Monday, September 28, 2009

Funnies

That's the plural of funny, and not a particularly entertaining type of rabbit.

Two funny things for you. First, if you've never come across Jake and Amir in your Internet-ly travels, you've been missing out on some funny stuff. They're a couple of guys from College Humor who've been pumping out two videos a week for a couple years now. The videos are 1-3 minutes long, but they're long on humor. I recommend you go to the site and just click "Random Video" a few times. My guess is something will come up that you'll like.

The second funny thing for you is my cousin's blog, Opinionated Truths. He's pretty funny. Laugh at him. Not with him, at him.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 3 vs. Detroit Lions

Lions 19, Redskins 14

Leading up to this game, we all felt like we were giving the Lions sufficient credit, acknowledging the fact that any team can beat any other team, and understanding that Detroit has got some talented players.

Even still, once the game started, we all just knew the Washington Redskins wouldn't lose. And then they did, and everyone should be afraid of what might be coming next.

Offense: C

Running back Clinton Portis came into the game with a nagging ankle injury, and it was doubly obvious, with Portis not rushing effectively, and with the Skins rushing just 14 times versus 41 passing attempts. Backup Ladell Betts got just one carry, and the whole team earned just three rushing first downs.

When you can't run the ball, you can't extend drives. The Redskins' longest drive of the day went for just three minutes, fifty-nine seconds. Of their ten drives, only two of them took more than three minutes off the clock. The Lions (the freakin' Lions) meanwhile had three great drives in the first half to put Washington on their heels from the get-go. They held the ball for over 22:00 in that first half, and the Washington defense just couldn't get off the field. Detroit was 10/18 on third down, whereas the Redskins were 2/10. Detroit was simply more efficient and more effective on offense than the Redskins.

In case you think that the passer rating statistic isn't flawed, Jason Campbell's rating on the day was 97.6. But you'd be hard-pressed to find many people who watched the game that wouldn't say that his opponent, rookie Matthew Stafford, didn't outplay him, despite having a passer rating ten points lower.

I didn't have any real problem with the play-calling last week, putting me in the vast minority among Washington fans last week. I did, however, have two problems with the play-calling today. The final play of the game was a little mystifying. Relying on a series of pitches is a surefire way to blow any chance of success. There's got to be something better in your playbook than that. I do concede that they were in a bad situation, so I don't hold Zorn too accountable for that play.

My bigger problem is with the decision to go for it on 4th down on the one their first drive on the game. There are two main philosophical problems I have with the call. First, I don't think you take points off the board in the first half. An 18-yard field goal attempt is as close to a sure thing as you're going to find. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the game was scoreless. Any time you can go for a chip shot field goal to take a lead, you take it. Points haven't been that easy for this team to come by under Jim Zorn, so you'd better take them when you can.

Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about the call is that it seems like exactly what you'd do if you were responding directly to all of the local criticism this week. I don't want the Washington Redskins to be run by the fans. I want the team to be run by the head coach (whoever that might be on Monday morning). The moment your head coach changes his strategies based on public perceptions, he's no longer a head coach, and he needs to be removed. If Zorn had his own reasons for making that call, okay, but most coaches who haven't scored 30 points in their entire careers would be happy to take points when they're available.

Defense: C-

While the offense didn't do the defense any favors, this defense wasn't the squad that kept Washington alive in the first two weeks. After the aforementioned fourth down play, the defense had Detroit at first and ten on the one yard line. An offsides penalty on first down brought the Lions out of the danger zone, and Stafford orchestrated a 12-play, 99-yard drive that culminated with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Bryant Johnson.

I do think that the one huge pass interference by Chris Horton play might have been an overreaction by the referees, as he didn't seem to make much contact with Calvin Johnson, and he definitely defensed the ball. I've tried to look at the play again with as little bias as possible, but it's not unreasonable to think that I'm still seeing the play with burgundy and gold shades. Still, it looked like it was just a really good defensive play.

Unfortunately, that's not the big problem with the Redskins' defensive performance. Stafford was consistently able to make big throws, taking advantage of lapse after lapse by Redskins defenders. Their high-priced cornerbacks, Carlos Rogers and DeAngelo Hall, seemed to always be on the wrong end of big plays. Detroit had six turnovers in their first two games, but Washington couldn't generate a single takeaway.

Special Teams: B

Once again, the Redskins had solid kickoff returns and solid kickoff coverage. You'd like more of a breakaway possibility out of your return guys than the Redskins have with Rock Cartwright and Antwaan Randle El, but they've been able to count on solid field position out of kickoffs, which is about the only thing the offense has been able to count on.

Shawn Suisham made both of his kicks, both mere point-after-TD attempts. I wish he had taken one field goal attempt, but I can't fault him for the decisions of the coach. Hunter Smith did a great job punting, got four of his five punts inside the Lions' 20-yard line. It's just a shame the Redskins' defense couldn't take advantage of Smith's performance.

Overall: F

The Washington Redskins lost to the Detroit Lions, the Lions' first win since December 2007. Maybe they played better than an F, but you just can't lose this game.

Should a change be made? I don't know if I've ever said it here, but I think firing Zorn would be a terrible idea. There's no advantage of firing Zorn during the season, because no team has ever responded well to their coach getting fired. If firing the coach will undoubtedly result in a losing season (which it will), then let's let Zorn finish out the season, see if he can't right the ship.

Previously, I'd suggested that replacing Campbell with backup Todd Collins might be a good idea. I'm still not averse to that idea, but when Campbell has been able to make his own decisions and act quickly in hurry-up scenarios, he's been fairly effective. I wonder if Zorn is handicapping his own quarterback with his play-calling.

One thing's for sure: something's gotta change if this team is going to make something out of this season.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 2 vs. St. Louis Rams

Redskins 9, Rams 7

Well, it's certainly nice to get one in the win column, but there's plenty to be unhappy about with Sunday's victory over the Rams. Let's talk about it, shall we?

Offense: C+

Overall, despite scoring fewer points, the offense looked ten times better against the Rams than it did against the Giants. The problem, of course, is that the offense is supposed to look better against the Rams. The Giants boast a much better defense than St. Louis, so the Redskins ought to be more effective. Chris Cooley proved once again that he's perhaps the greatest single acquisition that the second Joe Gibbs era yielded here in Washington. He was all over the field, and his ball security was much better today than it was against the Giants.

Unfortunately, Mike Sellers and Santana Moss weren't quite as sure-handed. Sellers let a touchdown pass from Jason Campbell slip through his fingers, and Moss fumbled the ball away on a solid drive just before halftime. The Sellers play was particularly painful, as the Redskins weren't able to score a touchdown all day. Planting a foot in the end zone might have given Washington some positive momentum to prevent St. Louis from holding on all game, not to mention something positive to build on going forward. Word is, the Redskins' locker room was quiet and somber after the game, a rarity when you win. That doesn't sound like the tone of a team that feels good about their day.

I had told some colleagues that, had the Redskins lost on Sunday, I wouldn't have been surprised with a quarterback and/or head coaching change, and I don't think the victory did much to dissuade people from thinking a change might be necessary. I'd put both Campbell and Jim Zorn on the chopping block again; if the team can't beat a very unimpressive Lions team next weekend, I would expect a change. Before the St. Louis game, I'd have said Campbell would be the victim, but Campbell played pretty well against the Rams, while Zorn seemed hesitant to give Campbell the opportunity to succeed (or fail).

After the game, former Washington Redskins quarterback and local legend Sonny Jurgensen added a little fuel to the fire, saying that had Zorn given him a *halfback pass on third and goal* (see comments), he'd have changed the play. But Zorn displayed a kind of arrogance and distrust of his players in his response, saying that he'd have benched Jurgensen. Comments like that make me wonder how much confidence Zorn actually has in Campbell's ability to take another step and become a quality passer in this league.

Defense: A

Even if it was the lowly St. Louis Rams, the Redskins' defense still looked good. Lost in the hullabaloo over the Redskins' red zone ineptitude was the fact that the Rams were almost completely silenced on the offensive side of the ball. Marc Bulger threw for a paltry 125 yards, and outside of a tough 58-yard run by Steven Jackson, they rushed for just 68 yards on 20 rushing attempts. The team still has a ways to go before you can talk about them with the Ravens, Steelers, or Titans when you talk about great defenses of this decade, but they're closer than you might think.

The hallmark of many of those great defenses is that, when the team was in dire need of a stop, they always got it. Just this past Sunday, when the Chargers were rumbling down the field for a potential game-winning touchdown, Ray Lewis made an unbelievable play on Darren Sproles to win the game for Baltimore. Now, rewind it three hours to the Rams, down just two points and driving down for the potential go-ahead score. Bulger completes a pass to Donnie Avery inside the Redskins' 10-yard-line when Chris Horton puts his helmet on the ball, Carlos Rogers gobbles up the fumble, and the Redskins dodge a bullet.

Oh, and in their final two drives, the Rams gained a total of 3 yards on 7 plays. To me, that sounds like a "refuse to lose" defense. Was there a breakdown on the Steven Jackson run? Absolutely. And should they have been able to prevent Laurent Robinson from pulling down a TD on a fade pattern? Probably. But if you told me that the Redskins' defense would allow only two big plays every game for the rest of the season, I'd bet the farm on this being a playoff team.

Speaking of farms, Albert "Big Country" Haynesworth sure looked great, didn't he? The guy was busting up passes and runs alike, proving that he might just be worth the mammoth contract that Washington gave him. I personally have always liked Haynesworth, despite some of his red flags (stepping on another player's head, etc). I'm hopeful that he'll be able to stay healthy and be the anchor that this defense has so desperately needed. So far, so so good.

Special Teams: C+

Sometimes it's best if the special teams get no real attention at all after the game. The Redskins made no noticeable mistakes on special teams; the coverage teams didn't fail, they didn't miss a field goal, and Hunter Smith was again a solid punter. You'd like to get some more explosiveness out of your return guys, but there's nothing to really complain about here. I wish I had more analysis of the special teams crew, but there's really just nothing more to say.

Overall: B

I know, I know, I'm giving the Redskins far too much credit for their defensive accomplishments against a lackluster Rams offense. I don't care. This is a team that was extremely stingy on defense last season, and acquired the premier defensive lineman available in free agency. There's no reason to think that the defense can't be better than it was last year, and that puts it near the top of the league. If Campbell can start to finish out drives with touchdowns instead of field goals, I don't see any reason this can't be an eleven- or twelve-win team. No reason whatsoever.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What to look forward to from Joe and Joe Sports this fall...

It's September, and football seasons have just kicked off. Baseball's regular season is screaming towards the finish line, and while St. Louis has the NL Central wrapped up, most of the other playoff spots are still up for grabs. College and pro basketball are on the horizon, and the NHL has already started having preseason games. Early autumn is perhaps the most exciting time in sports, and we're happy to say that it will also be an exciting time on Joe and Joe Sports.

If you've been a frequenter of our blog, you know a few things:
  • You know that we're better writers than a lot of bloggers. Rather than quick blurbs with PhotoShopped pictures of players' heads on animals' bodies, we try to give you in-depth analysis that reads more like an article than a rant. We won't stop doing that.
  • You know that we love baseball. We love the one-on-one competition between pitcher and batter, and we love the over-arching strategies that surround that competition. You can look forward to our postseason picks, both for the MLB playoffs and for the various award-winners in baseball for 2009. And I could maybe see us having another argument or two.
  • You know we love our home teams. You've probably seen that I've revived the Redskins Report Card feature, and I'll keep that going all season again. Meanwhile, I know my partner in crime has been working on a post about his beloved Cleveland Browns. As different as our two cities might be, we share a fatalist desperation that all true sports fans should feel. I'll let him tell you about his when he's ready.
  • You know it's been forever since we had a radio show. We know it, too.
  • And lastly, you know that we're conceited, self-absorbed, arrogant bastards. Oh. Well, if you didn't, you do now.
We'll have all of that and a whole lot more as the leaves begin to change. Got any ideas or requests? Email us at joe.joe.sports@gmail.com.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 1 vs. New York Giants

Giants 23, Redskins 17

So, what the hell, we'll do this again this year. Hopefully we'll have more positive comments this year than last, but if the offense doesn't improve from this past Sunday, I'm not holding out much hope for that.

Offense: D+

The offense was bad. You don't have to look at the numbers to know it was bad, but I'll throw a couple key ones at you anyways. The Giants dominated time of possession, 36 minutes to 24. The Giants had eight drives of 8 or more plays, the Redskins mustered just one. But when I saw that Jason Campbell's passer rating was 0.1 points above Eli Manning's, I knew the numbers wouldn't tell the whole story.

The worst play of the game was by Campbell. He rolled out after his pocket collapsed, and gained a few yards while scrambling...and then threw an interception. He was well beyond the line of scrimmage, but of course, the turnover trumped the penalty, so he made a bad decision that much worse. I understand that Campbell is a pass-first quarterback, and I'm content with that. But in that situation, he ought to have the football instincts to know that he's over the line, and needs to tuck it in and run.

One of the more perplexing parts of the Redskins' game plan was their failure to use any sort of no-huddle offense until the very end of the game. With the Giants' defensive line quality and depth being their defense's greatest strength, and with Redskins head coach Jim Zorn allegedly boasting a West Coast offense, the smart move would seem to be forcing that defensive line to stay on the field by going with a hurry-up offense. It plays perfectly to what should be the Redskins' strengths, and should at least partially counterfeit one of the Giants' strengths. It makes plenty of sense thinking about it now, but for the time being, I'll have to trust the "football experts" in the Redskins' coaching offices, and believe that they knew what they were doing.

Defense: B+

There were several instances where the defense shined. A first half drive by the Giants was stuffed on 4th and 1 at the Redskins 3-yard-line. They forced two turnovers, not a huge game, but already ahead of last year's lethargic pace. They prevented the Giants from getting into the end zone on any of their three red zone opportunities.

There were lapses, of course, such as the touchdown by Mario Manningham where three different Redskins missed tackles. And in the fourth quarter when the Redskins needed stops, the defense allowed two long field goal drives, totaling nearly eleven minutes of game time and putting Washington down two scores. Additionally, while he certainly had some impact, we didn't see any great plays out of the $100 million man, Albert Haynesworth. His fellow day 1 signee DeAngelo Hall, though, did get an interception that he nearly took to the house.

Special Teams: B+

Take out the fake field goal touchdown by Hunter Smith and this grade is more like a C, but any time you can put points on the board with your special teams, that's a good day. They did average nearly ten more yards per kickoff return than the Giants as well, and the Giants didn't gain a single yard on any of Smith's five punts on the day. There's plenty of room to improve, but a lack of any big mistakes keeps the grade high and bodes well for the future.

Overall: C

It's tough to rate the whole team as a C, but the offense really let the rest of the team down this week. Washington gets the Rams, Lions, and Buccaneers over the next three weeks, and there's absolutely no reason to think they won't be 3-1 after those three games. If they lose any of those games, I honestly wouldn't be surprised with any change, including quarterback and/or head coach. Let's hope it doesn't come to that, and we get to watch some well-executed football next week.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Other Joe's NFL 2009 Predictions

No fluff, just the way I see things panning out this season.

AFC East - New England Patriots
AFC North - Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South - Indianapolis Colts
AFC West - San Diego Chargers
Wild Card - Miami Dolphins
Wild Card - Houston Texans

AFC Champion - New England Patriots

NFC East - Philadelphia Eagles
NFC North - Green Bay Packers
NFC South - Carolina Panthers
NFC West - Seattle Seahawks
Wild Card - Atlanta Falcons
Wild Card - Washington Redskins

NFC Champion - Philadelphia Eagles

Super Bowl Champion - New England Patriots

NFL MVP - Aaron Rodgers

Friday, September 4, 2009

2009 AFC West Preview

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos (8-8)
Key Additions: RB Knowshon Moreno, DE Robert Ayers, CB Alphonso Smith, QB Kyle Orton, WR Brandon Lloyd, S Renaldo Hill, LB Andra Davis
Key Subtractions: QB Jay Cutler, LB Jamie Winborn, S Marquand Manuel, CB Dre' Bly, WR Brandon Marshall???

The defensive overhaul that the Broncos went through this offseason doesn't look like it will yield a much different result. They changed several players, but don't seem to have a distinct upgrade anywhere. I do like Renaldo Hill, though, and Andra Davis is at least a revolutionary name-speller.

Rookie Knowshon Moreno has got top-tier ability, and the turnover on the defensive side of the ball shouldn't create much of an overall difference in performance. Jay Cutler's tantrum was quelled with a trade to Chicago that netted multiple first round picks as well as Cutler's replacement, Kyle Orton. Orton isn't the same caliber quarterback as Cutler, and it wouldn't be terribly shocking if Chris Simms got a look under center at some point this season. Either way, the passing game won't be as potent as it was last year.

But perhaps the biggest issue for the Broncos going into the 2009 season is the drama surrounding superstar wideout Brandon Marshall. Marshall has 206 receptions over the past two seasons, and has established himself as one of the elite receivers today. But he's unhappy about his current deal ($2.2 million this year) and has demanded either a contract extension or a trade. Denver hasn't offered either, and it's degraded into a situation where nobody knows what will happen. If he plays for Denver this year, everyone benefits. If not, the whole team suffers.

I love Eddie Royal.

Projected 2009 record: 5-11

Kansas City Chiefs (2-14)
Key Additions: QB Matt Cassel, DE Tyson Jackson, LB Mike Vrabel, LB Zach Thomas
Key Subtractions: TE Tony Gonzalez

Four of the Chiefs' top five tacklers last season were the starting secondary, which means the front seven wasn't getting the job done. To attempt to resolve that problem, the Chiefs drafted a gigantic defensive end in Jackson, and acquired two veteran linebackers. These changes don't put Kansas City on the fast-track to the Super Bowl, or even the playoffs, but I do believe Vrabel and Thomas will help Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, and Tamba Hali develop into a pretty fearsome young front.

Is Matt Cassel the answer to all of Kansas City's offensive questions? Probably not, but I can't help but pull for Cassel, for both parties. Cassel is the guy everyone (including me) thinks was just a beneficiary of a good system last year in New England, and the Chiefs got branded as suckers (again, by me) for paying full price. Prove me wrong, kids! Prove me wrong! I don't think the Chiefs will do much this year, but if Larry Johnson can recapture some of his old fire, there's no reason that Kansas City can't be a dangerous stop for any visiting team.

Projected 2009 record: 6-10

Oakland Raiders (5-11)
Key Additions: QB Jeff Garcia, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
Key Subtractions: S Gibril Wilson, DE Derrick Burgess

Oh my, the Raiders. Every year I expect them to be the worst team in the NFL, and while they usually find a way to back into a few wins, they're always at least among the worst teams. They haven't won more than five games in any season since going to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season. It's really a shame, because Oakland has got good fans and some interesting players. The pick of Heyward-Bey in this year's draft was shocking to most, but he may have the most talent of any receiver in that draft. JaMarcus Russell was everybody's #1 overall pick in 2007, and Darren McFadden was the logical pick in 2008. The Raiders make some interesting decisions, but they seem to know talent when they see it.

This year could be trouble, though. Wilson and Burgess were important parts of the defense last year, and it's a defense that's been getting worse since they surprisingly had the #3 yardage defense in 2006. Michael Huff hasn't impressed since being taken in the first round that season, and he's been pushed to third on the safety depth chart behind two even younger players, Tyvon Branch and Hiram Eugene. I do expect the offense to finally take a little pressure off of the defense, and maybe that'll be enough to help the Raiders win some games.

Projected 2009 record: 3-13

San Diego Chargers (8-8)
Key Additions: DE/LB Larry English
Key Subtractions: none

Talk about a team that is staying the course. The Chargers return virtually every relevant player from last season, including an offense that was second in the NFL in points scored. In fact, the Chargers have been in the top five in points scored every year since 2004. With LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, and Philip Rivers all returning for another go-around, there's no reason they can't plant themselves back near the top.

What they need to take the next step is for their defense to recapture their dominance from 2006 and 2007. They gave up under 300 total yards only three times last season, and gave up over 400 yards on four different occasions. Two of those occasions, however, were against the Jay Cutler-led Broncos, which should be considerably less potent this season without him. The reality is that there's no reason the Chargers can't finish in the top 5 along with their offense, which would make San Diego easily the team to beat in the AFC West. My guess is they wrap up the division by Thanksgiving and lose one or two meaningless games down the stretch (hopefully including their game against Washington to end the season).

Projected 2009 record: 11-5

Thursday, September 3, 2009

2009 AFC South Preview

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans (8-8)
Key Additions: LB Brian Cushing, DE Antonio Smith, DE Connor Barwin
Key Subtractions: RB Ahman Green, QB Sage Rosenfels

Andre Johnson was the key part of the fourth best passing attack in football last year, and if Matt Schaub can stay healthy, there's no reason that ranking can't move up. Of course, that's no sure thing, given that he's only played in eleven games in each of his first two seasons in Houston. RB Green would be a more notable subtraction if Steve Slaton hadn't developed into a high caliber option at tailback. The major concern though, is getting into the end zone. Even with the third most total yardage in football, the Texans were just 17th in points scored. Slaton has to help that, but TE Owen Daniels also carries a responsibility to be a red zone receiving option. He had just two touchdowns last season.

The defense looks to still be a year away from making any big strides, but there's plenty of talent in line to produce. Veteran safety Eugene Wilson is the centerpiece of a defense mostly comprised of players drafted between 2006 and 2009. If the youngsters mature quickly, this defense could get better in a hurry. If not...well, Texans fans had better hope that 4,400 yards passing was a floor for this offense.

Projected 2009 record: 9-7

Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
Key Additions: RB Donald Brown, DT Fili Moala
Key Subtractions: WR Marvin Harrison, RB Dominic Rhodes

As the old saying goes, "If it's not broke, don't fix it." That's the story with the Colts, who won at least ten games and made the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year, coinciding with Tony Dungy's tenure as head coach. Following such success puts a lot of pressure on new head coach Jim Caldwell, but the talent is all there for another successful season.

Peyton Manning recorded his ninth career season with at least 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. Yes, by the way, it is time to start talking about him among the all-time great quarterbacks. Dominic Rhodes was replaced by rookie Donald Brown out of Connecticut, who has been wowing people in camp and preseason. Joseph Addai is still the starter, but it's obvious that Brown will play a considerable role in the offense. The loss of Harrison isn't as big as it seems, as his production had slipped considerably last season. At age 37, it's unlikely he'll see any major bounceback, so the time had come to move on. Anthony Gonzalez will never be as good as Harrison or Reggie Wayne, but he'll be good enough to keep this offense chugging along.

The defense, meanwhile, continues to be what it's been for years: great pass rush, good pass defense, inept run defense. The advantage comes when the offense and defense both act like themselves in the same game. When Manning puts up points, he forces opponents to pass the ball, playing into the Colts defenders' hands. Dwight Freeney remains an elite pass rusher, but the other defensive end, Robert Mathis, has quietly become just as productive, averaging ten sacks per season over the past five years. So, like always, the game plan against the Colts is, "Don't let Peyton Manning beat you." Good luck.

Projected 2009 record: 12-4

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)
Key Additions: WR Torry Holt, S Sean Considine, OT Eugene Monroe
Key Subtractions: RB Fred Taylor, WR Matt Jones, S Gerald Sensabaugh

Okay, so I was a year early when I predicted the Jaguars would be terrible in 2007. Let's not dwell on the past. And what I mean by that is, let's not dwell on the old Jaguars defense that was so good, and let's instead look at the new Jaguars defense, which isn't that good. They've got a high-caliber, big-play secondary, but the front line isn't nearly what it used to be. Nobody on the team had more than 4.5 sacks, and cornerback Brian Williams led the team in tackles. Swapping out Sensabaugh for Considine isn't a big change in talent or syllables.

The offense is going to have to all go through RB Maurice Jones-Drew. With Taylor moving north to New England, MJD has the whole backfield to himself, and he'd better produce, because there's not much else to get excited about here. Holt should still be productive, but how can you get excited about him when he's not even better than Matt Jones, the guy he's replacing? David Garrard threw an absurdly low three interceptions in 2007, and the team won 11 games. He threw a more normal 13 picks last year, and the team finished 5-11. I expect more of the latter this year.

Projected 2009 record: 5-11

Tennessee Titans (13-3)
Key Additions: WR Kenny Britt, WR Nate Washington
Key Subtractions: DT Albert Haynesworth, WR Brandon Jones

The Titans were one of the big surprises last year, and that was due in no small part to the emergence of rookie running back Chris Johnson, and his ability to perfectly complement LenDale White in a speed/power combo. They each found the end zone at least ten times last season, and combined for over 2,000 yards rushing. This ground game allowed Kerry Collins to stay within himself, and he was able to do so perfectly, turning the ball over just 8 times. More impressive, however, is the fact that he was only sacked 8 times as well, an obscene number for any starting quarterback. The additions of Nate Washington (if he can get healthy) and Britt give Collins a more skilled receiving corps, so who knows, maybe the offense could be more balanced this season.

Haynesworth's departure leaves a huge space in the middle of the defensive line (literally and metaphorically). The Titans still have six players who had at least three sacks last season, and their starting secondary had 18 INTs between them last season, so the pass defense should be up to the task. But Haynesworth was a huge body and a big factor in stuffing the run, and that could get opened up with him out of town.

The reality is that Tennessee got a lot of breaks last season, and executed a lot of performances that they're unlikely to repeat. I've always been a fan of Jeff Fisher, and I like a lot of Titans players. That's why I'm sure they'll be disappointing.

Projected 2009 record: 9-7

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

2009 AFC North Preview

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
Key Additions: C Matt Birk, OT Michael Oher, TE L.J. Smith, CB Domonique Foxworth
Key Subtractions: CB Chris McAlister, LB Bart Scott, S Jim Leonhard, CB Corey Ivy

Oher, acquired in the draft, plugs in immediately as the starter at right tackle, and Birk is a Pro Bowl center who'll start immediately. Those additions help solidify a line that allowed Joe Flacco to be sacked 33 times last season. Not that 33 is a terrible number, but it's not a great number either, especially when you note that they attempted the third fewest passes per game. On most teams, L.J. Smith isn't a key addition, but I imagine you'll see he and Todd Heap lined up together more than a few times to help with pass protection, run blocking, and the short passing game.

The Ravens saw a mass exodus of talent from their defense this season, losing four of last year's starters. Foxworth is a decent addition, but the rest of the holes are being addressed in-house. I understand that Ray Lewis has been the face of the franchise, and for one year, Lewis is the guy I'd rather have. But the Ravens have always been pretty good at looking forward, so the decision to put money into Lewis instead of Scott was surprising. I don't see the defense being as good as they were last year, and I don't expect Flacco to be able to take a mediocre receiving corps and make them good.

Projected 2009 record: 8-8

Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)
Key Additions: WR Laveranues Coles, DT Tank Johnson, OL Andre Smith, LB Rey Maualuga, S Roy Williams
Key Subtractions: WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh

Carson Palmer's injury last year was pretty much the entire reason that Cincinnati's season was in the toilet. They had the worst offense in football, both in points and yardage. That's how they went from a .500 team to among the league's worst in just a few seconds. The loss of Houshmandzadeh to the Seahawks doesn't help, but Coles is a fairly logical replacement. Cedric Benson is one of the least appealing options you could have at running back, but unfortunately for them, the Bengals' other options are among those few less appealing ones. This will once again be a pass-first offense.

The Bengals weakness has always been their defense, and they took several steps to attempt to correct that this offseason. They made one big acquisition at each level of the defense, and the hope is that the influx of talent will yield results somewhere. Roy Williams has to prove that his reputation for making big mistakes in Dallas was just a result of over-anxious fans, and not a legitimate concern. And Tank Johnson has to prove that he can go to a team with a reputation like Cincinnati and not get arrested.

Projected 2009 record: 7-9

Cleveland Browns (4-12)
Key Additions: C Alex Mack, WR Brian Robiskie, WR Mohamed Massaquoi, WR Mike Furrey, DE Kenyon Coleman, LB David Bowens, LB Eric Barton, S Abram Elam
Key Subtractions: TE Kellen Winslow Jr., LB Willie McGinest, LB Andra Davis, S Sean Jones

Eric Mangini came in and made wholesale changes almost immediately, bringing in four new defensive starters from his old team, the Jets. He inherited an awful rush defense, so the replacement of most of the linebacking corps is not unreasonable. Sean Jones was a pretty productive safety, so replacing him with a guy who's been on three teams in four years in Elam is a little suspect to me.

Mangini also inherited a quarterback controversy, and he's done nothing to dissipate it. Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson are both vying for the starting spot, though it's difficult to know exactly why. Braylon Edwards drops more balls than puberty, Winslow is a thousand miles away, and the rest of the Browns' receivers are either unproven or overproven. Between all of them someone should pan out, but it may take a while. Still, a young and talented offensive line got even better, now that they're entering the Secret World of Alex Mack (look it up).

Projected 2009 record: 6-10

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Key Additions: DE Evander "Ziggy" Hood, WR Shaun McDonald, CB Keiwan Ratliff
Key Subtractions: CB Bryant McFadden, WR Nate Washington

As always, the Steelers continue to build from within. Each of their projected defensive starters was on the team last year, which should mean trouble once again for opposing offenses. It'll also spell disaster for those of us who wish for the Steelers' demise every year. I think that, if the Steelers hadn't won their two recent Super Bowls, I'd probably be fine with them, and even tolerant of their fans. It's much easier to appreciate a team that has a great development plan and fields very good teams when they don't win it all. I'm like the opposite of a bandwagon fan.

Back to the team, pretty much the entire offense returns as well. Rashard Mendenhall should be recovered from his mid-season injury against the Ravens, and they replaced Nate Washington with Shaun McDonald, two players with similar capabilities. Washington is a larger target, but between McDonald and second-year player Limas Sweed, Washington's production should be more than recovered. It's worth mentioning that they went 12-4 and won the Super Bowl even though Ben Roethlisberger had a bad season (don't argue, 17 TDs and 15 INTs, 46 sacks and 14 fumbles is bad). If Roethlisberger can bounce back, take care of the ball a little better, and find the end zone a little more frequently, another trip to the Super Bowl is definitely within their reach.

It's interesting to see two very different but successful teams like the Patriots and Steelers build their teams in very different ways. The Steelers draft players who fit their mold, and take the time to develop them behind veterans. They hardly ever pay top dollar, and continue to replace veterans with young players in-house. The Patriots find under-valued players around the league like Wes Welker and Fred Taylor, and plug them into a potent offensive machine.

Projected 2009 record: 13-3

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

2009 AFC East Preview

And now, we move on to the jerk conference. I'm not even going to apologize or mitigate my personal opinions. The AFC is for jerks.

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills (7-9)
Key Additions: WR Terrell Owens, DE Aaron Maybin, G Eric Wood
Key Subtractions: CB Jabari Greer, QB J.P. Losman

The "key subtraction" of Losman is really only relevant because it solidifies Trent Edwards as the starting quarterback, and eliminates any potential for an early season quarterback controversy. Edwards should enjoy his best season ever, partly because of maturity, and partly because Owens just makes quarterbacks better. Hate him all you want, but his physical dominance over opponents has helped every quarterback he's played with (Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo). Also, Lee Evans has always struck me as a very good #2 receiver, but not capable of being a #1. The addition of T.O. puts Evans where I believe he can flourish.

With Leodis McKelvin and Donte Whitner, the Bills have got the makings of a pretty good secondary. First round pick Maybin is a Penn State product, which doesn't exactly bode well (LaVar Arrington, Courtney Brown, Ki-Jana Carter), but maybe he and fellow Nittany Lion Paul Posluszny can generate some more pass rush. Doing that could dramatically improve what was just an average defense last year.

Projected 2009 record: 8-8

Miami Dolphins (11-5)
Key Additions: CB Vontae Davis, QB Pat White, C Jake Grove, DE/LB Jason Taylor, S Gibril Wilson
Key Subtractions: DE Vonnie Holliday, S Renaldo Hill

The Dolphins seem to have only improved, and they acquired a perfect weapon for their wildcat formation in Pat White. There are always questions about Ronnie Brown's health and Ricky Williams' commitment, but they're both ready to play come opening kickoff, and both have shown themselves to be solid at one point or another. The maturation of their young receivers (Ted Ginn Jr., Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo) will likely determine how far this team goes.

The Jason Taylor experiment in Washington was a disaster, but he's allegedly back and ready to play for the Dolphins. Do I think it was just a ploy for Taylor to get paid the remainder of his contract and come back to Miami after a year? Of course I do. I'm an emotional, foolish Redskins fan, and Jason Taylor broke my heart.

Anyways, Gibril Wilson is pretty good and Vonnie Holliday's best days are behind him.

Projected 2009 record: 10-6

New England Patriots (11-5)
Key Additions: DB Patrick Chung, CB Shawn Springs, RB Fred Taylor, CB Leigh Bodden
Key Subtractions: QB Matt Cassel, WR Jabar Gaffney, LB Mike Vrabel, CB Ellis Hobbs, CB Deltha O'Neal, S Rodney Harrison

The return of Tom Brady from last year's week 1 season-ending injury is far and away the story with the most mainstream appeal regarding the Patriots, but I would venture to say that the wholesale changes to the secondary are at least as important to this team's success. I don't think I'm alone when I say I don't expect the Patriots to set more offensive records this season as they did in 2007, so the defense will have to at least play occasionally. Replacing Hobbs and O'Neal with Bodden and Springs is most certainly a downgrade, and it'll be interesting to see how the defense works without Mike Vrabel as an anchor for the first time since 2003.

Running back will once again be a question mark for the Patriots, as they'll be boasting perhaps the league's only five-headed monster committee. Laurence Maroney is the favorite to emerge as the featured back, but Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis were all productive at times for the Patriots last year, and they didn't bring Fred Taylor into town to ride the pine. With their talent distribution, though, I'd be surprised if the Patriots weren't back to their old ways of throwing the ball 40 times a game, which favors Faulk, the best pass-catcher of the bunch. Regardless, Randy Moss and Wes Welker will once again be the peanut butter and jelly of an elite receiver sandwich. Try not to think of that in a gross way.

Projected 2009 record: 12-4

New York Jets (9-7)
Key Additions: QB Mark Sanchez, LB Bart Scott, CB Lito Sheppard, RB Shonn Greene, S Jim Leonhard, DE Marques Douglas
Key Subtractions: QB Brett Favre, WR Laveranues Coles, LB Eric Barton, CB Hank Poteat

New head coach Rex Ryan certainly didn't waste any time revamping his defense, bringing Scott, Leonhard, and Douglas from his old team in Baltimore. Eric Barton was the team's leading tackler last season, but Scott should slide comfortably into that role this year. Lito Sheppard was the third wheel in Philly, but he'll be a starter and a lynchpin for the Jets' defense this year.

I know, bla bla bla, defense, who cares? The biggest change this season comes at the biggest position: quarterback. Favre's brief stint in the Big Apple is over, and the Jets traded the farm for Mark Sanchez, who I'll now refer to as "Magic Beans" Sanchez. He could grow into a giant beanstalk that leads to a goose who lays golden eggs. Or it could just be a shortcut to a giant who'll squash the hopes of Jets fans. One thing is for sure though: as goes Sanchez for the next four years, so go the Jets. This year, that means growing pains and patience.

Projected 2009 record: 6-10

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...