With training camps all over the country up and running, the 2006 season is finally upon us. So my articles, starting here, will focus on the rest of the NFL. We won't discuss the Rams except how the rest of the NFL impacts the Rams. So with that in mind, I will spend a large portion of space discussing the NFC West, then the rest of the NFC, and finally the AFC. I will even test the bounds of my own hypocrisy in this and following weekly articles (more on that later).
And remember, none of us are reporters, we're all just a bunch of columnists. The difference being, a reporter has to report factual information.....the columnist can pull anything he wants out of his hind-quarters and call it "information". So with that in mind, here comes some "information" from my not-so-sunny-side.
Let's start out West:
When you're the conference champion, you have a lot of weight on your shoulders, specifically 15 other teams that want what you got. When you are the Super Bowl loser, you have the added burden of superstition. We all know what has happened to every Super Bowl loser over the past 6 seasons, they have fallen like a ton of bricks in their defending year. I will go on record, barring a ton of injuries, the Seahawks break that curse. They have all the pieces in place to return and they play in a less than stellar division. They lost their all-world Guard in Steve Hutchinson, but (no offense to those trench dwellers, but) Guards, even pro bowl Guards, can be replaced. That line won't be as good, but they're still good enough to move the sticks. Add to that the extra weapons Hasslebeck has at his disposal, and the offense should still be on the top of the world. The question is can their D hold it together long enough to keep the offense on the field (hmm, where have I heard that before?)
What to watch - Lofa Tatupu. Can he repeat an out-of-nowhere rookie season? He managed triple digit tackles, 4 sacks and 3 picks. He was the middle of a defense that managed to get the job done. When he was drafted in the 2nd round, the Seahawks became the butt of a lot of jokes, but it was the Hawks who had the last laugh. Can Lofa bring that giggle back this year?
Overrated - The addition of Julian Peterson. If Peterson were around a couple of years ago, then I'd see the excitement. However, we're talking about a guy with lower body injury problems whose game is based on his speed
Underrated - Why is Leroy Hill not getting any press? This guy starts the last 11 games at SLB, where he manages 72 tackles and 7.5 sacks as a rookie. He and Tatupu could be the next great 1-2 combo in the world of linebackers.
Arizona Cardinals - Let me see if I remember how this goes.....the Cardinals are, on paper, the most talented team in the West; this is their year to shine. Yea, we've heard it all before, but it's true. On paper, they really are talented. However, the paper that matters, the one with the standings on it says they still suck. Who knows? Is this THE year? I don't think so. I'm seeing another sub-.500 year and a 3rd place finish......I mean, it's the Cardinals, right?
What to watch - How will Edge do behind this line? He went from running behind one of the best lines to one of the worst overnight. Can he still produce with so little protection. The highlight of this line is an overweight guard turned LT who has yet to play up to potential....and it only goes down hill from there. The best member of that line may be a rookie from USC. Folks, that ain't exactly confidence inspiring.
Overrated - Dennis Green. Maybe it's just me, but his return to coaching hasn't sent any shivers down the backs of the NFC. Sure he was a perrenial contender with Minnesota, but they had seasoned talent up there. The only talent he has here is without veteran leadership for the most part. He just can't seem to find the magic formula in the desert.
Underrated - a healthy Kurt Warner. Of course, we've almost forgotten what a healthy Warner looks like.....but if he does manage to stay vertical, he can rip a defense to shreds. Last year, both his completion % and YPA were just a hair lower than his MVP days, and had he been in a full season, he would have finished the season with roughly 17 TDs, and 4300 yards. Not bad for an offense that had absolutely no running game whatsoever.
San Francisco - Are they young and improving? Yes. Are they ready to compete? No. And they won't be until that organization puts the past behind them and stops walking on the crests of 5 tarnished rings. They have little in the way of a running game, a young QB coming off a horrible rookie campaign, and a defense that lost one of its only weapons to free agency.
What to watch - the interior of the OL. Larry Allen, David Baas, Eric Heitman, Jeremy Newberry, Adam Snyder.....there's a ton of talent inside their OL, some old, some young, but talented none the less. Can they open holes for whoever their RB is, and keep either Alex Smith or Trent Dilfer on his feet?
Overrated - Norv Turner's two TE sets. The niners have two respectable talents on their offense, and both of them are TEs. I've heard a lot of talk about how Turner will utilize both TEs during their offense.....the problem is, it will be a first for Turner. He's coached some fine TEs over the years, but they were all surrounded by outstanding WRs and RBs. It's not a good situation when your threats on offense are at each end of your line, and I'm not sure Turner's wide open offense is the square peg for that round hole anyway.
Underrated - Derek Smith. When is he going to get the respect he deserves? This MLB has put together 5 straight triple digit tackle seasons, but nobody ever mentions him when talking about top LBs in the league. Is he a Lewis or Urlacher? No, but he's better than the national media will give him credit for.
You guys know how useless I think "Power Polls" are, right? So just to show you that I can manage my own levels of hypocrisy, here's my mini-power polls. My picks for each division, not one big poll......as Dr. Holiday said "My hypocrisy only goes so far".
Kansas City (WC)