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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My top 10 bold predictions for 2009 NFL season

It is officially summer, which means we're just a month away from the start of NFL training camps. Today's top 10 Tuesday will feature my bold predictions for the 2009 season. It is a bold move in itself to make a list regarding a season that hasn't even happened yet. Most of my lists tend to lament on seasons past. It's not lost on me that I may get every one of these predictions wrong and look like a complete moron at the end of next season. But, it will also be pretty fun to watch the season unfold while looking back at this list. And so, here it is:

10) The Detroit Lions will win at least 4 games (including a road win).

Predicting a team to win at least four games does not come across as very bold. But, the Lions lost every game last season; an NFL first in a 16-game regular season. They also have a pretty lousy history on the road. At the end of the 2003 season, the Lions became the only team in NFL history to lose every road game for three consecutive seasons. And, with the infamous 0-16 season, they lost every road game for the 4th time in eight years.

So, why am I predicting that the Lions will win a few. Well, in firing long time embattled GM Matt Millen, William Clay Ford Sr. (and Jr.) showed the fans signs of life in the front office. They also wasted no time in firing coach Rod Marinelli at the end of last season. His record with the Lions was 10-38. New coach Jim Schwartz and his new staff hope to invoke a new attitude into the players. Schwartz spent 8 years as the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans.

The Lions defense placed last in the league last season, giving up 517 points. With a proven defensive minded coach, a veteran quarterback in Daunte Culpepper, and a decent linebacker corp with Julian Peterson, Ernie Sims, and Larry Foote joining in from Pittsburgh, the Lions should steal a few games and get tougher on the road.

9) Pittsburgh will not win a back-to-back championship

This prediction has a little to do with the Pittsburgh Steelers and a lot to do with the current state of the NFL. Its all about the parity of the league; the notion that with salary cap regulations, free agency, and quality of draft class, any team has a shot at making the post season. Once teams are in the playoffs, any team, regardless of its history, has a chance to win the Super Bowl. There are 32 teams in the league and of those 27 have made it to the playoffs in the last 5 years. With Pittsburgh winning two Super Bowls in the past 4 seasons, the odds are not in their favor to win another one this season.

Of course, the New England Patriots throw a wrench into that argument. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls starting with the 2001 season, including a back-to-back Championship in 2003 and 2004. However, even the Patriots' success is a testament to the parity of the league. Their back-to-back championship was the first since 1998. Also, the Patriots have not won a Super Bowl since they repeated in 2004 and it's not for lack of effort. They were the first team to win all 16 regular season games in 2007, only to lose in the Super Bowl.

8) San Francisco 49ers will make the playoffs (and win the NFC West)

Okay, so stop laughing. I know this prediction may be a stretch for most of you. But, I would advise you to read the #7 prediction again and then seriously think about the 49ers. Last season, the 49ers came in second in the NFC West division. Known as one of the weakest divisions in the league, the NFC West was not a division full of the stiffest competition. So, coming in second shouldn't make a strong argument for the 9ers to make the playoffs. Except for the fact that last year's Super Bowl contender for the Steelers was the Arizona Cardinals; winners of the NFC West division.

Arizona shocked the world by making the Super Bowl and narrowly losing to the eventual champion Steelers. First of all, they finished the season 9-7; barely beating San Francisco in their two match ups. Secondly, when they played other east coast NFL teams, the Cardinals were trounced. But the Cardinals came alive in the post season and the team fought valiantly in the Super Bowl.

Why do I think the 49ers can win the NFC West and make it to the playoffs? The parity of the league would dictate that they are simply due. Out of the 27 teams who made the playoffs in the past 5 years, the 49ers were not one of them. Also, they are on a roll. With new Coach Mike Singletary at the helm, the 49ers finished the season 5-4. With the happy surprise of drafting wide receiver Michael Crabtree, the return of Issac Bruce, and a healthy Frank Gore, the 49ers could very well make a play for the NFC West. They are the toughest divisional competitors for the Arizona Cardinals. Lastly, with my beloved NFL Sunday Ticket being a casualty of the economy, I will not watch every 49er game as I've done for the past 8 seasons. Which means, of course, they will make the playoffs.

7) Terrell Owens will return to the Pro Bowl

Terrell Owens, a.k.a. T.O., is a sensational wide receiver. He has made the Pro Bowl 6 times, holds the record for most catches in a game (20), and is 2nd all-time in receiving touchdowns (behind Jerry Rice). He is the only player in NFL history with 6 catches and a touchdown in seven consecutive games. Of course, all of that gets lost in his antics. With T.O. comes controversy.

Fans, players, and analyst best remember T.O. for his falling out with teammates and subsequent circus environments caused by his departure. He butted heads with the quarterback from his first team, Jeff Garcia. He would then attempt to publicly humiliate Garcia by questioning his sexuality. He then moved on to the Eagles, where he butted heads with quarterback Donovan McNabb. He would then attempt to publicly humiliate McNabb by insinuating that McNabb "got tired in the Super Bowl". He moved on to Dallas, where yet again he butted heads with his quarterback, Tony Romo. This time, it would seem as though T.O. faced a bit of public humiliation; his release from the Cowboys blindsided him. Now, he's on to Buffalo.

Although T.O. usually does enough to run himself out of town, he also produces big numbers; especially when he has something to prove with a new team. During his first season with the Eagles, T.O. averaged a touchdown per game and the team won 13 of their first 14 games. Although he would suffer a severe injury toward the end of the season, T.O. would start in the Super Bowl and make 9 catches for 122 yards. Although he had a rocky start with the Cowboys, T.O. was back into the Pro Bowl by the second season.

In Buffalo, T.O. will have an emerging quarterback in Trent Edwards. Edwards was the person that first mentioned signing Owens after his release from the Cowboys. Also, T.O. will have competition on the opposite side in wide receiver Lee Evans. Evans is making his name known around the NFL by setting team records for most receiving yards in a quarter (205) and most receiving yards in a game (265). Most fans and skeptics will count T.O. out this season. That notion coupled with the fact that he has something to prove, will motivate Owens on the field. He will have big numbers this year.

6) Tom Brady will return in top form and make a deep run in the playoffs.

With three Super Bowl rings and two Super Bowl MVP trophies by the age of 31, Tom Brady was beginning to look like Superman. But, during the first game of the 2008 season, Brady would prove to be human. He severely injured his left knee in the first quarter, which required surgery. He would be placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. The surgery came with complications. In fact, Brady underwent 4 surgeries total; two to repair the injury and two more due to infection.

If you know anything about Superman, you know that he always makes a triumphant return after his darkest trials. As of today, the Patriots report Brady as being ahead of schedule in recuperating from his knee injury. During off-season training activities (OTAs), the Patriots even let Brady make throws in the rain; putting his surgically repaired knee to the ultimate test of running on a wet surface. By all accounts, Tom Brady is listed as "probable" for the start of the season. I expect that he will return to top form and the 2007 undefeated team (well, if you don't count the Super Bowl) will have most if its players returning for another run at a Championship.

5) Tie: Anquan Boldin will remain a Cardinal & Braylon Edwards will remain a Brown

After the 2008 season, Anquan Boldin requested a trade from the Cardinals. His request came after another 1,000 yard season and after his counterpart wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald signed a 4-year $40 million contract with the team. Feeling dejected and missing his home state of Florida, Boldin just wanted to cut ties with the team. The only problem was that no team wanted give in to Arizona's compensation demands.

With the recession, all teams are re-thinking big free agent signings. And, because of his production, Boldin will be expensive. A deal would have to include 1st or 2nd round draft picks in next year's draft at the very least. All signs indicate that Boldin will remain a Cardinal in 2009. However, he's missed enough voluntary workouts to leave things questionable.

Braylon Edwards led the league in dropped passes last season. That little stat has kept his status in limbo most of the off season. With trade rumors running rampant since the draft, Edwards' future with the Browns had been unclear and no team seemed too eager to engage the Browns in a trade deal. But, with this being a contract year for Braylon, the Browns believe that the wide receiver will start making the catches. I expect him to be a Brown next season and a fantasy sleeper pick.

4) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will start strong, lose a few, then finish well enough to make the playoffs.

After losing 4 straight at the end last season and subsequently missing the playoffs, the front office of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made drastic changes. They fired long-time coach Jon Gruden and hired young, first time head coach Raheem Morris. At just 32 years old, Morris has fans and analysts buzzing about his enthusiasm, energy, and leadership. Seen as a guy that can relate to today's NFL player, Morris has brought NFL experience to the table. Yet, the hire was seen as a bit of a leap for Morris, who was just named the successor to defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin before Gruden was fired.

Since becoming head coach, Morris has made a few key moves to the roster. Kellen Winslow II from the Cleveland Browns was added at tight end. Winslow has had his share of controversy, but he is also one of the better tight ends in the league. The team also signed former Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich and drafted young quarterback Josh Freeman out of Kansas State. Those guys will compete with veteran Brian Griese for the starting spot.

With a new coach and a bad finish last season, many teams will over look the Buccaneers at the beginning of the season. They will have a fast start; 4-1 or even 5-0. Teams will catch up to them and they will have a short losing streak before earning a berth in the post season.

3) Michael Vick will not play in the 2009 season

Micheal Vick's prison sentence for crimes involving a dog fighting ring will expire on July 20, 2009. After that, it will be up to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell whether or not Vick plays this season or any season for that matter. In my opinion, the 2009 season will be too soon for Vick to return to the NFL. While he plead guilty and served out his sentence without incident, there are a lot of angry fans and protesters with the details of the gruesome crimes against dogs still fresh in their minds.

Vick may get another chance to play in the league. But, Goodell is known for his toughness on players who get into trouble with the law. The most recent case being Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth who plead guilty to DUI manslaughter charges. Just 2 days after the story hit the papers, Goodell suspended Stallworth from the league indefinitely. Goodell takes a hard stance with players and it is welcomed by fans and the media. Pressure from animal rights activist and animal loving NFL fans will keep Goodell from reinstating Vick this season.

2) The Chicago Bears will win the NFC North

Many people forget that the Bears were in the Super Bowl just a few seasons ago (2006). They also won the NFC North division in 2005 and 2006. That success was mostly due to the strength of their defense and special teams. The offense, especially at the quarterback position, was consistently inconsistent; both Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton showed potential, but neither made it to the Pro Bowl. The Bears made big news this off season by pulling of trade of the year and acquiring Denver Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler.

With solid play at the quarterback position, stellar defensive play, and the return of the consummate return man in Devin Hester, the team will make a playoff run in this coming season. Their biggest threat will be the defending NFC North champions, the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings have the best running back in the league in Adrian Peterson and their defense led the league in rushing yards allowed. Those two attributes led them to a 10-6 finish in 2008. Speaking of the Vikings.....

1) Brett Favre will attempt a comeback with the Minnesota Vikings in 2009

This prediction may not be as bold as I hoped. As I'm posting this article, the word on the street is that Favre is attending Vikings training camp next month. The rumor mill is again spinning wild with Favre and his impending return to the field. It didn't help matters when Brett appeared on the "Joe Buck Live" show on HBO Monday night. He went into detail about the Vikings offense and how its terminology was extremely familiar to him. He also acknowledged that the Vikings are the only team he's had any contact with in relation to his return to football. He also used the word "we" when discussing the team.

After having surgery on his throwing arm, Favre stated that he's rehabbing the arm and beginning to throw again. I predict that Brett Favre will find some old high school and start more rigorous workouts in preparation for training camp. I do see him playing for the Vikings in 2009, but I see Cutler having a bigger impact on the Bears than Favre will have on the Vikings.

Well, have your comments and debates all lined up for me because I know they're coming. That's the beauty of blogging. You don't have to be right necessarily, but you do have to be willing to speak your mind. I hope you take all of these predictions with a grain of salt and cut me a little slack if I miss a few this upcoming season. It is the NFL after all. No one ever knows what will happen.

photo credit: photo by GMO66 via Flickr