Welcome to an eve-of-month-end-financial-close version of ST&NO, where I spent spent all day between a boat transiting Lake Erie, and Kelley's Island, which is a very nice place to visit. Exacerbating matters is the fact that the lady-friend has been out of town all weekend, and her plane lands at 10 PM. At that point, I expect to devote some time to talking to her, as I tried to lay off all weekend so she could hang out with her college roommate in peace. It is now 8:54 PM, and I will write until she calls. It's a lot like being down a couple touchdowns with 4 minutes to go, and no timeouts. Ready.... BEGIN!!!
1. I said I had an idea last week on the killer-vs.-filler front, and I do. As the around-the-league guy, I have decided to do some breakdowns on the offseasons and 2009 outlooks of the other 31 teams over the next 8 weeks. I must warn you, do not expect groupthink or regurgitation of other morons' ideas, as I am the only moron whose thoughts count here. Like I told the student from Penn State, I get my information from my eyes, you dig? (In the interest of full disclosure, I may have been unduly short with him at times during our conversation, because I used to work with a pretty loathsome woman who was a (much too) proud Penn State alum. I realize that it's not fair to automatically expect that he sucks at life, just because she did).
Anyway, I am going to start with the most relevant teams, and since the Broncos play the NFC East this season, I am going to discuss my (Shallow) Thoughts and (Nearsighted) Observations of those four teams after the jump.
a. New York Giants (2008 Record 12-4, lost in Divisional Round of Playoffs)
Smart Personnel Moves - Chris Canty was one the best additions of the offseason by any team, and Rocky Bernard will help their defensive line also, as both are expected to start. Canty, especially, can play inside as a DT, and really help the Giants run defense. It was a little outside the box to sign a 5-technique to play probably a 2-technique, but it has a high probability of working in this case. I also loved the selection of OLB Clint Sintim in the 2nd round of the draft. He played in one of the very few collegiate 3-4's at Virginia, but the Giants like to blitz their SLB a great deal, and Sintim fits that profile very well. Another departure from traditional thinking for the Giants, which generally makes me feel very warm and fuzzy inside. Other draftees whom I like include William Beatty, Ramses Barden, Travis Beckum, Andre Brown, and Rhett Bomar. Jerry Reese is a good picker of players.
Questionable Personnel Moves - The Giants needed to trade for Braylon Edwards, and I believe that they really messed up in not doing so. Hakeem Nicks is going to be an okay player, but he isn't anywhere near the talent that Edwards is. I think that GM Jerry Reese was too in love with having his first-round draft pick, and the team is going to suffer for it this season. For a top-of-the-league talent who is being offered for pennies on the dollar, you make the deal. (As a Mets fan, I would trade their top OF prospect Fernando Martinez for Jake Peavy in a nanosecond. Peavy and Johan Santana together makes you a favorite to win the World Series, just like Edwards would have made the Giants the favorite to win the Super Bowl. This is the same kind of situation, though I think Martinez is even a better prospect than Nicks).
ST&NO Outlook - This team can definitely win the Super Bowl with reasonable health. The key competitive advantage they have is their outstanding and remarkably deep defensive line of Canty, Bernard, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka, Jay Alford, and Fred Robbins. Corey Webster and Aaron Ross are both very good at CB also. I believe that the Giants will field the #1 defense in the NFL this season.
The offense is good overall, but flawed in a few ways. Their offensive line is excellent at run blocking, but below-average in pass protection, especially David Diehl, who is a LG pretending to be a LT. They also lack anybody at WR or TE who is remotely scary to a defense, which is going to force a lot of 8-man fronts, like the Giants saw at the end of 2008 once Plaxico Burress shot himself. The good news is that the Giants can really run the ball, and I expect Andre Brown to earn some carries as a replacement for Derrick Ward.
This is very probably a playoff team again in 2009, but the tough division they play in makes missing the postseason conceivable, especially with a key injury or two. If you can pass-protect and contain the run, you can beat the Giants though, and we know the Broncos can do one of those things, at least.
b. Philadelphia Eagles (2008 Record 9-6-1, lost in NFC Championship Game)
Smart Personnel Moves - There were many. The best thing the Eagles did was shore up their offensive line, with the trade for Jason Peters and the signing of Stacy Andrews. Peters can be one of the best in the league when his conditioning is right, and his technique stays solid. Andrews is above-average as a player, and is the brother of Shawn Andrews, who is the best RG in the NFL, when he isn't missing time due to clinical depression. The Eagles will have to hope that Stacy's presence can help Shawn, and that they can dominate together on the right side. In the draft, I really liked the value of Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, and Cornelius Ingram. All three can make a few plays right away for an offense that needed a few more last season.
Questionable Personnel Moves - I don't see how the Eagles could let Brian Dawkins go. It benefited the Broncos, but he was Mr. Eagle, and he had a great 2008 season. I expect his loss to be of the same magnitude as the Broncos' loss of Al Wilson, where the effect will be felt throughout the whole defense, for years to come.
ST&NO Outlook - The Eagles are also a legitimate Super Bowl contender, but my expectation is that it will now be more because of their offense than their defense. I think the loss of Jim Johnson is likely to be felt in a big way, mostly because I have no way of gauging how Sean McDermott will do calling games in his stead. Johnson added tremendous value to the Eagles with his scheming and game day play-calling. (I do know that Josh McDaniels wanted to hire McDermott for the Broncos staff, and the Eagles denied the Broncos permission, so that may be a strong endorsement of his skills.)
I think the Eagles' offense will be in the NFL's top 5 this season, and that they'll win 10-11 games and make the playoffs. In a 6-team tournament, they could definitely come out on top, as they nearly did in 2008.
c. Dallas Cowboys - Ugh. As Drew Rosenhaus would say, next question.
d. Washington Redskins (2008 Record 8-8, missed playoffs)
Smart Personnel Moves - From a purely football standpoint, you have to like the signing of Albert Haynesworth, but he cost way too much, and the team will pay the piper down the line for that. It was sooooo Redskins, though, trying to make a big splash. Beyond that, there wasn't much to like, in my opinion.
Questionable Personnel Moves - I am not a Brian Orakpo fan, mostly because I believe the prevailing NFL thought that University of Texas players are soft because they are coddled in college. If you think about it, how many UT players have really been as advertised in the NFL? (Aaron Ross.... and ummm.... Shaun Rogers when he feels like it... and hmmmm.... Aaron Ross?) Orakpo, if he is good, would fill a major need, but I liked Robert Ayers a lot better. The rest of the draft class was tremendously underwhelming, to me. Cutting Jon Jansen this weekend was a little perplexing, as he is a lot better at RT than anybody else they have. I am not a DeAngelo Hall fan, and hopefully he draws a lot of man coverage against Eddie Royal when the Skins play the Broncos this season. I also think the Skins needed to get a legitimate kicker, and they missed that mark again, so enjoy another season of Shaun Suisham, Skins fans. It has been a problem for them since the early 90s. Also, publicly floating Jason Campbell's name, and chasing Mr. Unmentionable and Mark Sanchez was really strategically pretty stupid too. Not to be all dramatic, but I really hate just about everything about Washington's offseason.
ST&NO Outlook - I just can't find a lot of reason to get excited about this team's prospects, but I can make a case for improvement by them. I thought Jason Campbell was the best QB in the NFC in the early part of last season, but he faded late. If he returns to form, and is asked to do less West-Coast timing (Zorn) sort of stuff, he can be very good. Santana Moss is a playmaker, and Antwaan Randle El isn't (though he is widely believed to be). If Devin Thomas and/or Malcolm Kelly emerge as competent NFL starters, the Redskins can be successful in the passing game, to the extent that their below-average O-Line can keep Campbell on his feet. Clinton Portis is outstanding, as we all know, and if he can stay healthy, the running game will be pretty good.
The defense looks kind of meh. They have 4 good players, in Haynesworth, Rocky McIntosh, Chris Horton, and LaRon Landry. The rest of their defense consists of overrated, underachieving and/or declining players like London Fletcher, Andre Carter, Phillip Daniels, Carlos Rogers, MeAngelo Hall, and (Fred) Smoot Dogg. If Orakpo is good from the start, and a few of those guys have career seasons, the Redskins can be solid on defense.
Bottom line, I think this is an unbalanced and average football team. They have a great fan base, which I didn't know until I attended the HOF ceremony last season. I am sure their fans will vote their players to the Pro Bowl again, whether they deserve it or not, but this is a 6-10 win team, depending on health and luck. They have a puncher's chance against anybody on their good days, but they're not nearly as good as New York or Philadelphia.
e. Dallas Cowboys Ugh.... just, ugh!!! (2008 Record 9-7, missed playoffs)
Smart Personnel Moves - Getting rid of Terrell Owens was definitely the right thing to do, and I am actually surprised that Jerry Jones accepted the personal loss of face which was inherent to the move. I give him a lot of credit, as it was a "football-man" kind of decision. Igor Olshansky is a significant downgrade from Chris Canty at RDE, but he's better than getting castrated in a freak lawn-mower accident, I guess.
Questionable Personnel Moves - Here's the deal. When you score 362 points and give up 365, you're an average football team, and there's no other way to spin things. The Cowboys did nothing substantial this offseason, except get rid of T.O., and lose a very good player in Chris Canty. I think it was a miscalculation to think that this was a Super Bowl-caliber team last season, and it's an even bigger one now, given the measurable results of 2008. The Cowboys tend to believe their own hype, and they always think that just because their lousy players make Pro Bowls (Flozell Adams? (Safety) Roy Williams? Really!?!?!) that they are actually Pro Bowl-caliber players. This was not the offseason to stand pat, and the Cowboys did a little worse than that.
ST&NO Outlook - This is a talented, but seriously flawed team. They lack anybody very good at WR, (including Roy E. Williams) and their O-Line is really overrated, and is below average, if you want to get strictly reality-based about it. Tony Romo is a very good athlete, and he has some playmaker to him sometimes, but he makes as many bonehead throws as any QB in the NFL, and hurts the team when he does. Marion Barber is a good tandem back, but they believed the Marion-the-Barbarian foolishness, and they wore him out last season. I do like Felix Jones, but he's no workhorse either. He and Jason Witten are about the only two guys on their whole offense who I care for as players.
The defense will suffer some for the loss of Canty. He was one of the best 5-techniques in the NFL. They are about to send Greg Ellis packing, in favor of Anthony Spencer, and that's a mistake. Ellis is a good player, and Spencer is an athlete who doesn't seem to have much feel or knowledge for playing. The Cowboys will almost certainly struggle again to defend against the pass, especially in the middle of the field. Gerald Sensabaugh isn't even really an upgrade over the departed (Safety) Roy Williams, as lousy as he was.
Because there is some talent in Dallas, they can win any game they play, but they will frequently be out-executed, and beaten for that reason. I expect them to be on the same level as the Redskins, and nowhere near the class of New York and Philadelphia.
2. I'm going to wash my hands now, after writing about the Cowboys. Maybe I will brush my teeth too, as I think I may have read a few of the words aloud, to gauge how they sounded. Better safe than sorry.
3. OK, I am back. Thanks for your patience. My phone call came, and I talked for like an hour, but still I press on like I'm those craptastic Lee Nails. That's how much I want to get this up at 8:30am Monday, that I am still writing at 11:37pm on Sunday night, with close looming in the morning.
OK, quick; something shallow and nearsighted. Ummmm, OK, the Jets QB situation. Kellen Clemens is not going to beat out Mark Sanchez for the starting job, unless Sanchez misses a significant amount of camp time holding out. Take that to the bank. I don't think that Sanchez's agent, David Dunn, allows that to happen. While he is also Clemens' agent, you have to prioritize your higher-paid clients more highly.
4. I think it's very silly that Eric Steinbach's job might be in jeopardy in Cleveland. I understand that Eric Mangini values size in offensive linemen, and that Steinbach is small for the position, but he is one of the best technicians in the NFL, and he does a great job at LG for the Browns. I can think of about 20 teams who'd love to have him, if the Browns let him go.
5. I think that most of the substance of the 4-letter coverage of Brandon Marshall is a lot of rehashing of stuff that was already out there, so I am not sure what the real news value of it is. Unlike Bob Ley, I am not going to judge who is lying and who is telling the truth, but I think the letters requesting money may be telling as to the motivation of his ex-girlfriend. Brandon's appearance on OTL wasn't his best camera performance, which is probably understandable, but he was strongest when he was talking about her embellishing facts and injuries, and seeking money. Whatever the case, I hope he does a better job of controlling his emotions, and that ESPN's ratings-seeking/past-dredging/platform-granting doesn't force the NFL's hand in determining the outcome of his most recent incident with his fiancee, for which the charges were dismissed the next day.
6. As an old sailor (well, I am 31, so not that old), I love few things better than a good rooster-tail. It's indicative of a true course and steady forward progress. Check this one out, taken from my iPhone Sunday, which actually takes a pretty nice picture, unlike any other cellphone I have ever owned..
May the Broncos' course be as straight, and forward progress be as powerful as the MY Perfect Pear (lame name, I know) was Sunday. And then we can call Adam Schein and make him eat a nice helping of tasty crow. Bon appetit
7. Retired for John Elway.
Have a great week, and remember, optimism doesn't cost anything. Go Broncos!!