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  1. #1
    RamWraith's Avatar
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    Five surprise teams to watch in 2008

    By John Clayton
    ESPN.com

    Surprise teams are the byproducts of good luck and good play.

    With the draft over and free agency exhausted for finding impact players, it's time to pick some surprise teams for the 2008 season. Arguably, these are paper tigers because no one has had the benefit of training camp to gain chemistry and show conditioning and execution.

    To be a surprise team, you need to have improved quarterback play from the previous season, an easier schedule and a positive offseason of player acquisition.

    Here the are the early surprise teams for 2008:

    1. Carolina Panthers

    Using the same standards that allowed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win the NFC South last season, the Panthers should be the top surprise team. That status should give them a chance to win the division.

    A year ago, the Bucs best fit the surprise formula. They brought in Jeff Garcia to run an offense void of quality play at quarterback in 2006. They had one of the league's best turnaround schedules, one that went from tough to easy in 2007.

    The Panthers go from a .523 strength of schedule in 2007 to a .465 in '08. Normally, a .020 change in strength of schedule projects to a win if it's easier or a loss if it's tougher. Using that concept, the Panthers have a chance to improve by 2.9 games. They were 7-9 last season.

    Jake Delhomme is back from Tommy John surgery. If he can stay healthy for 16 games, the Panthers have a great chance to make a playoff run. Before elbow problems ended his season in September, the Panthers were averaging 25 points a game, and Delhomme's quarterback rating was above 100. Without him, the Panthers finished with a dismal 16.7-point scoring average.

    For personnel, the Panthers went back to John Fox's philosophy of getting big and nasty on the line, adding five 322-pound-plus blockers and running back Jonathan Stewart, a first-round pick. On paper, the Panthers have a great chance to win 10 games this season -- as long as Delhomme stays healthy.

    2. St. Louis Rams

    Everything crashed in September when 80 percent of the Rams' starting offensive line went down with injuries. Marc Bulger lacks mobility, so he didn't have a chance to get off his passes without being hit, and the running game had no chance to get going. The Rams can't be as unlucky with injuries this year, so they have a chance to be at least four games better than their 3-13 disaster in 2007.

    When Bulger has a healthy offense, the Rams average 23 points a game, which is slightly less than a touchdown better than their offensive production of last season. Despite the lack of offense and its own problem with injuries, the defense improved last year under defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. The 2008 schedule is slightly easier: The Rams will have a .512 strength of schedule as compared with last season's .488. The one concern for the Rams is a tough first-half schedule that includes games against the Eagles, Giants, Redskins, Cowboys and Patriots.


    3. Oakland Raiders

    JaMarcus Russell is the wild card here. No one knows whether he's ready to be a winning starter. Last season, Lane Kiffin wisely kept him on the sidelines until late December, giving him a chance to learn without failing. Now it's time for him to prove himself.

    Al Davis had the most aggressive offseason. He invested $182 million in contracts for Javon Walker, Drew Carter, Kwame Harris, DeAngelo Hall and Gibril Wilson. He spent $62 million more to keep defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and halfback Justin Fargas. And he drafted running back Darren McFadden with the No. 4 overall pick in this year's draft.

    But the biggest reason for hope for the Raiders is the schedule. They go from having a .516 strength of schedule to a projected .438, giving them optimism for a four-game improvement. The only team with a 2007 winning record that the Raiders will play in the first 12 games is the Chargers, in a Sept. 28 home game. Until December, they play a .395 strength of schedule. How can they not "Just win, baby"? They should have a winning record going into their final four games.

    4. Buffalo Bills

    Dick Jauron showed progress last season, even though it was the second of back-to-back 7-9 seasons. The Bills won seven in 2006 with an easy schedule, a .438 laugher. They went 7-9 last year with a .516 schedule and finished with a rookie quarterback, Trent Edwards. On paper, 2008 offers a relatively easy .449 schedule, although the Jets and Dolphins should have better records, which could push the strength of schedule closer to .470 or .480.

    Regardless, the Bills are ready to show whether they are a playoff team. Edwards finally has a big passing target, second-round pick James Hardy. The starting offensive line comes back together for a second season, and Marcus Stroud, Spencer Johnson and Kawika Mitchell should improve a defense that allowed 22.1 points a game last year, a field goal worse than 2006.

    5. New York Jets

    The Jets really don't know what they have with Kellen Clemens at quarterback, but they are operating like a team trying to make a big move. Management put out $142.5 million in contracts for linebacker Calvin Pace, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, guard Alan Faneca and right tackle Damien Woody. They hired Bill Callahan to coordinate the running offense. The schedule, using the .020 formula, is 3.3 games easier, going from a .523 to .457. The biggest hope for the Jets rides with the running offense and the defense. The Jets went 4-12 last year despite an 1,119-yard season from Thomas Jones.

    If the Jets find a way to get into the top 10 in rushing, they have a chance for a three-game improvement. They finished 19th in rushing last year, averaging 106.3 yards a game on the ground. Top 10 rushing teams usually fall into that seven- to nine-win projection. Eric Mangini also hopes that Pace, Vernon Gholston and Jenkins can pull the Jets' defense out of the bottom four in football.


  2. #2
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    Re: Five surprise teams to watch in 2008

    Well, other than the fact that his own numbers say our schedule gets tougher, not easier, I think we are one of the more likely teams to show significant improvement because so much of our roster was out of commission last season. Small surprise we were near the bottom when we were starting guys who had been out of a job at the beginning of the season. We've also got more room to improve on a 3-13 record. Of course, if we're using a 3 game improvement as the mark of a surprise team, that still doesn't even get us to .500.

    Oakland is not going to have a winning record going into the final four games.

  3. #3
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    Re: Five surprise teams to watch in 2008

    I hope we show the world that we are a good team. Last year was a joke. It can't happen again. Not this season. We've done so much.

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    Re: Five surprise teams to watch in 2008

    It's hard for me to see us as a surprise team, because I personally feel we have a great roster. I'm glad we're getting some recognition though.

  5. #5
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    Re: Five surprise teams to watch in 2008

    I disagree we are that unlucky because we are, but if we do catch a lucky break injury wise i'll agree with Mr. Clayton because I think we have most of the pieces, but our schedule is killer

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    Re: Five surprise teams to watch in 2008

    If I where a Faider fan I wouldn't get all warm and fuzzy inside from these names and numbers:

    Al Davis had the most aggressive offseason. He invested $182 million in contracts for Javon Walker, Drew Carter, Kwame Harris, DeAngelo Hall and Gibril Wilson. He spent $62 million more to keep defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and halfback Justin Fargas.

    And I agree with Goldenfleece.

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    Re: Five surprise teams to watch in 2008

    So if an increase/ decrease of 0.2 is SOS season to season equates, roughly to one win...

    We should be in for a 2-14 season in '08.

  8. #8
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    Re: Five surprise teams to watch in 2008

    I've said it before and I'll say it again. This team was predicted to win the division last year before injuries decimated the squad. We have largely the same team this year, only we've gotten stronger at a few key positions, (like d-line and o-line & wr).
    How could we not win? Our rivals certainly haven't taken too many steps forward.

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    Re: Five surprise teams to watch in 2008

    Quote Originally Posted by Bar-bq View Post
    So if an increase/ decrease of 0.2 is SOS season to season equates, roughly to one win...

    We should be in for a 2-14 season in '08.
    LOL I was thinking the same thing


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    Re: Five surprise teams to watch in 2008

    Yeah, we made the surprise team list. How special. It probably would be hard to duplicate last year, but it is still in the realm of possibilities.

    This guy thinks the defense improved last year. I was not under that impression. I thought they improved in 2006 and fell apart in 2007. We allowed 438 points in 2007 and 381 points in 2006. Maybe I am confused. I missed a lot of games last year since I was without the nfl ticket.
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

  11. #11
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    Re: Five surprise teams to watch in 2008

    I am hoping for an 8-8 or better season this year, but there is one thing I really want to see:

    Chris Long knocking Brady on his ass at least 6 times....with the Rams recovering the ball each and every time.

  12. #12
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    Re: Five surprise teams to watch in 2008

    Quote Originally Posted by Bar-bq View Post
    So if an increase/ decrease of 0.2 is SOS season to season equates, roughly to one win...

    We should be in for a 2-14 season in '08.
    True, but if not losing an opening day offensive line starter equals one game, then that 2-14 becomes 6-10, exactly as Clayton predicts!

    I'm holding out for .500 or better. We have the players, and now we have the offensive coordinator. The new-fangled thing called vertical passing as opposed to horizontal!

  13. #13
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    Re: Five surprise teams to watch in 2008

    If the Rams can survive the opening stretch of the schedule at .500 playoffs aren't out of the picture.

    However, to anticipate .500 with that opening schedule is maybe too wishful thinking.

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    Re: Five surprise teams to watch in 2008

    Quote Originally Posted by shower beers View Post
    It's hard for me to see us as a surprise team, because I personally feel we have a great roster. I'm glad we're getting some recognition though.
    I agree. Also, how can we, or the other teams listed, be suprise teams for 2008 if it's being predicted that they will be?

  15. #15
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    Re: Five surprise teams to watch in 2008

    And of course poor coaching choices, play calling and lack of leadership didn't help 07 season...just blame it on injuries.

    The Rams on paper both now and in 07, had/have the talent to make a run for the play offs. What was left of the talent pool certainly had a factor, but bad strategic decisions, and overall incompotence in terms of coaching just wasn't there

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