to dish him off for McFadden.

– I’m scared of Kurt Warner. I’m scared that if I don’t pick him up, he’ll have a big year. I’m scared if I do pick him up, he’ll be easy prey for defensive ends like he was in New York and will end up getting hurt. I’ll be watching closely.

– Someone has to catch the ball in Oakland. I say that someone will be Ronald Curry.

– Someone has to catch the ball in Miami. I say that someone will be Ted Ginn, Jr.

– Someone has to catch the ball in Chicago. I say that someone will be the other team’s defenders (Editor’s note: But don’t count out Greg Olsen).

– Devin Hester is a gamble pick – feel him out early in the season. He’ll likely be an inconsistent scorer, so if you’re going to play him, be sure to do your research on the opponent.

Alright, that’s enough fantasy for now. The real NFL preview is coming later in the week. Be sure to check the links in the morn.

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