Is it possible for 2008 to surpass the drama that was a nearly perfect season by the Fats.....errrrrrr.......Pats, a Superbowl trophy for a team from New York, Tom Brady's 50 TD passes, Randy Moss getting 23 TDs, Brett Farve bringing the Pack to the brink of the Game in his 16th season, the season-long suspension of Pacman Jones, and Michael Vick going to prison instead to the iron of the grid? We nearly even bore witness to the first ever team to go 0-16 in Miami. I say yes.
First of all, the storylines from last season naturally carry over to this one: How far will the Pats fall from near perfection now that they are all a year older and a couple of key defensive backs lighter on defense? Will Eli Manning go back to being the Eli we have always known: A one and done playoff appearance at best? What about Peyton Manning only one year removed from a trophy of his own and the motivation to go for a family hat trick by seeing how easy it must be when his kid brother can pull it off? Will Brett Farve make the Jets any better than 8-8, a 4 game improvement over last? Will Jason Taylor's final season in Skin gear mean anything come playoff time, if the Skins can get back there this year?
Lets start off with a shocker coming from a Steelers fan: The Steelers and Browns will finish the AFC North at 9-7 apiece and......Cleveland wins the tiebreaker by virtue of more AFC wins as they will split the season series. 5 of the 6 Steelers losses were to the AFC last year, and three of those teams didnt even make the playoffs: Jets, Broncos, and Ravens.
Shocker#2: The LIONS will win the NFC North. Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers will struggle to 8-8 given the huge transition from a Hall of Famer to a first-year QB, the Chicago Bears have nobodies at QB and wont score enough to win enough, and the Minnesota Vikings have 8-8 written all over them as well with Tavaris Jackson forced to beat defenses with his arm now that nobody will let Adrian Peterson beat them with his legs. The Lions started 5-2 last year, only to fizzle out 2-7 down the stretch. That wont happen again and the Lions will be two games better this year at 9-7, 1 better than anyone else.
With Peyton Manning's knee situation in the grayest of areas, the Jaguars will overtake the Colts for the AFC South Crown. This division is top-heavy as look for the Titans to lose more than they win this year and the Texans to do what they always do: not good enoughness.
The NFC South division will be the most competitive from top to bottom, but when your division consists of the Saints, Bucs, Panthers, and Falcons, most NFL fans wont even notice until the Saints survive this bloodletting and the rest of the country is forced to notice them from a 9-7 finish to a playoff appearance.
The AFC East is like a Christmas tree in late January: Only the star at the top matters. All that remains of the body is dead on the floor. Farve wont beat the Pats or even the battle with mediocrity as the Jets will be the best of the rest at 8-8 behind the gleaming Patriots who have 12-4 written all over them; every team under the sun will have their guns blazing for them even more in '08.
The NY Giants know they dont need to win the NFC East to do damage in the playoffs. The Cowboys must win it to secure some type of homefield advantage as their playoff record under Romo proves they need all the help they can get. I am just not buying Donovan McNabb staying healthy for the entire '08 campaign so look for the Redskins to take the third playoff spot from this division again as in '07.
The Chargers will cake walk through the AFC West. The only question stemming from this division is can San Diego be the first team to get back to the Superbowl since John Elway? I say maybe.
The worst division in the NFL will see the Cardinals finally pull it off in the NFC West. The Seahawks havent gotten much younger except at RB where they will be starting Dallas castoff Julius Jones. The Hawks will continue to be tough at home, but once Warner takes over at QB in like week 3 once the Leinart experiment again fails, they will finally flourish under coach Whisenhunt's system. Along with the Packers and Vikings, the Cardinals were one of the top 3 most improved defenses in 2007 are a brutally tough to beat in their new stadium-ask the Browns and Steelers.
TOP 10 BREAKOUT PLAYERS
Aaron Rodgers will produce 8 wins in his first season at the helm thanks to great WRs in Driver and Jennings, and a stud RB Ryan Grant.
Marion Barber has shed Julius Jones and with Felix being a rookie, the Boys should give virtually all of the carries the way of the Barbarian.
Michael Turner gets to show us all what he can do in Atlanta now that he has been released from LaDanian Tomlinson's shadow. When Turner was used in SD, he averaged 5.5 yards per carry in his career.
Anthony Gonzalez gets to basically take advantage of Brandon Stokley's slot position now that BS has moved on to Denver. That is a great slot to be in considering Peyton Manning is your QB.
Calvin Johnson had a rough '07 due to some injuries and a bad O-line not giving Kitna much rhythm for them to work with. CJ only had 48 catches, but they were for an amazingly high 758 yards. With a free agent pickup of Shaun McDonald from the Rams on the other side too with Roy Williams, CJ will be visiting the bomb zone thoroughly in '08.
Mario Williams in Houston showed he matured from 06 to '07 with 14 sacks. Look for that improvement to continue to be progressive.
Atari Bigby is the strong safety in Green Bay who put on the playoff display of de-cleating tackles and ball-hawking. Last season's stats will only get better with maturity(86 tackles, 5 picks, 3 forced fumbles).
LaRon Landry is the strong safety wearing a Redskins jersey. Last year as a rook he started all 16 games, he combined ferocity and athleticism which helped the team and city soften the blow with the loss of corner Sean Taylor, and he had 95 tackles!
Leon Hall is a CB in Bengalville in case you never catch any of their games(who does outside of Cincinnati?). What is most amazing about Hall is he is on an island out there amongst putrid defensive teammates, yet managed 68 tackles, 12 passes defensed, and lead the team with 5 interceptions. Just imagine how this guy is going to flourish when the Bengals have nowhere to go but up due to a league-low 22 sacks last year.
Chad Greenway had 105 tackles for the Vikings at the MLB position on '07, 4 pass defenses, 2 picks-one of which he returned for a touchdown. Greenway completely tore his ACL in '06 and was told it would take him 2 years to completely recover. Apparently not, but now that its at the two year mark, how much more explosive will this guy be in 2008?