Over the course of this week, we’ve been taking brief looks at what this NFL season may well hold for each club, and now it’s time to bring it home. Cover your wagons as we make like the Donner party and head West for this final chapter.
Prediction: 2-14; 4th in AFC West
I think Broncos fans will have to endure at least one more year of disappointment as the organization continues its recovery from the nuclear disaster that was Josh McDaniels’ tenure as head coach/general manager. I get the feeling that quarterback Kyle Orton will continue to be a stable, if unspectacular, presence under center, and I think that Knowshon Moreno will continue his development into a quality tailback, but I think that the rest of their division has improved much more than they have, and I don’t think they’ll be very competitive, despite what I think might be a coming-out party of sorts for defensive end Robert Ayers.
Prediction: 4-12; 3rd in AFC West
I have to think quarterback Matt Cassel will take a step back this year, with his offensive coordinator’s having departed back to the collegiate level, despite his assortment of new toys. While I think that Eric Berry will continue his ascent toward becoming one of the NFL’s elite, I think that the rest of his defensive teammates will have difficulty matching pace, and I think that this will be the most evident in the play of veteran nose tackle Kelly Gregg, whose age I think will really begin to show through. All in all, l think that this year, without the benefit of having teams underestimate them each week, the Kansas City Chiefs will come back down to Earth, in a matter of speaking.
Prediction: 5-11; 2nd in AFC West
I think Hue Jackson’s first year as the head coach of the Raiders is going to be a long one. For one thing, the team seemingly made no attempt whatsoever to fill the enormous void left by the dearly departed (to Philadelphia, in case you’ve been living in a cave) Nnamdi Asomugha, on whom the Al Davis got beyond lucky in the first place. If that weren’t enough, Oakland’s offensive line has actually managed to get worse with the loss of Robert Gallery, who finally began to almost flourish upon moving inside to the guard spot. Still though, I think they’ll be better than Denver, and I think they’ll be luckier than Kansas City.
Prediction: 13-3; 1st in AFC West
Missing the playoffs last year may well turn out to be the best thing to happen to the Chargers since Philip Rivers, as San Diego has arguably the easiest schedule of any presumably good team in the NFL. That, combined with some very good free agency pickups in slot receiver Patrick Crayton, inside linebacker Takeo Spikes, and safety Bob Sanders, will, I think, see the Chargers to their best season in several years, complete with a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Prediction: 5-11; 4th in NFC West
I don’t think Seattle will be handed another gift-wrapped playoff berth, as was the case last year. When the ‘Hawks allowed longtime-fan favorite Matt Hasselbeck test free agency this summer, many, myself included, assumed that the motivation was to clear the way for the younger Charlie Whitehurst. Then, on the very same day that the Tennessee Titans announced their signing of Hasselbeck, Seattle announced their having signed Tarvaris Jackson. To call the Seahawks’ announcement underwhelming is to say that Joe Montana had a nice career. To make matters worse, Jackson failed to develop any sort of chemistry with newly acquired wide receiver Sidney Rice, despite their having been teammates for the preceding four years in Minnesota. Sophomore head coach Pete Carroll seems intent on playing Jackson, though, no matter what anyone else thinks. They’ve even made him (Jackson) a team captain. I think this captain will sink his ship like it’s the Titanic.
Prediction: 6-10; 3rd in NFC West
I think that, despite the continued maturation of second-year signal-caller Sam Bradford, the Rams will struggle defensively, thanks in large part to what I think will be an inability to defend the pass. Their secondary, now that former Pro Bowler Oshiomogho Atogwe has gone to Washington, is just about completely devoid of anything other than speed. Speed alone isn’t enough– just ask the Raiders. I think St. Louis will win some games. I think that Sam Bradford might develop quite the connection with former Jacksonville Jaguar Mike Sims-Walker, and I think that their front seven will be pretty good, especially if defensive end Chris Long is able to build upon the developmental strides he took last season. I just don’t think they’ll be able to do enough on the back end to be really competitive.
Prediction: 7-9; 2nd in NFC West
A rookie head coach’s first year in the NFL is often a challenging one, to say the least. I don’t think new 49ers helmsman Jim Harbaugh will deviate too much from the norm in that regard. I think that San Francisco’s defense will be as good as, if not better than, that of last year’s incarnation under then-head coach Mike Singletary and former defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. I think that for the first time in a long time, the Niners will be able to defend the pass, on account of the fact that they finally went out and hired some safeties in Madieu Williams and Donte Whitner.
Offensively, I think that it just about goes without saying that this year marks quarterback Alex Smith’s final last chance to be the man in San Francisco. A legendary figure famously, and repeatedly, boasted that “to be the man, you have to beat the man”, but, at this point, the only opposition left for Alex Smith is Alex Smith. I think it’s fair to say that Smith is just about out of excuses, as this year he’ll have Michael Crabtree on one side, Braylon Edwards on the other, Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker at the tight end positions, Josh Morgan and Ted Ginn, Jr. sharing the reps out of the slot, and, most significantly, a healthy Frank Gore.
Said the 49ers offense to Alex Smith, “Take me now, or lose me forever.
Prediction: 8-8; 1st in NFC West
2011 has been quite the offseason out in the desert known as Phoenix. The Arizona Cardinals think they’ve found their triggerman in new quarterback Kevin Kolb. I think they’re probably right, and he’s already gotten into quite the groove with absurdly rich wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. They’re going to have some difficulty defending the pass after having to sacrifice rising star Dominique Rogers-Cromartie in order to acquire Kolb from Philadelphia. While I do think that first-round selection Patrick Peterson will eventually make fans forget all about DRC, I think he’ll struggle some, and I also think that beyond Peterson, Arizona’s defensive backfield is a bit thin. That, combined with kind of a tough schedule and Kevin Kolb’s learning curve will I think give the Cardinals some headaches, but I think they’ll endure just enough to win their mediocre division.