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The John Report: 2009 NFL Season Preview
by John Canton (NFL)
Posted on September 7, 2009, 6:12 PM

I love the NFL. I have been following the league for well over twenty years with my first Super Bowl memory being the Bears destroying the Patriots when I was just five years old. I don't know what it was that drew me to it, but I absolutely loved it. These days it feels more like an obsession. My TV is on NFL Network all the time all year long. I watch everything from the draft combine to the draft itself, then all the talk in the offseason and even most of the preseason games (at least the first half). On Sundays during the season I am entrenched in front of my 40 inch HDTV with all my various bets laid out on the table in front of me while my brother and I (and whoever decides to stop by) flip from game to game thanks to the best $120 I spend every year on the NFL Sunday Ticket package. Nothing beats Sunday football for me.

There a lot of trends that people can talk about with regards to how the season will go. The one that jumps out at the most is the fact that an average of five new teams have made the playoffs every year for the past nine seasons. Everywhere you look you can find previews written by people who follow the NFL religiously, yet they seem to pick the ten of twelve teams to return, if not more. This number is glaring to me, but then when I went through my picks I found that I had picked five new playoff teams. It wasn't intentional. It just kind of happened. In fact, two of those teams that missed the postseason last year are my picks for the Super Bowl. That's just how the NFL is. Everybody has a chance. That's what makes it so great.

Before I start, I'll make some personal notes to catch you up since I'm assuming most reading this don't know my background as a fan. My favorite team since I was about five years old was the Los Angeles Rams, who are now obviously in St. Louis. Despite the fact that I live in southern Ontario I was never attracted to the Lions or Bills. The Rams were my team because my eldest cousin liked them, plus Eric Dickerson was so cool to watch with that Jeri curl flying in the air. He got traded to Indianapolis in 1987, but by that point I had liked the team. I stuck with them through the brutal 1990s and it paid off when they won Super Bowl 34. I'm still bitter about losing Super Bowl 36 (hey Martz, run the damn ball against a dime defense!) and the rest of this decade has pretty much sucked. Now I have some hope with Steve Spagnuolo coaching, but it's going to take a year or two to get rid of some of the bad players. Let's just say that I'm optimistic although moreso in the next two or three years rather than this year.

For this preview I'll run down every division with some brief comments on every team and then a breakdown on how I see the playoffs going in each conference. I don't think I or anybody could nail all twelve teams plus the Super Bowl matchup, but I can do my best to give informed opinions and roll with my gut instinct when necessary. If you need even more proof of my "expertise" just look at my 2006 Preview. I picked the Giants over the Pats. One year early. That should be worth something, shouldn't it? No? Okay, let's get to this preview.

American Football Conference


EAST
New England 14-2 (1) - From no playoffs last year due to Brady's injury to dominance again. Their offense will be the talk of the league again. Running the ball doesn't matter when you can throw the ball around the field better than anybody in the history of the league.

Miami 8-8 - A solid defensive front will keep them in the playoff hunt. I'm interested in seeing what wrinkles they add to the Wildcat because imitators can't touch the originators. The tougher schedule this year will keep them out of the playoffs, though.

NY Jets 8-8 - I like what I've seen from Sanchez. He's a smart QB with a lot of veterans surrounding him on offense. The personnel they have on defense is very good, so Rex Ryan coaching them is going to see an increase in toughness. It's a tough conference, so I think they miss out on the playoffs.

Buffalo 6-10 - Offensively they should be fine with lots of weapons to go to even though I see Terrell Owens throwing his usual hissy fit by week three. Defensively I think they will get eaten alive without much talent in their front seven. I think Dick Jauron's getting fired maybe during the season.

NORTH
Pittsburgh 12-4 (2) - They're still the best defensive team in football with an evolving offense. I think Roethlisberger will be close to the guy that threw for over 30 TDs two years ago because of the soft schedule. Plus, I think the confidence of that offense is on a high after last year.

Baltimore 9-7 (6) - They were fairly healthy last year, so I think they overachieved a bit. Still a playoff team with a great defense and a running philosophy. I just think they're less dangerous this season.

Cincinnati 6-10 - The offense should be better with Palmer healthy and Ochocinco being less of a douchebag this year. Defensively they still have too many problems.

Cleveland 4-12 - Rebuilding again. Weren't they the emerging team that everybody picked last year? Not anymore.

SOUTH
Indianapolis 11-5 (4) - Solid as always. I think they pull out the division again because Peyton Manning makes everybody around him better. They're just not built for a title run again due to those defensive questions that always surround them.

Houston 10-6 (5) - Finally. This is their year to get in. They'll be dangerous offensively as long as Matt Schaub stays upright and I like the defense carried by Mario Williams and Demeco Ryans. It's time for them to win the close ones to get over the hump.

Tennessee 9-7 - Much like Baltimore they were healthy all over the place. That's considered luck in the NFL. I like the running game a lot especially when Chris Johnson has the ball, but they'll miss Haynesworth plugging the holes on D.

Jacksonville 6-10 - The once tough defense is now pretty soft. I'm surprised Del Rio wasn't fired this past offseason. I don't see him lasting another year.

WEST
San Diego 11-5 (3) - They're loaded on both sides of the ball. They get to play three easy teams twice each, yet they will still lose two or three games they should win because Norv Turner's bad at making decisions. It's hard to not like them to win this division, though.

Kansas City 6-10 - In any other division they would win four maybe. They get the benefit of beating Oakland and Denver, who are even worse than they are. I think Cassel will do fine for them with Bowe as a legit #1 WR, but they obviously need help in a lot of places.

Oakland 4-12 - Jamarcus Russell has to show that he's a quality NFL QB. I don't think he is. The entire organization appears to be a mess. I don't see many reasons for them to turn it around all of a sudden.

Denver 3-13 - Wow, Josh McDaniels has sure screwed things up nicely here, huh? Traded away the franchise QB, then pissed off the top WR. Have fun losing this year.

PLAYOFFS
Chargers over Ravens
Colts over Texans

Patriots over Colts
Steelers over Chargers

Patriots over Steelers

The AFC is dominated by two teams, I think. I know the Pats haven't won the Super Bowl in five years now, but they still have the best coach, the best QB and the best offense in the league. I think defensively they'll be good enough to make it back to the top of the mountain. If the Pats and Steelers are healthy they're making a deep run. I can see the Chargers or Colts beating either of them in a playoff game, but I don't see somebody other the Pats or Steelers emerging from the always tough AFC

NFC


EAST
Philadelphia 12-4 (1) –They have depth all over the place on offense and the defense should be solid, if not spectacular, as usual. There will be a McNabb/Vick issue at one point because it's McNabb. There's always something.

NY Giants 9-7 – They'll miss Plaxico Burress more than they let on. The players are still there on defense to carry them along with Brandon Jacobs running the ball, but I don't have much faith in the passing game. The WRs aren't good enough, neither is the overpaid QB.

Dallas 7-9 – I think one of two things will happen to the Cowboys. Either they revert back to the dominant team they were in the regular season two years ago or they quit on the coach they stopped listening to. I think they quit on Phillips with Mike Shanahan coming in as the savior coach in 2010.

Washington 6-10 – I'm not crazy about the Haynesworth. It's a lot of money for somebody that had coincidentally had his career year in a contract year. Campbell's too inconsistent at QB and the offense doesn’t spread the field or throw downfield enough. Just average like usual.

NORTH
Minnesota 11-5 (3) – They're built to be a very good regular season. They have the best RB in the league in Adrian Peterson, they have a great OL, the DL can shut down the run and now they have a quarterback that can manage the game better than what they had last year. Are they built for a playoff run? I'm not as sure.

Green Bay 10-6 (5) – Love the offense. Rodgers is the real deal, Grant finished last year great and the WRs make an above average unit. The question is the defense. They lost a lot of close games last year. Can the new 3-4 defense installed by defensive guru Dom Capers be enough to get them back into the playoffs? The personnel is there, so I say yes.

Chicago 8-8 – The addition of Jay Cutler was obviously the biggest move of the offseason. I love it for them. The issue I have is the targets he has to throw to. I don't think they're good enough to scare defenses. Defensively they're not at the level they were three years ago. They are definitely on the right track for the future, though, now that they've got a QB to build around.

Detroit 3-13 – You know that Calvin Johnson guy? He's awesome. The rest of the team? Not so much. They're not going to be a quick turnaround like the Dolphins were from a 1 win team to a 11 win team. There just isn't a lot of talent here. The division is tougher, so wins will be hard to come by again. I do think they'll have more toughness than last year at least.

SOUTH
New Orleans 11-5 (2) – I've always thought of Drew Brees as a very good QB. Last year was the first time I saw him as elite. He makes everybody around him better. Can the defense stop teams enough for them to get wins? I think so. The last place finish is going to help them immensely and since the whole "last place to first place" theme seems to be popular in this division I'm going to run with it again.

Atlanta 10-6 (6) – Everybody's on their nuts and it's deserved. They have a great RB in Turner, a promising young QB to WR combo with Ryan to White and now they've added veteran leadership in a HOF TE like Tony Gonzalez. The thing is once you've become a playoff team you're targeted. I still like them to get into the playoffs, but they need something more on defense to be a Super Bowl team. Maybe in 2010 they'll be there.

Carolina 8-8 – The Panthers are the most consistent hot and cold team in the NFL. Yes, that's my way of saying they're inconsistent. One year they are Super Bowl threats, and then the next year it's a letdown. I smell a letdown here. Delhomme was very shaky last year, yet they were able to be carried by the RBs. I think the defense isn't as dominant as it was (Peppers isn't happy) and that's going to hurt them in a division with two really good offenses.

Tampa Bay 4-12 – I look at this team and I think they're not going to win a lot of games. I mean, how can they? Their offense is below average across the board and the defense has lost the luster that it once had. Let's just say I won't be flipping to Bucs games too much if I want something exciting to watch. I think four wins might be generous.

WEST
Seattle 9-7 (4) – This is pretty random, I know. It's important to note that they had more injuries to key players than any other team last year. That's just random bad luck that happens in the NFL all the time. They do have some talent on both sides of the ball. I like the Housh signing at WR to give Hasselbeck a reliable target that he's never really had and their front seven on defense should be very good. The secondary is a question mark, though. Still, they probably have enough to win this weak division.

Arizona 8-8 – I know the Super Bowl run was great, but what about how awful they looked in December? That makes me think they're going to come into the season too cocky. Teams will surprise them and they will lose games they should win. Is it a coincidence that 5 of the last 6 Super Bowl losers missed the playoffs the next year? I don't think so. It's a trend. On paper they should make the playoffs. In reality they won't. Why? Who knows why? All you can do is shrug your shoulders and say that's what happens in the NFL.

St. Louis 7-9 – My boys. You know, I've changed my mind on how the Rams are going to be this year. Sometimes I think the Rams can be like the Falcons were last year by surprising everybody in the league thanks to a new coach with a new philosophy. Then I looked over the roster a few times and though, "nah, not yet." I do love Steven Jackson, but I think the offense needs more vets at WR while defensively the DL could be disastrous. Still, after a combined five wins the last two years I'd be happy with seven this year.

San Francisco 5-11 – They'll play hard for coach Mike "the pants dropper" Singletary, but do they have enough talent to get wins? I'm not sure. I like Gore a lot, but the rest of the offense is a big question mark. Defensively Patrick Willis might be the best MLB in football even though people don't generally know about him yet. That's what winning does. Not this year, though.

PLAYOFFS
Green Bay over Seattle
Minnesota over Atlanta

Green Bay over Philadelphia
New Orleans over Minnesota

Green Bay over New Orleans

The last two years the NFC has showed that all you have to do is get in. Home field doesn't really matter. Experience doesn't really matter. It's all about momentum. You don't even really need momentum. The Cards last year were brutal in December, losing 3 of 4, but they somehow pulled off a Super Bowl run. I think defense does generally win championships. However, in this case the offenses of the Packers and Saints will be enough to get them to the NFC title game. In the end, I like the Packers defense just a little bit more.

SUPER BOWL
New England Patriots over Green Bay Packers

I know, I know. I'm a loser for picking the favorite. I can't help it. I look at that team and I think it's going to be very difficult to stop them enough to beat them. Throw in the fact that they're still pissed about the Super Bowl loss against the Giants and I think they'll be even more relentless this season. They're the class of the league again, at least to me.

AWARDS AND OTHER PREDICTIONS
MVP - Tom Brady (Runner up: Adrian Peterson)
Defensive Player – Mario Williams
Coach - Sean Payton
Passing Yards - Drew Brees
Passer Rating - Tom Brady
Rushing Yards - Adrian Peterson
Receiving Yards - Andre Johnson
Sacks - Mario Williams
Interceptions - Eric Weddle
Coaches fired - Dick Jauron, Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, Wade Phillips (replaced by Mike Shanahan) and Jim Zorn (replaced by Bill Cowher)
Players arrested – 6. Most of them get arrested when it's the offseason and there's nothing for them to do.

On that note, I'm done here. Thanks for reading and be sure to visit us here at the Sports Oratory throughout the season for weekly NFL picks every Thursday (if there's a Thursday game) or Friday (when there's no Thursday game) along with three other hardcore NFL fans that are friends of mine.

The NFL season is here. Finally. I'm ready. Are you?

John Canton
oratoryjohn@gmail.com
Add me on Facebook at Facebook.com/thejohnreport and Twitter at Twitter.com/johnreport
AOLIM: OratorJC





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