It's never to early to start thinking about football season, and with only a month and a half until opening kickoff I think it's time for my predictions for the 09-10 NFL season:
NFC Chamionship: Eagles v. Packers NFC Chamion: Green Bay Packers
Beginning with the NFC, I like both the Eagles and the Packers this year, but not a lot of other teams in this conference appeal to me. I think the Eagles, with Kevin Curtis returning from his sports hernia, and Desean Jackson in his sophomore season, will do great plus with the addition of Jeremy Maclin every team in the NFL will have trouble covering the team with the fastest receivers in the NFL.
The Packers defense is the only reason that they did not get to the Super Bowl last year, and with newcoming rookies B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews filling obvious voids in the defense last year, the Packers defense should be ready to live up to its promise. Also worth mentioning, they are switching to a 3-4 defensive scheme which will benefit them in the long run. Their talented linebackers led by A.J. Hawk will be able to stuff the run, and get to the quarterback a lot more often. The offense led by the most underrated quarterback in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers, will do just as well as last year with Donald Driver and Greg Jennings to throw to.
In the end my NFC champion is the Packers. Anytime the most consistent NFC wide receiver the past 5 years is not even your best wide receiver, you know you have a great team. Donald Driver may be the steal in fantasy leagues. In an auction draft I got him for $2! People talk about how he's getting old, but Driver has 1000+ yards in each of the last five years, and 29 total touchdowns. Greg Jennings has shown that he is one of the premier receivers in this league, and his deep threat capability makes Aaron Rodgers job a lot easier.
AFC Chamionship: Steelers v. Patriots
AFC Champion: New England Patriots
In the AFC it is not a clear two-horse race. Teams that jump to mind as Super Bowl possibilities are the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers, and Indianapolis Colts.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have made a long playoff run nearly every year because of their defense, and they look to do the same this year returning most of their key contributors on defense, and not losing a whole lot on offense. The Steeler defense is as good as it gets, and looks as solid as the Steeler defenses of old, but the key to the Pittsburgh Steelers repeating as Super Bowl Champs is their offense. In the clutch last year, in the Super Bowl, Roethlisberger drove his team down the field and scored the winning touchdown on a beautiful catch by Santonio Holmes (one of the most underrated receivers in the league). The running game, however, one of the highlights of the Steelers offense for years was quite frankly garbage. Steelers fans better hope that only gaining 58 total yards in the Super Bowl against a below average Arizona defensive line is not a precursor to this year. Because if it is, then they have 0 chance at repeating.
The San Diego Chargers are a good football team, and are perenial favorites to win their division, especially after the Broncos lost their franchise quarterback, Jay Cutler. With Antonio Gates, one of the best tight ends to ever line up on the field, and Vincent Jackson, a big receiver with average hands and speed, Philip Rivers has some good targets through the air. Not to mention the receiving ability of the running backs, Sproles and Tomlinson. The defense will benefit from the return of Shawne Merriman, coming off of knee surgery. Antonio Cromartie will return to form as the defense becomes one of the top ones in the NFL. Like the Steelers, the running game is the key to the Chargers success. Everyone is down on LT this year in fantasy football for a "bad" year last year. BAD?! So they are saying that 1100+yards and 11 touchdowns is bad? Anytime that those stats are considered bad for you, you know that you are a great running back. LT's power spelled occasionally with Darren Sproles' dynamic speed will make the Chargers one of the best running teams in the league.
Many people think the Colts will have a down year this year because of the likely departure of Marvin Harrison. Having to play in the toughest division in the AFC, people also think that they have no chance of even competing with the young Texans, Jaguars, and the running-tandem of the Titans. But reigning NFL MVP Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne are still there, and its not as if Harrison did much last year anyway. Anthony Gonzalez picked up the slack and shouldered part of the load, and Manning still won the MVP without a dominant Harrison. The Colts really don't lose any players aside from Harrison, and their speedy defense looks to rekindle the fire that led them to the Super Bowl 3 years ago. The only thing to worry about if you are a Colts fan is the coaching staff. Tony Dungy, and Tom Moore both retired, and if new coach, Jim Caldwell doesn't have the same chemistry with Manning that Dungy had, then I can see a falling out occurring on the horizon between Manning and Caldwell.
I, being a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots, obviously have some bias with this pick, but nevertheless I believe the Patriots will return to 07-08 form under a healthy Tom Brady. Brady returns to the Patriots with even more weapons than before. Welker and Moss remain his main go-to-guys, but the additions of Joey Galloway, Greg Lewis, and Fred Taylor give Brady even more targets. Galloway is in his late 30s, but the Patriots will be able to squeeze another good year out of him, and Fred Taylor will help the running game while being helpful in passing situations. The area of need for the Patriots over the offseason was obviously in the secondary on defense. With the departure of Asante Samuel last offseason, and Hobbs(a.k.a: softest cornerback in the league) this offseason, both to the Eagles, a huge gap was evident in the cornerback position. By getting Shawn Springs, and Leigh Bodden in free agency, and drafting Darius Butler, the Patriots have basically filled this hole. The Patriots will return to Super Bowl form, and make a deep playoff run.
Super Bowl XLIV: Patriots v. Packers Super Bowl Chamion: New England Patriots