|Connelly’s Top Ten: Patriots Win By Less Than a FOOT||Panic Mode in Full Effect, Minutemen are Struggling||Patriots Survive Gritty Challenge From Jets||Smart Era Gets Off to a Good Start with Win over T’wolves|
The 2009 NFL Season starts Thursday, and everyone is excited about it. Which teams will be the heavyweights this year? Which players will be the standouts? Will all the teams with quarterback problems solve them? After both #1 seeds from the 2007 season failed to even make the playoffs in the 2008 season, anything can (and will) happen. With that in mind, here’s a look at the top ten players, teams, and events that will make a difference in 2009:
The Detroit Lions last year (0-16) were worse than the 2007 Patriots were good (16-0). With new QB Matthew Stafford and other moves before the start of the season, everyone is wondering when the Lions will win their first game this year, if at all. Their 3-1 preseason was a good start, and if all goes well, Sunday’s Week 1 match-up against the Saints could very well bode well for this aim.
Week 7 features the Buccaneers in a “home” game against the Patriots from London, England. The Bucs are usually in the playoff race, having missed out last year by half a game due to the Eagles’ tie. They will probably have a tall order to make the playoffs this year, especially since they have to face the Pats with Tom Brady at the helm. At least the home game they have to burn is against a team they will probably have a hard time winning against anyway. The Patriots, depending on Brady’s health, might have some struggles, at least for playoff seeding, and jet lag and time differences could have an effect on both teams.
Forgot sending blockers to disrupt punts and kicks; the scoreboard in the Cowboys’ new stadium has already done plenty of that in the preseason. It is higher than the minimum height set out by NFL regulations but has remained an issue to keep in mind. The new rules about it say that any kick that deflects off the scoreboard is a redo, and teams have the right to challenge if the scorers don’t notice a deflection. It will be interesting to see how it affects the teams’ morale, especially when the kicking team’s players have to run downfield again.
The Bills’ new wide receiver generates controversy and yardage wherever he goes. T.O. will certainly add some oomph to a Bills team that has struggled to be a playoff caliber contender. If he lives up to the hype and the Bills give him support, the Bills could sneak into at least a Wild Card slot.
The Colts are now without their Super Bowl-winning head coach that led them to be a dominating force against any team not based in San Diego. New head coach Jim Caldwell noticed problems in the Colts’ 1-3 preseason effort in games they would be expected to win in the regular season. With Peyton Manning still the team’s on-field general, don’t expect too much of a hiccup in this issue, though.
The Eagles are counting on Vick to be a real “killer” and propel them into the postseason with more definiteness than last season. With possibilities as a quarterback and a receiver, that could definitely be the case. The biggest obstacle will be rust that Vick will have to shake off. That mission was partially accomplished in the latter half of the preseason, but Vick is now forbidden from playing or practicing with the team until Week 3 against Kansas City in Philadelphia. Also look to see what kind of public backlash, if any, the Eagles get for Vick’s presence.
Pittsburgh has high hopes for a repeat as Super Bowl Champions, and they’re certainly a contender. They kept up their winning ways with a 3-1 preseason, including a more convincing 20-10 victory against Arizona in a Super Bowl rematch. Not a single passing touchdown materialized for the Steelers during the preseason, but they made up for it with five rushing touchdowns, in addition to one return touchdown and two touchdowns from opposing turnovers. If the Steelers rush more with Roethlisberger as their quarterback, opponents could be thrown off enough for Pittsburgh to make it deep into the playoffs. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they’re spared New England during the regular season.
The Vikings and Packers face off in Minnesota in Week 4 and in Green Bay in Week 8. Brett Favre is a legendary quarterback who will easily lead the Viking to the playoffs (provided his injured shoulder is back to 100%, which I tend to doubt after any surgery). His replacement and counterpart Aaron Rodgers is already being spoken of in all star circles in fantasy football and actual football; he will no doubt be looking to bounce back from last season’s disappointing 6-10 performance (and two of those wins were against the Lions, which were a given). As long as Jay Cutler and the Bears don’t make a move, we could be seeing a division deciding match-up here.
Matt Cassel was Kansas City’s hope to be more than just the team that lost to Vince Lombardi in the inaugural Super Bowl. Who even remembers their victory in Super Bowl IV, their last appearance. And did you also know that former owner Lamar Hunt coined the name “Super Bowl” after watching his daughter play with a Super Ball? It beats the original name of “The NFL-AFL World Championship Game” doesn’t it? If the Chiefs are covering up an injury to Cassel’s leg that is more serious than we all believe, this is still all we’ll have to talk about regarding the Chiefs.
Tommy Boy is back, and this time he’s not being played by Chris Farley. If Brady stays healthy, look out NFL. If he doesn’t, New England has only Brian Hoyer to replace him thanks to recent roster adjustments. At least Hoyer was impressive against the Giants, just in case. Of course, of more immediate concern is Brady’s shoulder. He didn’t play one second against New York, and hopefully it was just so he could rest his shoulder during a meaningless game. If his performance is lessened because of his shoulder or he is once more taken out of action, we may have to hope 11-5 is good enough for the playoffs this time around.
Chad Ochocinco as a kicker was entertaining and even effective, but don’t expect much to come of it.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Chad Ochocinco, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, London, Matt Cassel, Michael Vick, Minnesota Vikings, Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Terrell Owens, Tom Brady