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Over/Underrated Teams in the Preseason
This time of year everybody can find reasons why their team is going to be a contender in the upcoming season, but I had some time on my hands, so I thought I'd take another look at a few of the teams with high expectations and see what they have really done to improve their teams in the offseason. Feel free to disagree; these are just one fan's opinions. I left the Rams off the underrated list because I've obviously got a bias there. So without further ado, here's my take on the most overrated/underrated teams in mid-August:
Why they're hyped: The Giants have a Manning at the helm, and he's got weapons: Burress, Toomer, Shockey, and Barber. On defense, the team has some great pass rushers including Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan, and linebacker Lavar Arrington, along with first rounder Mathias Kiwanuka. Will Demps should be an upgrade at FS.
Why they won't live up to it: First, the defense. They lost 2 defensive tackles in free agency. Clancy and Allen were not exactly worldbeaters at their position, but the Giants don't have proven talent to replace them. William Joseph started 10 games at the right DT spot and had 2 sacks; he's the pass-rushing DT. Looking at their roster, I can't figure out who is supposed to be starting next to him. Fred Robbins maybe? Robbins couldn't even hold down the backup job last season. At corner, they added Sam Madison but lost Will Allen who is not only younger but has also put up better numbers in recent years. It looks as though Will Peterson will be replaced on the other side by last year's nickelback, Corey Webster. Webster has shown some promise, but it's still his first year as a starter. Arrington has a reputation as a free lancer who gets out of position trying to make the big play; it has also been said he can't handle coverage responsibilities. The Giants should still be at least a little better at WLB and FS but worse at both DT spots and both corners.
On offense, Eli looked worse towards the end of the season, throwing 4 TDs and 7 ints in 5 games in December. He looked shaky in the playoffs, too, throwing for a paltry 113 yards, 3 ints, and no TDs while taking 4 sacks and coughing up a fumble in a loss to the Panthers. Tiki on the other hand had a remarkable season, but age is a factor here. Take the example of Curtis Martin who led the league in rushing yards with 1,697 yards in 2004. Then he hit the wall. His rushing average the next season fell from 4.6 yards/carry to 3.3, and his rushing total was nearly a thousand yards less at 735. Maybe it'll happen this year, maybe it won't...but one of these days age is going to catch up with Barber, and when it does, it'll happen fast. It's probably not a good sign that he has talked about retiring after this season. Barber has said, "We'll see how my body holds up. Last year was a grind for me. Even though I played great, I battled to be healthy. We'll see what happens."
There are also a lot of egos to satisfy in that receiving corps. The offense has all the tools to produce some fireworks or to combust in an entirely different fashion. Shockey was already been swearing to the press about how Manning didn't throw him the ball before they had even played their first preseason game!
Why they're hyped: Last year the Cardinals had a blazing aerial attack but stalled in the red zone. Now they have Edge to fix that. They added Kendrick Clancy to the d-line and had what many consider a very solid draft. Oh, and people are excited about the new stadium, which actually is pretty cool.
Why they won't live up to it: Um, they're the Cardinals. Not good enough for you? Okay, while they ranked near the top in offensive yards and total defense, they ranked near the bottom on scoring and scoring defense. That tells you something is wrong. I have a feeling Edgerrin James is not going to be the solution to all their problems. The actual running backs were only part of the scoring problem last year; the offensive line and play-calling were also problematic. The only real addition to bolster the line was 2nd round pick Deuce Lutui. Turnovers were a major factor, too, because they not only ended drives for the Cardinals but handed the opposing teams quick scores, causing the Cards to throw the ball even more to catch up, taking even more risks. It's also not a coincidence that Arizona had the 5th most fumbles despite running the ball less than any other team in the league. Warner, bless his heart, simply hasn't been able to stay healthy for a full season since 2001 and truth be told hasn't been the same quarterback either. He was sacked 24 times, fumbled 9 times, and threw 9 interceptions in 10 games. Leinart may be a good investment for the future, but you can't expect too much if he has to step in this season.
The defense just doesn't make stops when it counts. While there have been a few standouts in recent years, such as Bertrand Berry, Karlos Dansby, and Adrian Wilson, there are still a lot of question marks, i.e. the rest of the linebackers and secondary. Coach Green has openly criticized Dansby, as well, recently saying, "He hasn't had a very good winter, spring, or summer, to be honest with you." There's hope with Antrell Rolle, but he's still inexperienced and coming back from a season-ending injury. Overall, the team looks a little better on paper, but I think we're going to see many of the same problems that have kept Arizona from rising out of the cellar in the past.
Why they're hyped: Ladainian Tomlinson. Antonio Gates. Shawne Merriman.
Why they won't live up to it: Even when the team has done well in the last few years, the offensive line has been inconsistent and the wide receivers underwhelming. It's a good thing Tomlinson and Gates can catch because at wide receiver you're looking at Keenan McCardell, Eric Parker, and then a bunch of unknowns. All the other wide receivers combined have 36 career receptions; by way of comparison, recently acquired TE Brandon Manumaleuna has 66. The Bolts went 9-7 behind a Pro Bowl quarterback. How do you think they're going to fare starting a quarterback who has only thrown 30 passes in the NFL? To make matters worse, Coach Schottenheimer was in favor of keeping Brees and is now being expected to win with the quarterback A.J. Smith decided they were going to keep. When the GM and Head Coach feud, the team suffers.
The defense finished respectably at 13th in total yardage, 13th in total scoring. It isn't going to be enough if the offense sputters. The front three hold the line well, allowing the outside linebackers to come off the edge to get after the quarterback and turn ball-carriers back towards the middle for the inside linebackers to handle. However, there is not a lot of depth on the defensive line. Donnie Edwards hasn't always gotten enough credit for his work as an inside linebacker, but the team has apparently been shopping him for a trade. Why would a team try to trade a defensive leader and star of the team? Well, why would a team not try to resign their Pro Bowl quarterback? Why would a team suspend Antonio Gates like they did at the beginnng of last season? It's simple A.J.-nomics. The other starting ILB, Randall Godfrey very nearly retired this offseason, but the secondary is the real problem here. The team had the best rushing defense but the 28th passing defense. The whole secondary looks suspect. San Diego's starting corners managed 1 interception each last season. The whole team managed only 10. Even if they start rookie Antonio Cromartie, there's no guarantee it'll improve the team in the short term. A poor passing defense could be particularly bad for this team, as opponents will try to rack up points early to force San Diego to abandon the run. They added nothing in free agency, they're starting a rookie QB, and they're trying to trade one of their best veterans. Make no mistake; this team is in transition.
Why they're hyped: They went 10-6 last year, which would translate into a playoff berth most years. There are several talented young players on the defense, and they just added former Pro Bowler Ty Law. The team also has several promising young defenders in the ranks, and new head coach Herman Edwards is an experienced, defense-minded coach. On the offensive side of the ball, Larry Johnson has emerged to help keep the offense rolling.
They they won't live up to it: Age is going to be a crucial factor on offense. The losses of Welbourne and Roaf at offensive tackle emphasize just how close many of these players are to retirement. Are their unexpected departures portents of things to come? The team seems to be in denial about Roaf. He reportedly told the coach weeks ago that he wasn't coming back and sent a letter of intent to team headquarters, but the team still seems to be trying to get him back. Team veterans have been trying to call, but he has quit answering the phone. The Kansas City Star cites one of the players as saying, "I left him a five-minute message just trying to tell him how Herm [Edwards] does things and how cool practices are." That's the sound of desperation. Trent Green has been very successful with Dick Vermeil, but can he thrive under a new system? Is he going to be able to handle playing behind a line that will be starting two tackles that were intended to be backups? He is already being encouraged to play more conservatively and not throw downfield so often (even though he has thrown 13 or less ints in 3 of the last 4 seasons). Can the team continue to get by with Eddie Kennison and Samie Parker at receiver? New head coach Herm Edwards is not known for his offensive prowess. While Mike Solari has coached the offensive line in KC for a long time, this will be his first year at the coordinator level.
The Chiefs had the 25th ranked defense in yardage and 30th in passing defense. They also finished 27th in sacks. Jared Allen had 11 sacks, but the rest of the line was lackluster...and that's being generous. I'm not optimistic that Tamba Hali is going to fix the pass rush. At linebacker, Kawika Mitchell and Derrick Johnson put up good numbers, but Kendrell Bell sure didn't play up to expectations (41 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 0 ints, 0 pds). The team needs more of a pass rush and more solid play from the defensive backs. True, they signed Ty Law, but he's 32. It is unlikely that he will be able to repeat his 10 ints from 2005, and the recent emphasis on contact with receivers limits his preferred style. Rookie Bernard Pollard might beat out Sammy Knight for a starting safety position, All signs seem to favor a new emphasis on power running and defense, as opposed to the Chiefs of the last few years that have often won shootouts through the air, but if the defense doesn't improve dramatically this could be a recipe for disaster.
Why they're hyped: Carolina always seems to be a contender. Rucker and Peppers are dangerous off the edge, and Kemoeatu will pair with Kris Jenkins at DT to give them an intimidating front four. Plus, they've got Dan Morgan. Delhomme gets the job done, Steve Smith puts up crazy numbers at receiver, and they brought in Keyshawn for the other side. They also got a new back, DeAngelo Williams, in the first round of the draft.
Why they won't live up to it: Attrition! There are at least 2-3 positions on the 2006 defense that will be manned by players that were backups in 2005. They lost two out of three starting linebackers. The team added Ni'al Diggs and Keith Adams, and maybe one of them will be good enough to win the WLB spot. Thomas Davis is being asked to move from safety to SLB and may start, but that's obviously not an ideal situation...especially since the Panthers also lost both the starter at free safety and his primary backup. Mike Minter will move over to FS. He hasn't missed a game since 1998, but he has only intercepted 1 pass in the last 2 years and recorded approximately 20 less tackles last season than any other full season in his career. At age 32, there is reason to think he's slowing down. The presumed starter at SS is Shaun Williams, who has ended each of the last three years on injured reserve for the Giants. Part of the appeal in signing for Carolina was the chance to compete for a starting position, which he would not have gotten in New York. Ricky Manning, Jr. is gone from the secondary as well. He will be replaced at nickelback by Reggie Howard, who has also intercepted only 1 pass in the last 2 years (compared to Manning's 6 in the same number of games). At least Chris Gamble and former Seahawk Ken Lucas are decent corners. Even that dominating line has its question marks. Kris Jenkins was a top DT a couple years ago but has missed 27 of the team's last 32 games. So staying healthy is a concern, but so is his physical condition following so much downtime; at New Year's he reportedly tipped the scales at 405 lbs. He's trying to get down to 350 by the start of the season. Kemoeatu has some big shoes to fill following Buckner's departure. He may have the talent, but it is doubtful he will provide the same leadership qualities.
Deshaun Foster is a capable back, but the loss of Stephen Davis is still going to hurt, especially on short yardage. Rookie Deangelo Williams is a talented back, but will he make an immediate impact? Also, I would be remiss if I didn't point out Delhomme's tendency to lock on to one receiver. Surprisingly, it has worked so far. Muhsin Muhammad led the league in receiving in 2004, then Steve Smith led the league in 2005. But look at the stats of the other receivers. Last year Smith had 1,563 yards. The second highest on the team was Ricky Proehl's 441 yards (an average of 27.5/game), followed by DeShaun Foster's 382. On most teams in the league, the second leading receiver is going to have at least around half as many yards as the no. 1. Remember when Steve Smith had 4 defenders covering him in the NFC Championship Game...and Delhomme tried to throw to him anyway! Now Keyshawn provides a solid second option, but that won't necessarily mean Jake will look his way. Even if we assume the offense will be fine, it would be a surprise if the defense didn't suffer a letdown after losing so many key players. I still think this team is going to win some games, but it's not the creme de la creme of the NFC that people make it out to be.
Who Else Will Underachieve?
I also expect the Raiders, Titans, Texans, *****, Jets, and most of the NFC North to struggle this year, but I don't get the impression people are expecting that much from any of those teams this season.
Why they are overlooked: A relatively quiet offseason and a boring draft with OL taken in the first two rounds. The defense is aging, and they have Chris Simms at QB.
Why they shouldn't be: They finished 2005 with the same record as Carolina but won the division on the tie breaker. That's no small feat. The offense is laden with young talent. They've got Cadillac Williams to shoulder the load, backed by the veteran Michael Pittman. Simms posted reasonable numbers as a starter and went 7-4 against pretty stout competition (including Carolina twice, Atlanta twice, Chicago, Washington, and New England). Joey Galloway had 1,287 yards last season, and Michael Clayton demonstrated the potential for that kind of season when he racked up 1,197 yards in his rookie campaign in '04.
The defense finished 1st in yards allowed and 8th in points allowed in 2005. It played the run and the pass equally well, finishing 6th in both passing and rushing defense. Simeon Rice and Anthony McFarland return to man the front line, along with Greg Spires, whose strength against the run has been invaluable, and Chris Hovan. Brooks, Quarles, and Nece round out a strong group of linebackers, although Nece is the weak link of the three. Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber provide reliable coverage at the corner spots. The only significant offseason loss was Dexter Jackson at FS. Many of those veterans on the defense are on the verge of retirement, and you can bet they're going to be motivated to go out with a bang. Over the last four years, the Buccaneers have won one less game than the Panthers and one more Super Bowl. They are the only team besides the Steelers to finish in the top 10 in total defense over the course of those same four years, but most of the time you don't hear much about the Bucs unless people are talking about how tough a division the NFC South is going to be for the Panthers or Falcons to win.
Why they are overlooked: The 2005 season was marked by uncharacteristically poor play by some of the most notable defensive players and a characteristically poor offense.
Why they shouldn't be: First of all, the defense wasn't as bad last year as you probably think. They finished 5th in total defense, 10th in scoring defense. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, et al didn't live up to the billing last year, but they should not be underestimated. The d-line saw the departure of Anthony Weaver and Maake Kemoeatu, but the team added DE Trevor Pryce, a former Pro Bowler and an important part of Denver's defensive success last season; Justin Bannan, a DT who eventually forced Sam Adams out of Buffalo's starting lineup last season; and first round DT Haloti Ngata. Pryce is probably an upgrade over Weaver, but it remains to be seen how Bannan or Ngata will work out next to Kelly Gregg in the middle of the defensive line. Whether lining up at end or OLB, Terrell Suggs and Adalius Thomas can be dangerous pass-rushers, and Dan Cody returns to the mix after suffering a season-ending injury on the first day of training camp in '05. The team has Ray Lewis back from injury in the middle, and his backup, Bart Scott, impressed in Lewis' absence. Demps' vacated spot at SS is the only glaring hole in an otherwise star-studded secondary featuring Cris McAlister, Samari Rolle, and Ed Reed.
They lost four games by a total of 11 points (and 3 of those games were against teams that went to the playoffs) largely because of quarterback errors. Enter Steve McNair. McNair may not be able to run like he used to, but he is a competent veteran QB with playoff experience and better percentages, YPA, yardage totals, and QB ratings than Boller. In fact, the last time he had a season QB rating as low as Boller's '05 rating, McNair was playing for the Tennessee Oilers. He will be reunited with Derrick Mason in Baltimore. In addition to Mason, he has Todd Heap and the up-and-coming Mark Clayton as targets. The Ravens lost Chester Taylor in free agency but brought in Mike Anderson, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in Denver last season. Don't forget, they still have Jamal Lewis, who is now two years removed from a 2,066 yard '03 campaign; he could be lethal if he returns to form. Anderson has taken reps at fullback, so the team may get both on the field on a regular basis. The line had a subpar year in '05 but returns stalwarts like Jonathan Ogden and Edwin Mulitalo. With the Steelers and Bengals in the same division, it is tempting to dismiss the Ravens, but this is a team to watch out for.
Why they are overlooked: They had a soft schedule last season, both their top quarterback and runningback have been labeled injury prone, and star receiver Jimmy Smith unexpectedly retired over the off-season.
Why they shouldn't be: The defense finished 6th in total defense and 6th in scoring defense. Even more noteworthy, they were 7th against the pass despite Donovin Darius' absence for most of the season and the lack of other recognizable names in the secondary. The secondary will benefit from the return of Darius and the addition of Brian Williams, who may be good enough to start at one of the corners. Looking at the individual player stats, you would never know how good this defense was. Marcus Stroud and John Henderson both put up their lowest sack totals since they became starters. No single member of the defense had more than 7.5 sacks, but the team as a whole finished 3rd in the league in sacks. Much like the Panthers, this defense has a dominant front four and a very good middle linebacker, but the outside linebackers are less acclaimed. Former Giant Nick Griesen comes in to fight for the spot vacated by Akin Ayodele, and third year player Daryl Smith will man the weakside.
What the offense lacks in stars it makes up for in depth. Leftwich threw 15 TDs to 5 ints last season and posted an 89.3 QB rating. Leftwich has gotten better each year but has yet to finish a season without missing any games. Fortunately, they have David Garrard backing him up, whom some would even argue should be the starter. Garrard's career QB rating is a mere 3.1 points lower. Prior to 2005, "Fragile Fred" Taylor had missed 2 games in 3 years and was finally starting to live down the nickname. Then he went and missed 6 games last season. Behind him, they have fullback Greg Jones, who has put up a few 100+ yard games in the past, along with second year player Alvin Pearman and rookie Maurice Jones-Drew, who has drawn rave reviews in camp much like Matt Jones did last season. LaBrandon Toefield also broke 100 yards in a game against Tennesse last season; he is currently fourth on the depth chart, but he is said to be looking better than ever and hopes to see time as a third down back. It is also worth mentioning that the Jags added Mike Tice as an assistant head coach. In Tice's first season in Minnesota the Vikings led the league in rushing despite not having an elite back, and they finished finished 5th in the league the following season. As far as the passing game goes, there are high expectations for Matt Jones this season. Ernest Wilford and former first round pick Reggie Williams are fighting for the other starting position. The team also added rookie Marcedes Lewis in the offseason, who will be expected to contribute from the get-go.
Re: Over/Underrated Teams in the Preseason
Very nice post GF,
The team which IMHO which may take the league by surprise this season, is the Lions.
The Lions have had the ammo on Offense for the last number of years, baring heavy injuries, Two key people being brought in this off season will make all the difference,
Kitna at QB - the guy as been around the block and knows what the score is, not the best in the league, however far from the worst, and virually an 100% upgrade on Harrington.
The 2nd - i'm so surprised that this is under the radar and not many sources have been picking this up, and to nearly all of us here this is no surprise,
MM installed as their OC, i feel no point in explaining what MM can do with the right personal, and his mouth must be watering at the aspect of working with their WR;s and Backs..
So - beware the Lions may just surprise many this year..
Re: Over/Underrated Teams in the Preseason
The Lions did cross my mind, but I think it's going to take a while for Martz to get everyone on the same page. The fact that players ratted the team out last spring for making them practice too hard just sticks in my mind. That and Martz has such an enormous playbook. Kitna said there were 240 pass plays to learn, and frankly I'm not surprised. The offense is going to have so much to take in, and the offensive line is really going to step up to hold their blocks for those deeper routes. I think there's potential there, but Martz' offensive system has got to be one of the most difficult to master in the league.
Re: Over/Underrated Teams in the PreseasonOriginally Posted by Goldenfleece