Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Black Athletes Victims in Their Own Communities: When Will It Stop?

ESPN.com headline: Doctors: Collier paralyzed below waist, one leg had to be amputated

Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Richard Collier joins the late Sean Taylor and Darrent Williams as the latest pro-athlete victim of black-on-black violence. Last year, when I wrote about Taylor’s tragic death, I received quite a bit of mail from readers who claimed that I was racist to suggest that Taylor’s demise had something to do with a certain violent mindset in the black community. I certainly didn’t mean those comments as racist; to me it was simply a matter of surveying the evidence and drawing a possible conclusion.

Collier, shot in Jacksonville—get this—14 times on Sept. 2, while waiting in his car for ladies to arrive for a double date, now faces a life of paralysis, minus one leg, his promising and potentially very lucrative career as an NFL player ended. Doctors reported that five bullets alone were removed from the 26-year-old’s urinary bladder, plus he battled pneumonia and renal failure in recovery before the decision to amputate finally had to be made.

This is just heinous stuff, and a lot of citizen response has taken the form of outcry against the culture of guns in America. Maybe. But yet again, this is a crime that happened to a black man, more than likely perpetrated by a black man, and yet again I’m astonished at the lack of outrage coming from black national leaders about black-on-black violence.

Barack? Jesse? Charlie (Rangel)? Al (Sharpton)? Anybody gonna come out and say that the incidence of crimes perpetrated against high-profile black athletes by other blacks has got to stop? How about taking back one’s own community from such thuggish, destructive behavior? Does it bother anyone that black athletes have become marked men in their own neighborhoods?

If these anti-athlete crimes were spread across the racial or ethnic spectrum, then maybe the anti-gun advocates could make their points with singular certitude. That, alas, is not the case. Blacks are targeting blacks. The culture of guns in America might be problematic, but the culture of guns in the African American community is absolutely deadly. And apparently it isn’t stopping.

I don’t think it’s racist to recognize a trend and form an opinion about it. I won’t pretend to know all the deep-rooted reasons why there seem to be too-frequent incidents of gun violence in the black community. What I want to know is, When are the black leaders going to publically address that community and tell them that enough is enough?

Frankly, I don’t have a clue as to how you stop dangerous people from acting out on innocent people. But when a successful black athlete is in more danger in his own community than he might be in a predominantly white community, then something’s truly cock-eyed. Indeed, the tables have turned on racism in this country. I’m for Richard Collier and Darrent Williams, but apparently there are black dudes somewhere who are not.

The Colliers, Taylors and Williamses of the NFL should be looked up to as high achievers by American blacks. Instead, they’ve all three been gunned down.

Why can’t it stop? That’s the question I want Barack Obama to ask from a podium somewhere on the campaign trail. Somehow, I don’t think it’s gonna happen.

In the meantime, let’s all say a prayer for Collier. He’s going to need a lot of good will and hope as he tries to rebuild his life.

And let’s hope this is the last time we write about such an event for a very long time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

NASCAR (Is) for Dummies

1. an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment : “team sports such as baseball and soccer” | [as adj. ] ( sports) “a sports center.”

So, the question put before us today is, Is NASCAR a sport?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was on Dan Patrick’s FOX radio show Wednesday. Dan asked him, “Would your dad [the late Dale Earnhardt] have been on Kyle Busch’s ‘side’?” This is in reference to Busch’s so-called “rivalry” with driver Carl Edwards. (They’ve been bashing their cars into one another on the racetrack, in case you were not aware.)

Uh, “be on his side”?

Ya mean like in the schoolyard? Neener-neener-neener???

The NASCAR culture has a combined IQ of about 47. It is, without doubt, the sport for morons. If it’s a sport at all.

Remember Keanu Reeves in the movie Parenthood? He’s a young, dumb guy who pursues drag racing. When he totals his car at the end, everyone’s concerned for his safety, except the guy who owns the racetrack who asks, “Hey, can you come back and do that next week?” The “athlete” as cannon fodder.

NASCAR, IndyCar, or any level car-racing, is as boring as it gets—except for the crashes. So where’s the sport in that? What kind of person, I ask you, sits in the stands at a racing event and watches dozens of cars go around and around at high speed for hours and hours? What aspect of athleticism are they appreciating? If there’s no crash, do they go home disappointed? Or are they appreciative of the dumb drivers’ ability—sorry, “skill”—to sit their cast-iron asses in a car seat all afternoon and drive really fast? What, I ask you, distinguishes the “skill” of a Dale, Jr. from that of a—pick name at random—Greg Biffle? (“Man, that Greg Biffle can sure grab a hold of that steering wheel!”)

Fact is, you could take the #1 tire-changer guys from the pits of all NASCAR drivers, put them in the driver seats instead, let ’em race, and the average fan wouldn’t know the freakin’ difference at a glance. But at least the crashes would look the same: messy, fiery, smoky, hopefully fatal.

There’s always a lot of talk about Team Earnhardt or Team Gibbs (a la the former Redskins football coach who’s owned race cars for years), or Team Rahal, in which David Letterman has a stake. (Is it just me, or is it totally weird that Letterman, the political liberal, digs car racing? Didn’t you know, Dave, that the IndyCar series is a fave of overweight. low-educated blue-collar men and women who swill beer and voted for Bush?)

The “team” deal is an attempt to further promulgate racing as a “sport.” That dog won’t hunt. Do they give out awards for fastest oil-change?? Or lug-nut removal?? Well, they don’t yet, anyway. Hold onto your shotgun seat.

But let’s look at that definition again: “an activity involving physical exertion and skill...” Well, football certainly qualifies. LaDainian Tomlinson exerts himself mightily every Sunday and his physical skills as a runner are unquestioned. Basketball? No sweat. LeBron and Kobe are supremely physically skilled—we can actually see it—and the name of their game is nothing if not exertion. Hockey? Yes. Baseball? It’s less exertion but still has plenty of it, and the skill factor is huge. Yes to baseball. As a matter of fact, yes to any sport where the athletes involved must put their bodies into shape, perform in a public arena and display physical exertion and obviously superior skill at the activity involved. Heck, I hate soccer. It’s boring. But you can’t say it doesn’t fulfill the definition of sport. (FYI: I can’t hit Tim Lincecum’s fastball, but I drive all the time. Once I hit the mid-90s in my old Acura Integra on a trip from Chicago to Nashville. I know: It’s not the exact same thing, but you get my drift.)

Here’s Dale, Jr., in an online issue of Men’s Health magazine: “I used to not even pay attention to my health. I'd eat what I wanted to eat, I went wherever I wanted to, raised hell, didn't sleep. But it takes away from how quick-witted you are and how sharp you are in the race car...” Good thing he wasn’t driving on any average city street before this big revelation.

Then there’s the presposterous legacy crap that goes on in car racing. Does anyone believe that Dale, Jr. achieved “greatness” in his sport? Did he pay his dues? Did he demonstrate his ability pitted against other drivers in the minor leagues? No, we all know that nepotism is the name of that game. It is a rarity when a pro athlete’s kid makes it in the same sport. It certainly happens—the Boones, Alous, Bondses, Fielders, etc., in baseball; the Simms and Grieses and Winslows in football. But anyone remember Pete Rose Jr.? Poor Petey. He wanted to follow in dad’s footsteps and it proved an impossibility. Heck, Petey wasn’t even given a second chance. Why? Because while he may have been willing to exert—like many wannabe pro athletes—he simply didn’t have the skill.

More Dale, Jr.: “I didn't look like my dad, and my mannerisms weren't like his, so I didn't get many comparisons to him. So the pressure of being Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn't so great. Just trying to make it was hard enough, you know? I liked the fact that I was able to drive for my dad, but I always knew that it might not work out. It's real hard to work for family. Fortunately, it has worked out. I can't believe they pay me to do this.”

I’ll bet a lot of guys can’t believe it either, Dale. As for it “not working out,” were you perchance planning another career? Maybe as a dentist?

Here’s Dale, Jr. on the legacy thing: “If I have a son, hell yeah, I want him to race. I'll be like those damn beauty-queen moms. You know how they have those little 6-year-olds that they're rushing to beauty contests? That's the kind of dad I'll be with racing. He'll be 6 years old, and I'll be yelling, ‘Damn it, you didn't go 'round that corner right! I told you, man, late apexes!’ ”

Late apexes?? Is that anything like hitting the curve ball? Lord help Dale III if he wants to be an entomologist. Hell yeah!

I met a lady once who owned a pawn shop. She took me into her office one day, and proudly pointed to what she claimed was her prized possession hanging on the wall: a large triptych of color photos of, and signed personally by, Richard Petty. “That’s my big thing,” she pronounced with reverence.

“Oh, yeah,” I said politely. But just what kind of “thing” is that, I wondered. Kinda a dumb, mindless thing.

Official attendance figures for 1998 North American auto racing were 17,079,004. It’s not easy to find current figures. That’s a lot of people, but not more than the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals and Angels combined in a single season of baseball.

Nevertheless, the sport obviously has its fans. But that don’t—oops, sorry: doesn’t—make it a sport.

But what’s really amazing is that the major radio sports outlets broadcast car racing on the weekends. With play-by-play announcers! Hilarious.

Now what kind of a dummy LISTENS to an auto race on the radio?? A big one—with a lot of time on his hands apparently.

The evidence is overwhelming. NASCAR is not a sport. It's spectacle—for IQs below 80.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Tuesday Morning Quarterback: NFL Week #1 Recap

Verbal wanderings, from the field to the broadcast booth:

1. Hats off to the Falcons! The new and improved backfield, featuring rookie QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner, looked potent in a sound defeat of the (admittedly) lax Lions. And no dogs were injured in the making of the “W.”

2. The TV networks should be ashamed of themselves for foisting on the American public some of the most grammar-challenged, low-IQ dumbass ex-jocks ever. Jerome Bettis: a really nice guy who actually went to college (Notre Dame) but needs someone to sit down and teach him about the rules of agreement between subjects and predicates. (Singular subjects take singular predicates, Bus. America’s children are watching.) Moron Brian Baldinger: still haunting the airwaves with his Neanderthal grunts and stupid observations.

3. All hail, Brett Favre. He can still throw a monster pass, and the gods have not forsaken him. With the injury to Tom Brady, suddenly the Jets’ chances at a playoff berth seemed to improve. Favre's Green Bay doppelganger, Aaron Rodgers, had a decent opening Monday night game in the Pack's defeat of the Vikings.

4. Sad to see Brady in pain. It didn’t look good. Ditto Vince Young, only in his case, it might be to the Titans’ benefit if he stays on crutches for a while. VY still looked lost in the Titans’ gutty 17-10 win over the Jags, and it was backup Kerry Collins who came in and looked assured running the offense. At this juncture, with a fine defense and a budding new star in RB Chris Johnson, the team might thrive under a veteran dropback QB who still has a decent arm. And, has anybody noticed that Jay Cutler of the Broncos, after a Monday night display of stellar leadership and arm strength, has clearly surpassed Young and Matt Leinart of the Cardinals, both of whom were drafted ahead of him in 2006. To think the Titans had their crack at Cutler, who played right here in Nashville at Vanderbilt. There's a lesson to be learned here: All that glitters is not gold. Spot observation: Vikes QB Tarvaris Jackson—also a 2006 draft choice (#64 overall out of Alabama State)—is further along in his development than Young.

5. Anybody got Daunte Culpepper’s cell number? The former All-Pro called it quits just a few days ago, saying no one was interested in his services. But QBs went down in Tennessee, New England and Kansas City (Brodie Croyle). Apparently, Chris Simms was already on New England’s speed-dial. Now all we need is a Jake Plummer sighting.

6. Big game for Philly’s Donovan McNabb. He sent the Rams reeling, and maybe that big year St. Louis QB Marc Bulger had in 2006 was a mirage.

7. TV executives should also be ashamed of themselves for foisting on the American public some of the most ego-inflated and self-absorbed non-jock announcers and commentators. Keith Olbermann is simply a goon and has no rightful place in our TV-watching lives. Joe Buck almost made it semi-successfully through the Cowboys-Browns broadcast, until for some reason he decided to interject some crap about baseball. (No doubt Joe’s insecure way of reminding us that he’s FOX’s man on the MLB beat, too. Fag.) Said fact-challenged Tony Kornheiser during the second quarter of Monday night's Packers-Vikings game, "Okay. Permit me to state the obvious..." (You always do, Tony. You always do.) Most disappointing was Dan Patrick, who sat in with Bob Costas and Olbercreep on the NBC dais. Dan seemed out of sorts. He left ESPN last year, and has returned on FOX radio with his own show, and is cleverly driving internet traffic to his own website. But what seemed like a cool maverick media move got lost Sunday night amid awkward pauses and a lack of spontaneity. We like Dan, except that Dan apparently likes Olberturd, so perhaps we must reevaluate.

8. The Bears looked very good. Stout defense, a careful Kyle Orton, and a hot new RB named Matt Forte. If they keep this up, they might very well contend for that NFC North title, after all. They soundly defeated the Colts (in Indianapolis), whom we predicted will have trouble this year making the playoffs. So far, so good on that one.

9. Bravo, Jake Delhomme. The Panthers’ QB, back from injury in 2007, threw an incredibly sharp pass into the end zone as time ran out, connecting with little-known second-year man Dante Rosario and defeating the Chargers in San Diego. Big opening victory for John Fox and his Carolina squad, who suddenly look more viable in the NFC South, winning a game most every pundit would’ve counted as a loss before the opening kickoff.

10. That “GU” on the uniforms looked kinda weird. And we’re gonna hafta look at it all the bleepin’ year long. Bad move. They don’t do that when other Hall of Famers die, leaving us only to conclude that Gene Upshaw got the honor because he was the head of the players' union. Now there’s a sensitive notion: "He helped inflate players' already obscene salaries and benefits and also drive up ticket prices for the average fan to unreachable levels. So let's put his initials on our jerseys and look ugly all season." Tasteless is what it is.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Injuries, Roster Changes and Rookies Make for Difficult 2008 NFL Predictions

Preseason NFL games are meaningless in the standings. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have meaning. Guys get hurt in ’em (the Giants’ Osi Umenyiora, lost for the season). Improbable faces excel and gain unlikely starting roles (J. T. O’Sullivan, 49ers). Most of all, we get a first glimpse at the raw talent of incoming rookies who might alter the fortunes of their teams (Falcons’ Matt Ryan, Titans’ Chris Johnson, Dolphins’ Jake Long).

If you happened to have made your predictions about the 2008 season before the preseason games started—like those magazines that try to get a jump on things in order to sell early product to anticipating fans—you might have a lot of egg on your face before the year is through. That’s because a lot occurred during the preseason, with veterans reporting late to camp due to surgery (Colts’ Peyton Manning) or nagging injuries (Patriots’ Tom Brady), or guys getting banged up in the games themselves (Bengals’ Chad Johnson, Redskins’ Jason Taylor, Browns’ Derek Anderson). Or, in the case of the Bears, you lose a vaunted rookie (Chris Williams) to herniated disc surgery before he can even line ’em up to show you what he’s got.

There are transitions on the horizon, however subtle. A lot of familiar high-achieving teams are out there (Colts, Pats, Giants, Cowboys, Chargers), but encroaching age and injury and free-agent roster changes are hovering overhead just enough to make guarantees impossible. Plus, recently lame-o teams (Raiders, Texans, 49ers) might be ready to surprise. Heck, even the revamped Falcons might make an occasional joyful noise.

The key to the playoffs (and to prognostication) is the schedule. It’s not enough to have high aspirations. For many teams, the schedule has to provide opportunity, mainly because parity is rampant. Plus lackluster teams get a chance to make a softer landing the year after they suck. (Though maybe no one told the Raiders this.)

Not that it’s ever bad, but this could be an exceedingly awesome season. It kicks off on Week #1 with the Dolphins and Chad Pennington vs. his old team, the Jets, and Brett Favre. (Shhh...no more talk about La Favre. Let’s just watch.)


1. New England Patriots

2007: 16-0
Projected 2008: 13-3

Presuming Tom Brady’s foot is okay, the Patriots’ offense should be as potent as ever. There are few changes on that side of the ball, so expect a dynamic, multilevel attack and plenty of points on demand. The defense stacks up a little differently. There’s creeping age in some quarters—Bruschi, Vrabel, Harrison—and the team picked up Bengals castoff Deltha O’Neal in a last-minute move to shore up the secondary. However, the trench guys—Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren—are excellent, blending enough youth with solid experience. Plus, all seven of the Patriots’ draft choices made the team, and five of those guys are defenders, including Jerod Mayo, who moves into the starting lineup as weakside linebacker. Repeating 16-0 won’t happen probably, but this team is still loaded.

2. Buffalo Bills

2007: 7-9
Projected 2008: 9-7

The scrappy Bills had a strong draft, which included James Hardy, a wide receiver from Indiana who looked good in the preseason. Along with Lee Evans and Josh Reed, the Bills have a fairly formidable crew to catch Trent Edwards’ passes. Meanwhile, Marshawn Lynch is looking to build on his fine first year at running back (1,115 yards). He kind of needs to do that, because depth is an issue here. Presuming Edwards’ growth at QB, the Bills should have no trouble scoring points. J. P. Losman is the capable backup signal-caller. The defense is mostly young, with a few vets sprinkled in (e.g., Marcus Stroud, picked up from Jacksonville, and Kawika Mitchell, in from the Giants). On balance, the Bills are a homegrown outfit, with eager youth hoping they're ready to blossom. The Bills have a legit shot at the playoffs, and it should be fun watching them pull an upset or two along the way.

3. New York Jets

2007: 4-12
Projected 2008: 8-8

The Jets pulled out all the stops in the off-season. They drafted well—all six of their initial picks made the team. They spent money on free agents and made trades (acquiring Alan Faneca, Calvin Pace and Kris Jenkins). Then they pulled the biggest move of all, dumping QB Chad Pennington and bringing in Brett Favre. Last year’s 4-12 record, after 10-6 in 2006, must’ve stung a lot, and so they’ve rolled the dice on making a lot happen now. Actually, the defense—about the middle of the pack in ’07—wasn’t so bad, and may definitely be improved once the new pieces gel with the younger vets. So Favre is here to jump-start the offense, the third worst in the AFC last year. It should make for very entertaining television no matter what. The running game is Thomas Jones (talented, hardworking, usually not a game-breaker) plus third-year pro Leon Washington. The receivers are Jerricho Cotchery and a banged-up Laveranues Cole, plus Brad Smith and a few other unknown quantities. The starting tight end is seventh-year pro Chris Baker, who had his best season in ’07, with 41 catches. Rookie TE Dustin Keller will probably get a solid shot at hauling in Favre’s checkdown passes. As schedules go, the Jets’ is fairly soft, as befitting a 4-12 team from the previous season. An optimist would look at it and venture 10 wins. We’ll go with 8, and that may be a gift—a nod in the direction of Favre’s ability to deliver. Heck, even 7 wins is a distinct improvement, and it’s not clear whether the Jets—Favre aside—have the offensive talent to vault into the playoff picture.

4. Miami Dolphins

2007: 1-15
Projected 2008: 5-11

The Dolphins are rebuilding under new GM Bill Parcells, but in one fell swoop they got something a lot of other, supposedly better teams are still searching for: a genuinely gifted and proven quarterback. Chad Pennington can’t turn it around all by himself, but he’s a fantastic pickup, and maybe—just maybe—new head coach Tony Sparano can get positive results a lot quicker than anybody figured. The running back situation is a little weird—Ricky Williams (yes, that Ricky Williams!) and Ronnie Brown trying to rebound from flakiness and/or injury—but wide receivers Ted Ginn, Ernest Wilford and Derek Hagan might click with Pennington, along with Anthony Fasano, who’s not a bad tight end. The defense mixes vets and younger talents, including Vonnie Holliday, Channing Crowder, Akin Ayodele, Joey Porter and Will Allen. The team’s #1 draft pick, offensive tackle Jake Long, has struggled so far, and he and the rest of the offensive line will have to progress to at least adequacy in order for any serious improvement to happen. Most importantly, they need to protect Pennington, who has a history of injury. There’s nowhere to go but up in Miami.


1. Pittsburgh Steelers

2007: 10-6
Projected 2008: 10-6

Parker, Mendenhall & Roethlisberger sounds like a law firm. But what it is is a potent backfield for the Steelers, who made the playoffs in ’07 but were dismissed in the first round by the Jaguars. Rookie Rashard Mendenhall has looked very good in the early going, and Willie Parker looks healed up from injury. BRoeth has good receivers too (Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, maybe rookie Limas Sweed). The off-season loss of OL Alan Faneca to free agency doesn’t help, however. The Steelers’ D looks strong enough to contend, with a 3-4 dominated by good linebackers, and with veteran DBs in the secondary. To back up BRoeth, the Steelers picked up Byron Leftwich, but sitting behind him is very exciting fifth-round draft choice Dennis Dixon, who’d be awfully fun to watch if necessary. The schedule’s no softie, of course, with road games at Philly, Jacksonville, New England and Tennessee, and home dates with the Cowboys, the Chargers and the Colts. The Steelers can’t let up because, like last year, if they don’t win their division, there might not be a wild-card berth to secure.

2. Cleveland Browns

2007: 10-6
Projected 2008: 8-8

Browns missed the playoffs last year on the tiebreaker formula. No doubt they want it for real in ’08, but an unforgiving schedule might get in the way. The division games versus Pittsburgh will be tough, but also they play Dallas, the Giants, the Jags, the Colts, the Titans and Philly. If they beat up on the remaining mediocrities, chances for the playoffs improve dramatically. Still, Derek Anderson has to prove ’07 was for real, Jamal Lewis is a year older at running back, and the receiving corps doesn’t begin the year at total strength. Presuming the great-on-paper offense achieves, it’s up to the defense to improve over the 382 points allowed in ’07. One major step was taken in that direction by getting tackle Shaun Rogers from Detroit in a trade involving DB Leigh Bodden, who might be missed. The remaining secondary guys have some experience (if not a lot of track record), and the linebackers are a young, hungry bunch that includes Kamerion Wimbley, Andra Davis and D’Qwell Jackson, with 36-year-old Willie McGinest providing veteran presence. Could the Browns leap to 11-12 wins? Theoretically, yes. But the pragmatics of parity and the potential for a slump are all too real. If Anderson falters, the Brady Quinn fans will start hollering.

3. Cincinnati Bengals

2007: 7-9
Projected 2008: 6-10

The more things stay the same... the more things stay the same. Injuries, suspensions, soap operatic turmoil—it’s business as usual in Cincy. The Bengals released running back Rudi Johnson, who’s been the backbone of the rushing attack for five years. A committee replaces him, including Chris Perry and Kenny Watson. If Ocho Cinco and Housh can stay healthy, then QB Carson Palmer will have someone to throw to, but depth is a real problem here. Believe it or not, the Bengals’ offense may actually struggle. The D has veteran (but not usually All-Pro) players at every tier, but fans will be watching #1 draft choice Keith Rivers, yet another Southern Cal product, who’s been given a starting linebacker job. Still, ya gotta wonder what’s up when the Bengals release former All-Pro DB Deltha O’Neal and he’s immediately snapped up by, of all teams, the Patriots. The out-of-division schedule is not fatal, but there are too many questions about the Bengals’ overall profile to see them doing much better than six wins.

4. Baltimore Ravens

2007: 5-11
Projected 2008: 5-11

The vaunted Ravens defense yielded nearly 400 points in ’07, while the mediocre offense produced only 275. They’re unsettled at quarterback (Troy Smith or rookie Joe Flacco?), and somewhat at running back (if healthy, it’s Willis McGahee, with rookie Ray Rice coming on). The receivers are decent, with reliable Derrick Mason (entering his 12th year), Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams, plus Yamon Figurs, whose main task is to return kicks. Todd Heap and Daniel Wilcox are solid at tight end. There’s all kinds of veteran name-talent on the defensive side—Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Trevor Pryce, Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle, Ed Reed—but age might be catching up with some of them. First-year coach John Harbaugh has his work cut out for him. If anyone asked me, I’d say Flacco ought to get the nod. Aspiring to .500 is at least a reasonable goal.


1. Jacksonville Jaguars

2007: 11-5
Projected 2008: 12-4

The Jags look ready. Marcus Stroud and Bobby McCray are gone from the defensive line, but they filled those holes from within and through the draft, the latter including Florida’s Derrick Harvey (who signed late) and Auburn’s Quentin Groves. Plus, they added former Charger Drayton Florence to an already first-rate secondary, and the LBs are led by the excellent Mike Peterson. Meanwhile, quarterback David Garrard should be one year better, and there’s big talent at running back with ageless (if sometimes injury-prone) Fred Taylor and the amazing Maurice Jones-Drew. Late draft choice Chauncey Washington from USC made the squad, and he showed running ability in the preseason. If there’s a weakness here, it’s at wide receiver. Offseason pickup Jerry Porter has nursed a nagging injury, leaving Reggie Williams as a major player along with veterans Dennis Northcutt and Matt Jones. Josh Scobee returns to full health as the placekicker, and that’s good news too. The Jags should compete for all the marbles, which probably makes coach Jack Del Rio happy but nervous.

2. Indianapolis Colts

2007: 13-3
Projected 2008: 8-8

After starting the season hobbling around on his surgically repaired knee, Peyton Manning may go through his team’s toughest season in a while. The schedule is insanely difficult—Jacksonville (2), Tennessee (2), improving Houston (2), at improving Minnesota, at Green Bay, New England, at Pittsburgh, at San Diego, at improving Cleveland—and it’s gonna take all of his QB magic to stay on course for the playoffs. The offensive tools look pretty much the same—Addai, Harrison, Wayne, Gonzalez, Clark—and rookie RB Mike Hart might help to add a new dimension to things. The D’s a year older and not necessarily a year better, and the draft only seemed to add potential depth without really finding an impact guy. It’s hard to stay consistently among the league’s elite; this year the Colts exhibit chinks in the armor.

3. Tennessee Titans

2007: 10-6
Projected 2008: 8-8

Defenders will need to stay healthy, because the offense is a huge question mark. Even at that, the Titans may underachieve. Their schedule, compared to Indy or Jacksonville, is a tad easier, but if Vince Young isn’t yet a sharp NFL quarterback, then no amount of great D will raise the team much above .500. The first-string receivers (Gage and McCareins) are nothing great, and one has to wonder what’s going on with personnel evaluation when the Titans get rid of WR Courtney Roby and he ends up making a Colts squad that already has some of the best receivers in the game. Maybe rookie WR Lavelle Hawkins will emerge—and maybe he won’t (just like last year’s receiving hope, Paul Williams). With Young showing a limited mastery of a pro offense, the fallback position is run-run-run, throw checkdown passes to newly acquired tight end Alge Crumpler, and play shutdown defense. The offensive line looks good (mostly young vets, with the exception of aging center Kevin Mawae), and third-year man LenDale White could team with gifted rookie Chris Johnson to provide a thunder-and-lightning running back tandem. The defense has plenty of talent: Bulluck, Vanden Bosch, Thornton, Haynesworth, Hope, Griffin, and Jevon Kearse, the latter hoping to jump-start a career on the wane. Under head coach Jeff Fisher, the Titans never lack for playing tough football. They hit with intensity and can wear an opponent down. Alas, if the aspiring competition rises up to meet them, and if Young starts to look more like Michael Vick—and less like Steve McNair—this could be a longer season than most might’ve thought, especially for a team that made the playoffs in ’07.

4. Houston Texans

2007: 8-8
Projected 2008: 8-8

The Texans are desperately wanting to go above .500 this year. They’ll probably need some luck to do that, but, like last year, they’re an interesting team who can cause problems. The quarterbacking is in good hands (Matt Schaub, Sage Rosenfels), and there’s at least one great receiver (Andre Johnson) along with capable others, including Kevin Walter. Not so sure about running back, though. There’s aging Ahman Green, and there was former Titan Chris Brown, until he went on injured reserve. So it’s a good opportunity for rookie Steve Slaton to show what he can do. The defense has young studs in the trenches (Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye), the key linebacker is DeMeco Ryans, and the secondary is capable but was better until recently losing Dunta Robinson to the PUP list. The schedule’s not the worst but has its pitfalls. Besides the expected tough divisional games, they have road trips to Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Cleveland and Green Bay. If they can make some hay out of the other six games, they should remain respectable.


1. San Diego

2007: 11-5
Projected 2008: 11-5

The Chargers remain loaded. The offensive attack looks potentially as good as ever, especially with tight end Antonio Gates starting the year injury-free. Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson, Chris Chambers—it’a all good, plus rookie RB Jacob Hester from LSU should contribute. First-round draft choice Antoine Cason should help the secondary also, thus bulwarking an already top-flight D. Why All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman would risk further injury playing on a bum knee is beyond me. The Chargers could survive without him, and he might get to play 10 more years. Whatever. I guess even at 85% he’s better than most anybody, but possibly he’s a fool, and why the front office doesn’t put him on injured reserve—thus forcing him to address the problem—is beyond me. Pats, Saints, Steelers, Colts and Bucs are the tougher out-of-division opponents this year, and the division itself might not be a cakewalk after all. Holding at 11-5 will disappoint some fans—and give head coach Norv Turner a few more worry lines and gray hairs—but the playoffs are the playoffs.

2. Oakland

2007: 4-12
Projected 2008: 9-7

It’ll be exciting in Oakland this season, even if not completely successful. The Raiders could make some noise, with their blend of potentially all-world young talent on offense and some oncoming younger vets on defense. It’s JaMarcus Russell time at QB, and #1 draft choice RB Darren McFadden will attempt to do what Adrian Peterson did for Minnesota last year: provide a scary ground attack while a young signal caller gains his chops. Justin Fargas is currently still atop the depth chart at running back, but that could change soon, plus the Raiders have a wild-card in former Louisville standout Michael Bush, who was drafted in ’07 on the rebound from injury and now appears healed up. Javon Walker leads an otherwise somewhat unheralded receiving corps, which also suffered some injuries in the preseason. Zach Miller is a good young tight end. Russell does have a big body and an even bigger arm but what’s in his head is the multi-million-dollar question. The D actually looks pretty good, with veterans on the line (Gerard Warren, Derrick Burgess), linebacking led by Thomas Howard and Kirk Morrison and talented younger DBs Nnamdi Asomugha, Michael Huff, Gibril Wilson (fresh off a Super Bowl win with the Giants) and also DeAngelo Hall, picked up from the Falcons. If Lane Kiffin, a bit of a youngster himself, can coach ’em up, the Raiders might pull a big surprise.

3. Kansas City

2007: 4-12
Projected 2008: 9-7

Here’s a phenomenal fact: All 12 of the Chiefs’ draft choices this year made the team. They have a massive infusion of young talent everywhere but at quarterback and linebacker. The big name is #1 draft choice Glenn Dorsey, who will start at defensive tackle. Rookie cornerback Brandon Flowers will also start, and a few other novices will see serious playing time. So the big question is about QB Brodie Croyle and his ability to lead the hoped-for turnaround. Larry Johnson is the running back, and he’s capably backed up by Kolby Smith and rookie Jamaal Charles. Dwayne Bowe is an excellent young receiver, and Devard Darling has potential (though not much of a track record); alas, injuries have thinned out the rest of those ranks. Tony Gonzalez is a great tight end, and rookie Brad Cottam’s in reserve. Napoleon Harris and Donnie Edwards are veteran anchors of the linebacking corps. Gaining five games on last year’s record is a pretty optimistic prediction. Croyle needs to prove he’s more than merely adequate, the kids need to come through and Herm Edwards needs to show that he’s actually a good coach (a proposition that remains debatable). It could happen, though.

4. Denver

2007: 7-9
Projected 2008: 7-9

Nagging injuries (Boss Bailey, Elvis Dumervil, Marquand Manuel, newly acquired Dewayne Robertson, rookies Ryan Torain and Carlton Powell), plus the coming suspension of WR Brandon Marshall, threaten to hamper the Broncos’ return to playoff contention. There are questions at running back also, though coach Mike Shanahan’s always found a way to have a productive ground game. First-round draft choice Ryan Clady is supposed to help that situation at offensive tackle. Otherwise, it’s all QB Jay Cutler, a gamer if ever there was one, but also fresh off the news that he has diabetes and has to monitor his blood-sugar levels with daily care. He’s looked very good in the preseason, so maybe taking care of his body will make him better. Rookie wide receiver/kick returner Eddie Royal is expected to give the team a boost on offense, and there are still very good players on defense, like Champ Bailey, John Engelberger, D. J. Williams and, yes, even aging Dre’ Bly. The schedule’s a nightmare. Six challenging division games include two versus the Chargers, plus they face the Saints, the Bucs, the Jaguars, the Patriots, the Browns and a smattering of other teams right about at their level. Equaling last season’s mediocre finish might be tough.


1. Dallas Cowboys

2007: 13-3
Projected 2008: 11-5

This team is talented, and they look to be healthy. They’ve got vets on both sides of the ball, yet age doesn’t appear to be a serious problem. Getting beat in the playoffs last season by the Giants no doubt still stings, but there’s no earthly reason why the Cowboys shouldn’t make the postseason comfortably again. Rookie running back Felix Jones should be a nice complement to Marion Barber out of the backfield. Tony Romo, Patrick Crayton and Terrell Owens provide the steady passing attack. The defense, already pretty good, adds veteran Zach Thomas from the Dolphins. He’ll turn 35 right before the season starts but still appears to have gas left in the tank. Plus, the Great Pacman Jones Experiment is on, and if the talented cornerback/kick returner keeps his nose clean and concentrates on football, the team gets a huge boost. The Cowboys might even do better than 11-5, but divisional play will be a challenge, and they’ve got road games at Cleveland, Green Bay and Pittsburgh.

2. New York Giants

2007: 10-6
Projected 2008: 10-6

Despite winning the Super Bowl, there are few experts who will admit that the Giants were hands-down the best team in the NFL last year. QB Eli Manning still has a few skeptics, and besides, the real MVP on that team was DL Osi Umenyiora, and he’s down for the season with an injury. Plus Michael Strahan has retired for good. Thus, the D will probably look less fearsome. There are the eternal questions at linebacker, plus some truly unknown quantities in the defensive backfield, though also plenty of veteran depth (R. W. McQuarters, Sam Madison, Sammy Knight). The offense still looks decent, though Jeremy Shockey is gone, leaving a hole at tight end. The offensive line appears healthy, and it’s time for Brandon Jacobs to build seriously on ’07’s 1,000-yard season. If Manning hits Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer with regularity, the Giants will win their share of games. But exceeding last year could be a struggle, even though the schedule’s not so challenging for a world champion.

3. Philadelphia Eagles

2007: 8-8
Projected 2008: 9-7

Philly fans are expecting a definite improvement on last season’s .500 record. With luck, they could do as well as 11-5. There are definitely opportunities on the schedule to pull out road victories at Chicago, San Francisco, Cincinnati and Baltimore. Plus the home schedule features games versus Atlanta and as-yet-unknown quantities St. Louis and Arizona. The team’s added Asante Samuel to an already aggressive defense, and that’s good. A lot hangs on the performance of QB Donovan McNabb, who’d probably like to prove to some people that he’s definitely not over the hill. Plus, there are those of us who keep wondering how long versatile RB Brian Westbrook can keep doing his Superman imitation. If Westbrook goes down, there’s little behind him. And if McNabb falters in the least, there’ll be a hue and cry for the promotion of second-year man Kevin Kolb, who has looked awfully good the past two preseasons and definitely deserves a shot somewhere. Some preseason injuries have affected the wide receiver corps, but the Eagles have swift and elusive rookie DeSean Jackson ready to make an impact there. (How that guy was left undrafted until the second round is a huge mystery.) Still, it’s hard to presume that the out-of-division competition’s just gonna lay down for the Eagles. They all have something to prove, too.

4. Washington Redskins

2007: 9-7
Projected 2008: 9-7

Anything can happen with the Redskins in ’08 under new head coach Jim Zorn. The best news for this team is that the offensive line looks healthy again, and that’s especially good for RB Clinton Portis. The main receivers are vets—Antwaan Randle El, Santana Moss, Chris Cooley—plus there’s rookie talent waiting in line, like Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly and TE Fred Davis. But the wild card is fourth-year QB Jason Campbell, charged with running the West Coast offense. Campbell has ability—60% completion rate in ’07—but he has a tendency to make questionable big decisions. Plus, he hasn’t looked that great in the preseason. A few bad games and the folks in the Nation’s Capital will be calling for rookie Colt Brennan, who may be better prepared to run the West Coast after his incredible career at Hawaii. Brennan would be a risky move, of course, but an exciting one. Then there’s vet Todd Collins sitting around, who took the team to the playoffs last season. The defense, with the addition of Jason Taylor, might be better than we know, with vets like Andre Carter, Cornelius Griffin, London Fletcher and Shawn Springs, plus younger vets Carlos Rogers and Laron Landry. There’s depth, too, on D, with Fred Smoot, Khary Campbell and Demetric Evans. All things considered, the schedule’s not that bad. Besides the grueling NFC East tilts, they play Arizona, St. Louis, Detroit, Baltimore, Cincinnati and San Francisco. If Campbell sucks, and Zorn proves clueless in his big new job, the 9-7 projection goes down the tubes.


1. Green Bay Packers

2007: 13-3
Projected 2008: 10-6

So if your highly touted, virtually a rookie, quarterback screws up once he faces live ammo, how can you possibly match the record achieved the previous season with one of the greatest QBs in the history of the game? Answer: You can’t. The Packers have an aggressive defense sprinkled with gifted youngsters and proven veterans, and those guys need to play well while Operation Aaron Rodgers is launched. Rodgers looked decent in preseason, and there are good receivers (Greg Jennings, Donald Driver) waiting for him to achieve some semblance of Favredom. Running back Ryan Grant is back (after a salary holdout), and everyone hopes 2007 wasn’t a flash in the pan for him, especially since there’s mostly unproven talent on the bench. The Pack could win 10 games, but only if Rodgers proves to be better-than-average. If he melts down, they could be in serious trouble, ’cause there’s nothing but raw rookies backing him up.

2. Minnesota Vikings

2007: 8-8
Projected 2008: 9-7

It’s not easy to project really good things for a team with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback. He was developing further, it seemed, until he injured his knee in a preseason game against the Ravens. So even if he starts the season for the Vikes, he’s got a cloud hanging over him. Even if he were completely healthy there would be the question of how much he’s improved over a 2007 season in which he recorded 9 TDs and 12 interceptions, with a 70.8 passer rating, thus making him Vince Young North. The backup is veteran Gus Frerotte, who’s a savvy guy (when he’s not butting his head into stadium walls). And besides, the strategy is to hand the ball off to last year’s rookie phenom Adrian Peterson and let the excellent defense maul opposing offenses. This might work. But even if the Vikings sweep their NFC North schedule—highly unlikely—it’s hard to see them winning more than four more games against their other opponents. So unless Jackson or Frerotte really comes on big, the Vikes could still struggle to make the playoffs. The locals think their team is championship caliber, but there’s a lot yet to prove here. Maybe 9-7 will win the division, presuming the Packers falter.

3. Chicago Bears

2007: 7-9
Projected 2008: 7-9

Question marks at quarterback, wide receiver and running back make the Bears’ season a total crap shoot. Yet the team still has serious talent on defense, and it has kick returner Devin Hester providing instant offense. It’s all about the “ifs”: If Kyle Orton can run the offense efficiently; if the receivers come through (Marty Booker, Rashied Davis, Brandon Lloyd [!], Mark Bradley, plus Hester and rookie Earl Bennett); if rookie RB Matt Forte is the real deal (or if former Lion Kevin Jones can rejuvenate his career). The Bears are set at tight end, with vet Desmond Clark and up-and-coming Greg Olsen. Robbie Gould’s a good kicker, too. Outside of divisional foes, there are games against Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, Philly, Tennessee, Jacksonville and New Orleans. Pretty tough slate.

4. Detroit Lions

2007: 7-9
Projected 2008: 6-10

The team that began 2007 with a 6-2 record—then lost 7 of their last 8 games—has a new offensive coordinator in Kippy Brown (Mike Martz fled to San Francisco). Of course, scoring wasn’t the Lions’ problem: No other team in the entire league gave up more points (444). So it looks like another year of losing more shootouts than they win. The big passing attack is led by veteran quarterback Jon Kitna and excellent wide receivers Roy Williams and second-year man Calvin Johnson. Plus, the team is hoping for big things from rookie running back Kevin Smith, with former 1,000-yard rusher Tatum Bell still striving to make his mark in Motown. The D returns many players from last year, but it remains to be seen if that’s a good thing. The team’s leading sacker Shaun Rogers is gone, however, though the trade with Cleveland brought veteran DB Leigh Bodden. Other new faces in the secondary include two vets from the 2002 Tampa Bay Super Bowl winners, Dwight Smith and Brian Kelly. With an NFC North schedule, the Lions have a shot at winning some divisional games, but they also play everybody in the AFC South and the NFC South, which means at least five automatic toughies, plus road games at Atlanta, Houston and Carolina. They might do better if the defense gels, but it’s hard to figure much more than 6 wins.

[LATE-BREAKING NEWS: The Lions added former Bengals running back Rudi Johnson to their roster, and released Tatum Bell.]


1. New Orleans Saints

2007: 7-9
Projected 2008: 11-5

After 2007’s disappointing performance, the Saints look ready to reassume a commanding position in the NFC South. They’ve shored up their defense with vets like Randall Gay, Bobby McCray and Jonathan Vilma, plus they have rookie defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis out of USC waiting to develop. On offense, QB Drew Brees remains an excellent leader, with one of the strongest arms in the game. Marques Colston leads the receiving corps, which also features veteran David Patten coming off a decent year and the hoped-for ascension of younger players Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem. But the biggest addition is tight end Jeremy Shockey. If he stays healthy, and does what he did for the Giants in his best years, Shockey-plus-Brees could be an awesome combo. The running game looks toward the clever variety work of Reggie Bush plus the return of Deuce McAllister from yet another knee surgery. McAllister looked okay in preseason. Whether he can take a year-long licking remains to be seen. Still, there’s depth in the backfield, with Pierre Thomas and Aaron Stecker. Cornerback Jason David has apparently been relegated to second-string work. He was a big free-agent acquisition from the Colts in ’07, but he kept getting burned. Maybe he’ll do better in nickel and dime packages. The only bona fide power teams the Saints play all year—unless you include division foe Tampa Bay (and I don’t)—are San Diego and Green Bay. So the schedule is ripe for the plucking. They might even do better than 11-5.

2. Carolina Panthers

2007: 7-9
Projected 2008: 8-8

The team that used to be a defensive juggernaut amassed only 23 sacks in 2007. They also gave up 347 points—not the worst in the league but nowhere near the best, either. (The NFC leaders in points allowed were the division-rival Buccaneers with 270.) Mike Rucker and Kris Jenkins are gone from the defensive line, which remains anchored by Julius Peppers, and now features former Raider Tyler Brayton and unspectacular but steady vets Ma’ake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis. There are decent linebackers in Jon Beason, Na’ll Diggs and Thomas Davis, plus a respected secondary featuring Chris Gamble, Chris Harris and Ken Lucas. On the offensive side of the ball, Jake Delhomme looks to be healthy again, though backup Mike Moore is nursing an injury, which induced the pickup of veteran Josh McCown after the final cutdowns. DeAngelo Williams returns at running back, while DeShaun Foster was released in the offseason and signed with the 49ers. Rookie Jonathan Stewart looked very good in preseason, and the Panthers are hoping he’ll add a serious punch to the ground attack and the return game. Talented receiver Steve Smith is suspended for the first two games of the season for a weird training-camp altercation with Lucas, plus he suffered a concussion in the first preseason game. They’ll need him to return to form. Muhsin Muhammad, now 35, returned to the Panthers in the offseason after three years with the Bears, plus they’ve got former Seahawk D. J. Hackett and second-year man Dwayne Jarrett also hoping to get into the WR mix. The Panthers scored little last season, but they’ve added first-round draft choice Jeff Otah to their offensive line, Delhomme is back, and—presuming the defense regains some of its swagger—there are enough skill-position players here to make a run at a wild-card berth.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2007: 9-7
Projected 2008: 7-9

Let’s see... Jeff Garcia, Warrick Dunn, Michael Bennett, Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard, Antonio Bryant, Kevin Carter, Derrick Brooks, Cato June, Ronde Barber. That’s a lot of old guys playing key roles on a team that made the playoffs last year by the hair of their chinny-chin double-chins. The Bucs were probably the least impressive team to get to the postseason, and it is unclear whether this distinctly veteran crew can do it again. If everyone stays healthy—chiefly Garcia, who, amazingly, threw only 4 interceptions all season in ’07—they should compete. Second-round draft choice Dexter Jackson excited folks in the preseason, and he adds an infusion of youth and speed to the receiving corps and the return game. Besides at least four challenging division games, the Bucs square off against Dallas, Green Bay, San Diego and Seattle (all playoff teams last season), plus wannabes Minnesota (at home) and Denver (on the road). Repeating last year’s success looks pretty difficult, though Garcia is a bit of a magician.

4. Atlanta Falcons

2007: 4-12
Projected 2008: 5-11

Considering all they went through in 2007, the Falcons’ 4-12 record maybe wasn’t so bad. (They were better than the Dolphins at least.) The new Mike Smith regime brings serious change, though there’s a lot of holdover talent from previous seasons. The big news is rookie QB Matt Ryan, who’ll have his hands full overseeing a rebuilding offense. Ryan has looked good early on; he seems smart, and if he can minimize his expected level of mistakes, there’s hope on the horizon. Former Charger Michael Turner gets to prove why he should be a first-string running back, and backup Jerious Norwood is also a young, legit talent. The wide receivers are familiar—Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Brian Finneran—but they have a chance to renew their careers with Ryan. The biggest names on defense are oldsters: Grady Jackson, John Abraham, Keith Brooking, Lawyer Milloy. It remains to be seen if this unit can play with consistency and avoid injury. A one-game jump upward is definitely possible. Maybe more if the stars align in their favor.


1. St. Louis Rams

2007: 3-13
Projected 2008: 9-7

The Rams got off to a bad start last year and never recovered. Injuries didn’t help. They get a fresh slate with a healthy Marc Bulger at QB, newly signed RB Steven Jackson, some very good veteran receivers (Torry Holt, Randy McMichael), and some interesting new faces from the draft. Chief among the latter is defensive end Chris Long, who lines up with vets Leonard Little, La’Roi Glover and Adam Carriker to form a potentially impressive front four. There are still question marks in the linebacking and secondary, as regards either talent (Tye Hill) or age (Corey Chavous) or injury (Will Witherspoon), but the personnel could gel, especially if the down linemen are in serious pursuit. The schedule’s about as agreeable as it could get—save for Dallas, New England and the Giants—and with luck the Rams could win 10 games easy. Unfortunately, this prediction looks a lot like last year, so we shall see.

2. Seattle Seahawks

2007: 10-6
Projected 2008: 8-8

Injuries and personnel changes cloud the Seahawks’ fortunes. As does the unknown nature of their NFC West opponents. If the Rams, 49ers and Cardinals improve as expected, head coach Mike Holmgren’s announced final season could be a struggle. Injuries, major and minor, have affected QB Matt Hasselbeck, wide receivers Deion Branch and Bobby Engram and linebacker Lofa Tatupu, plus DT Rocky Bernard and safety Jordan Babineaux have suspensions to serve. Former Cowboy Julius Jones is the new face at running back with the release of Shaun Alexander. There are still tough hitters on defense, though, and first-round draft choice Lawrence Jackson earned a starting job at defensive end to bookend the excellent Patrick Kerney. Second-round choice John Carlson from Notre Dame looks to be the starter at tight end. It’s not a dire situation, but the schedule’s no help at all, with games against the Giants, Packers, Bucs, Redskins, Cowboys and Patriots, all of ’em playoff teams in ’07.

3. San Francisco 49ers

2007: 5-11
Projected 2008: 7-9

The Niners have a lot of talent on their roster. But can newly anointed QB J. T. O’Sullivan lead them to the playoffs? He’s kind of got a Kurt Warner-type story, having spent time in NFL Europe and on many an NFL practice squad since being originally drafted in 2002 by the Saints. Coach Mike Nolan’s on the hot seat this year, so the O’Sullivan choice is a heavy one, especially with high-priced Alex Smith now sitting on the bench. O’Sullivan has weapons: Frank Gore and DeShaun Foster at running back, receivers Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson, and tight end Vernon Davis. On defense there’s a major young star in LB Patrick Willis, up-and-comers Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson also in the middle, and solid secondary vets Nate Clements and Walt Harris. The defensive line remains a question mark, and former Bengal Justin Smith was brought in to help shore things up. Rookie DE Kentwan Balmer is an interesting prospect. The schedule’s no cakewalk, alas, and O’Sullivan will really have to produce for the postseason to be a reality.

4. Arizona Cardinals

2007: 8-8
Projected 2008: 6-10

Only the Packers and Cowboys scored more points than the Cardinals in the NFC last year. Alas, only the Falcons, Rams and Lions allowed more. The team tried to address these needs, drafting CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and DE Calais Campbell and picking up down lineman Travis LaBoy in free agency. So now the D is a veteran bunch with some apparent depth, and only time will tell if improvement is nigh. Kurt Warner gets the controversial nod at quarterback over Matt Leinart, but you can’t say he hasn’t earned the chance. He’s had a history of fumbleitis, but presuming that’s under control, there are excellent receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, the disgruntled Anquan Boldin and TE Leonard Pope. The running game is again led by Edgerrin James, but the clock may be ticking on him for sure. He’s now 30, yet his durability has not been in question, and he enters the season with 11,617 career rushing yards. Fifth-round draftee Tim Hightower displayed some moves in preseason. Seems like the Cards would do better, but the schedule’s a killer.



Chargers over Bills
Steelers over Raiders

Patriots over Steelers
Jaguars over Chargers

Jaguars over Patriots


Eagles over Packers
Giants over Rams

Cowboys over Eagles
Saints over Giants

Saints over Cowboys

Jaguars over Saints