Monday, May 25, 2009 PTI: NFL Predictions

This is the time of year when football fans really start to itch for the beginning of a new season. The teams are in camp and we can smell the new season right around the corner. This week Adam and Chris give their NFL predictions for the Super Bowl, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookies of the Year, and Division Winners.


Super Bowl- Steelers over Bears

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost only one starter (two key players) from last year’s team that won it all. CB Bryant McFadden bolted for the Arizona Cardinals and #3 WR Nate Robinson signed with the Titans. However, McFadden missed 6 games with injuries last season and back-up William Gay filled in admirably. The Steelers also have former starter Deshea Townsend to step in at corner. Last season the Steelers won 12 games while playing the hardest schedule in the league; this season it will be fourth easiest (the easiest for teams that don’t play the Lions twice, seriously). Also, 2-time Pro Bowl running back Willie Parker was banged up early last year and didn’t find his stride until the playoffs, first round pick Rashard Mendenhall only played four games before fracturing his shoulder and missing the season, and QB Ben Rothlisberger was playing injured early in the season before getting into a rhythm late. With a healthy backfield and an easier schedule the Steelers should return to the Super Bowl where they will face…
The Chicago Bears. The Bears always have a good defense, and that won’t change this season. Last year, rookie RB Matt Forte provided some punch to the rushing attack with 1238 yards and 8 TDs while also leading the team with 63 receptions. TE Greg Olson’s 54 catches were second on the team, and Devin Hester showed signs that he could make a successful transition from CB/KR to WR. The key to the Bears is the addition of QB Jay Cutler. This was a phenomenal trade that had to be made. While the Bears gave up a lot, if they make the Super Bowl, it will be worth it. After years of inconsistent QB play from Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton, Cutler should stabilize the position and contribute to a dramatic improvement in the Bears passing attack. If the Minnesota Vikings sign Brett Favre, they should challenge the Bears for this spot, but my pick will still be Chicago.

MVP- Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Brees will not put up 5000 yards again this season, but he should put up 4500+ with about 40-45 TDs. The difference this season will be that the Saints will win more games. Free agent signings S Darren Sharper and CB Jabari Greer will team with first round pick CB Malcolm Jenkins to man a vastly improved secondary that should help the Saints improve upon their 23rd ranked defense. Offensively, the Saints will be much healthier and deeper compared to last year. RB Reggie Bush (10 games last year), TE Jeremy Shockey (12 games), and WR Marques Colston (11 games) should be healthy to team with WRs Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, and Devery Henderson. Also, breakout RB Pierre Thomas will be a contributor all season after rushing for at least 77 yards in 5 of his last 6 games and adding 9 TDs last season. What this all means is an assortment of weapons for the NFC’s best QB. A better record stood between Drew Brees and the MVP last season, but this year, the Saints’ improved defense will lead to a playoff berth and an MVP for Brees.

Defensive Player of the Year- Julius Peppers, Carolina Panthers

Peppers has at least 10.5 sacks in 5 of his 7 seasons, and when he finally signs a contract under the franchise tag, he will be playing for a new contract. Don’t underestimate the motivation that can create. Peppers, at 6’7” and 283 pounds is one of the bigger defensive ends in the NFL, but the former Tar Heel basketball player is also one of the most athletic. Just 29 years old, Peppers is primed to explode this season. I would not be surprised to see Peppers approach 20 sacks with 50-60 tackles and 6 or 7 forced fumbles. This season, Peppers is going to return to his role as the focal point of the Panthers’ defense. With MLB Jon Beason playing behind him, Peppers should be able to rush free at the QB without worrying about run responsibility as much, and with CB Chris Gamble locking down the opponent’s #1 WR, Peppers should get a decent amount of coverage sacks as well when the pocket breaks down.

Offensive Rookie of the Year- Chris Wells, Arizona Cardinals

Offensive ROY is a three man race this year. WR Michael Crabtree is not only the best WR in this year’s draft class, but also will be the #1 WR on the 49ers roster this season. Knowshon Moreno will be the next RB in a long line of top performers at the position for the Broncos and will be the starter after a season full of injuries and inconsistencies. Finally, Chris “Beanie” Wells will be the go-to back and possibly the goal-line back for the Cardinals high powered offense. The difference between the three rookies is that Crabtree and Moreno will have to carry a large portion of the load in their offenses, but Wells will be able to rely on the passing attack of Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin. While this may limit the amount of touches Wells gets, he should also get more scoring opportunities as the Cardinals will be in the red zone much more than the Broncos and the 49ers. Last season, the Cardinals combination of Edgerrin James, Tim Hightower, and J.J. Arrington combined for 14 TDs. Wells should be the main back this season and could match that total by himself, giving him the edge over Moreno and Crabtree. Expect Wells to finish with between 800-1000 yards in addition to the touchdowns.

Defensive Rookie of the Year- Aaron Curry, Seattle Seahawks

Curry was considered the best defensive player in the draft on most draft boards validating his selection at #4 to the Seahawks. Seattle will help Curry transition to the NFL. Curry will step into the Strong-side LB role in Seattle’s 4-3 with veterans Lofa Tatupu at MLB and Leroy Hill at Weak-side LB on the opposite side. Curry’s speed and tackling ability will lead to immediate results and his mistakes will be minimized with the veteran presence around him. The vets should also help Curry acclimate himself to the NFL quicker than if he stepped into a younger, inexperienced unit. Curry should be good in run support and solid in pass coverage as well. Expect 80+ tackles with a few sacks and a few interceptions in his debut season.

AFC East- Buffalo Bills

When the Bills signed Terrell Owens, they became the team to beat in the AFC East. Even after trading Jason Peters away, they still have the look of a division champ. RBs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson combined for 1600 yards and 11 TDs last season as one of the better 1-2 RB punches in the AFC. WRs Lee Evans (1017 yards) and Josh Reed (597 yards) have contributed production through the air in the past, but have struggled to find the end zone (4 TDs combined) when the Bills get into the red zone. TO will change that. Owens gives the Bills 25th ranked offense a legitimate red zone threat to go with a solid rushing attack and Evans deep play ability. The Bills offense should get a huge boost by adding a motivated TO to the fold. Defensively, the Bills lost CB Jabari Greer to the Saints, but still have Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin at the corners to go with one of the better safety combinations in the league with Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson. Aaron Schobel and Marcus Stroud should benefit from the addition of first round pick Aaron Maybin on the defensive line and LBs Kawika Mitchell and Paul Posluszny should be more familiar with the Bills defensive scheme, starting in the system for a second year. The Patriots will be tough to beat, but TO will put the Bills over the top in the division after three straight 7-9 seasons.

AFC North- Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers return 10 starters to one of the best defenses in the history of the NFL and all 11 starters on offense. Last year’s first round pick Rashard Mendenhall is healthy after an injury shortened his rookie year last year and this year’s draft class should contribute to the Steelers early. First rounder Ziggy Hood probably won’t start on the defensive line, but he should provide depth both at DE and NT. Later picks Mike Wallace (WR-3rd round) and RB Frank “The Tank” Summers could contribute early on offense and special teams as Wallace brings a sub 4.3 40 yard dash and Summers should provide toughness in the goal line offense and on special teams with his 240 pound frame. Second rounder Kraig Urbik (G-T) and seventh rounder A.Q. Shipley (C) should provide depth for an offensive line that was shaky last season. If the offensive line can improve upon their play from last season, QB Ben Rothlisberger could make his second Pro Bowl if he plays like he did in the playoffs. The Steelers will benefit from the 4th easiest schedule in the NFL next season.

AFC South- Houston Texans

This should be a good race between the Indianapolis Colts, the Tennessee Titans, and (surprise) the Houston Texans. The Titans will be competitive, but Kerry Collins won’t be able to repeat last season’s heroics and the Titans will come up short. The Texans should have an explosive offense with a healthy Matt Schaub at QB to go with RB Steve Slaton (1282 yards and 9 TDs), WR Andre Johnson (1575 yards and 8 TDs), WR Kevin Walters (899 yards and 8 TDs), and TE Owen Daniels (862 yards). Defensively, LB DeMeco Ryans (112 tackles) and DE Mario Williams (12 sacks) were both Pro Bowlers and CB Dunta Robinson will be healthy after missing 5 games last season. Through the draft, the Texans added potential impact players LB Brian Cushing and OLB/DE Connor Barwin. Both have shown the ability to rush the QB in college and both should be solid contributors on the front seven next season. Free agent signing DE Antonio Smith should be a nice addition to the D-line opposite Williams. The secondary is the weak link, but veterans Nick Ferguson and Eugene Wilson should be able to minimize mistakes and get enough stops to give the Texans’ high powered offense the opportunity to win most games. The Colts should contend for the division title as well, but the offense lost WR Marvin Harrison and RB Dominic Rhodes, and the team is starting to get older. QB Peyton Manning, RB Joseph Addai, and WR Reggie Wayne will anchor a potentially explosive offense and DE Dwight Freeney will lead a solid defense, but the Texans will surprise them and take the division.

AFC West- San Diego Chargers

Although the Chargers were just 8-8 last season, they still won the division. The AFC West may be the weakest division in the NFL and the Chargers were a few close calls away from running away with it last season. The Chargers lost their first two games of the season late by a combined 3 points. Of their 6 other losses, 5 were within 7 points or less including a 1 point loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers with less than a minute left. The return of LB Shawne Merriman (39.5 sacks the previous two seasons) to the defense after playing just one game last season should provide a big boost to the 25th ranked defense. After a down season (if you can call 1110 yards a down season), LaDanian Tomlinson should return to form and provide a more consistent running attack for Philip Rivers. Back-up Darren Sproles should be effective as the change of pace back, as former Charger Michael Turner did for LT prior to last season. In this weak division, the Chargers should win the division with at least 3 weeks remaining in the season.

NFC East- Dallas Cowboys

Everyone in the NFC East has a chance to win the division or simply make the playoffs, but the Cowboys made the most meaningful changes this offseason. The Eagles are going to miss the leadership and ability of Brian Dawkins on defense, and the Giants will miss Plaxico Burress more than they think they will. Meanwhile, the Cowboys cleaned the locker room of any potential attitude problems. RB Marion Barber will show vast improvement next season as he returns to a 4.5+ yards per carry average. The return of last year’s first round pick Felix Jones will also give the Cowboys a thunder and lightning type of RB rotation to rival the NY Giants. WR Roy Williams will make the Pro Bowl after learning the offense last season, and WRs Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin will continue to provide QB Tony Romo with reliable targets. TE Jason Witten is one of the best in the game both at blocking and receiving. Defensively, DeMarcus Ware, Bradie James, Jay Ratliff, and Greg Ellis combined for almost 45 sacks last season and CB Terrence Newman and FS Ken Hamlin anchor a slid secondary that operates with minimal pressure due to the pass rush put on by the front seven. While the Coqboys will win the division, don’t be surprised if QB Romo still can’t find a way to pull out a win in the playoffs.

NFC North- Chicago Bears

In what could be the best division in the NFL next season, the Bears will hold off the Vikings and the Green Bay Packers to win the division on their way to the Super Bowl. In a battle of good QBs, Jay Cutler of the Bears will outplay other QB standouts Brett Favre (assuming he signs with the Vikings) and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers. All three teams could make the playoffs, but the Packers don’t have the consistent rushing attack the Vikings and Bears have, and Cutler will be more stable than Favre at QB to give the Bears the edge.

NFC South- Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have the best rushing attack in the NFL with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart splitting carries. Both are Pro Bowl caliber RBs and combined for 2300+ yards and 28 TDs last season. Even if Jake Delhomme continues to play inconsistently, the RB tandem will hide his deficiencies. WR Steve Smith (1421 yards in 14 games) is one of the most explosive players in the NFL and veteran #2 wideout Mushin Muhammad (923) is still a solid WR that can contribute. Defensively, the Panthers have Pro Bowl players at all three levels of the defense with DE Julius Peppers anchoring the D-line, Jon Beason leading a LB corps that also includes standout Thomas Davis, and CB Chris Gamble providing leadership in the secondary. The Panthers have Pro Bowl potential all over the roster and should make a run at the Super Bowl again this season.

NFC West- Arizona Cardinals

Losing Edgerrin James should not hurt the Cardinals that much, especially with the addition of Beanie Wells to split carries with Tim Hightower. Defensively, the Cardinals added Bryant McFadden to the secondary and drafted DE Cody Brown in the second round for depth on the defensive line. The biggest obstacle to the Cardinals second straight division title is three contract holdouts, not any other teams in the division. Darnell Docket and Karlos Dansby on defense and WR Anquan Boldin are all threatening to hold out this offseason. All three were key contributors during last season’s run to the Super Bowl. In the end, all three will be pacified with new contracts or promises to renegotiate and the Cardinals will return almost entirely intact for another run at the postseason.


MVP – Peyton Manning. There is no player in football that is more valuable to his squad year in and year out than Mr. Endorsement himself. Manning is like a coach behind the center, and he is an intimidator to defenses, especially when he screams things like “Your defense is offensive,” and “Cut that meat.”

Defensive Player of the Year – James Harrison. I think this guy refuses to go to White House visits because he doesn’t want anyone to get a leg up on him during the off season. He would rather be throwing tires around and running wind sprints than rubbing elbows with Obama.

Super Bowl Prediction - Indianapolis Colts defeat Green Bay Packers. I think Green Bay has the weapons to get to the big show, but in the end Peyton Manning has too much firepower for Aaron Rodgers and the young Packers squad.

Offensive Rookie of the Year – Knowshon Moreno. Plug a running back into the Denver offense and you have an automatic superstar. I think Moreno edges out Michael Crabtree for the Rookie of the Year.

Defensive Rookie of the Year - B. J. Raji. The new addition to the Packers front line should be instant help to their run defense, and Raji has the opportunity to turn some heads from day one in Green Bay.

NFC East – New York Giants

The Giants have the ability to run all over opposing defenses, and they should have another good season. I am tempted to take Dallas here after they cleaned house (losing TO, Tank Johnson, and PacMan Jones), but they were the choke artists of the year last season, so I can’t put much faith in them.

NFC North – Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers has a full year of experience under his belt and should be a better leader this season. He had a superb year last season and should have another stellar year. The defense was the main problem last year for the Pack, as opposing running backs ran all over them. They switched their D to a 3-4 and added 2 key starters during the draft in B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews.

NFC South – Carolina Panthers

Coming off a 12-4 year and the division title last season, the Panthers are looking to repeat in the NFC South. The Carolina running game was unstoppable for most of last year, and if they can get DeAngelo Williams going again, it should be a great year for Carolina.

NFC West – Arizona Cardinals

Perhaps the worst division in football gave us the NFC Super Bowl contender Cardinals last year, despite going 9-7. Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin hope to carry their offensive momentum into this year. They shouldn’t have much competition in this division.

AFC East – New England Patriots

With Brady back, the Pats look to avenge their playoff snub from last year. Miami won the division last year even though both teams had an 11-5 record. The weapons the Patriots have make them a clear favorite in this division.

AFC North – Pittsburgh Steelers

Big Ben and the boys look to defend their title this year, but they will be challenged by Baltimore at the top of this division. The Browns and Bengals shouldn’t pose any problems, and the Steelers are my pick to win the division.

AFC South – Indianapolis Colts

I like the Peyton Manning and the Colts to win this division, and make some serious noise in the playoffs. Tennessee is a tough team, but I think Indy has their number this season. I think the Colts go all the way to the Super Bowl this year.

AFC West – San Diego Chargers

The Jay Cutlerless Broncos are a wild card, and the rest of the division is sub-par. I like LT and Phillip Rivers to take the AFC West Title. Despite coming off of an 8-8 season, this team could surprise some people this year.

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