With the NFL season just days away, our fearless CBCSports.ca writers debate Green Bay’s chances of repeating, Philadelphia’s "Dream Team" label, plus the best worst-to-first candidates.
No team made a bigger splash in free agency than the Philadelphia Eagles. In fact, backup quarterback Vince Young went as far as to call this squad the "Dream Team." The Eagles are no doubt going for broke this season, but will all their moves be enough to get them over top?
Tony Care: Let’s put aside the fact that Michael Vick needs to be healthy for a full season if the Eagles are to even think about a Super Bowl title. I love the upgrades of CBs Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but that pass rush needs to be better this year. And the offensive line scares me after watching Cleveland’s front manhandle the Eagles’ unit to get clean shots on Vick in the pre-season. Philly will win the NFC East but won’t win it all.
Jesse Campigotto: Interesting you'd mention Vince Young, because his acquisition could be more significant than anyone realizes. The Nnamdi Asomugha signing received all the attention (and with good reason – he's one of the two best cornerbacks in football) but Young may end up saving the Eagles' bacon. Michael Vick, partly because of his refusal to slide at the end of his rushes, can be injury prone and rarely plays a full season. Throwing out his rookie year, in which he didn't start right away, and his 2009 season, when he was Philly's backup, Vick has sat out an average of almost three games per season. Having Young, who plays a similar style, waiting in the wings gives the Eagles a chance to stay afloat in the likely scenario that Vick misses some time due to injury.
Jason Davidson: Anything less than at least an NFC championship will more than likely be considered a failure by Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. There is little doubt that expectations in the city of Brotherly Love are huge and this is one fan base you don't want to disappoint. Can Michael Vick continue the rejuvenation of his NFL career after inking a huge six-year, $100-million US pact during the off-season. If he falters or gets hurt, can Vince Young step in and be a No. 1 guy at quarterback? The running and receiving corps is solid so I can only imagine there will be success in those departments. Defensively, the Eagles made another splash, signing defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins away from the Green Bay Packers, with a five-year, $25 million contract. Pro-bowl cornerback Asante Samuel heads up a strong secondary. He'll have to be at his best if Philly is to get over that hump. Toughest NFC competition will come from the Packers and the Atlanta Falcons.
Chris Iorfida: The moves were quite good. Ronnie Brown is only 29, and is a great option to run or catch. He probably would have hauled in 50-ish passes out of the backfield if Ricky wasn't around in Miami. Steve Smith is a no-risk addition at receiver. Nnamdi Asomugha helps lock down things for a secondary that ranked third in interceptions without him.
But it's a pretty young group overall, and every once in awhile one of their players says or does something that makes you question whether they have that championship maturity. While it's great the secondary might lock things down, opponents might be able to dink and dunk underneath with short passes or pound on the ground against a defensive front seven that will be the Eagles' group that is most under the gun. Finally, there's Vick. The next time he puts together back-to-back great seasons will be the first time, so he's on the spot, too. If Vick's style leads to a big injury, you face the uncertainty that is Vince Young. Although it might also mean a backup role for one of my favourite football names of recent years, Mike Kafka.
The NFL hasn’t had a repeat Super Bowl winner since the New England Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005. Considering the Green Bay Packers will get back key players that weren’t part of their Super Bowl run last year, are we going to see a repeat champion this season?
Chris Iorfida: We haven't had a championship team deal with a lockout in a couple of decades. On the one hand, the Packers had more down time in which theoretically some players could have developed bad habits. Of course, they won't be overrun physically from heading to the so-called "voluntary" workouts just three months after championship. They'll have a shot at a repeat because I believe they'll make the playoffs, but I don't think they'll be the favoured team going in.
While they are getting guys like Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant back, the running game is still a question mark in my mind. They threw nearly 50 times in the first pre-season game, for crying out loud! People forget that this team split its last six games in 2010 (yes, I know they had a pile of injuries and nearly beat N.E. with Matt Flynn during that time). And then there was that "wild" card game. They fumbled the ball four times. James Starks appeared out of nowhere. Philly missed two field goals and committed two turnovers. They're a really strong team but there's still a few warts there. So, no from me.
Jason Davidson: The Green Bay Packers have a tremendous chance of repeating as Super Bowl champions this year. For a team to overcome so much adversity last season with regards to injuries and having to win three games on the road to make it to the big game. The Pack are much more dangerous with a healthy lineup. Ryan Grant can put up impressive numbers with the ground game and Aaron Rodgers, now amongst the league's elite at pivot, has no shortage of reliable targets, namely Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Jermichael Finley. Defensively, the depth at the linebacker position is impressive with the likes of Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk, while the secondary ranks with the best in the league, led by veteran Charles Woodson.
Jesse Campigotto: I wouldn't bet on it. Aaron Rodgers is terrific, the offence is scary, and the defence is solid, but there are just so many things that can go wrong in the NFL. Everyone remembers Green Bay's dominant run through the playoffs because that's what happened most recently, but the Packers only went 10-6 in the regular season and needed the wild card to make the playoffs. Sure, they were unlucky to lose some tight games and they were certainly a better team than their record indicated, but that's sort of the point, isn't it? Luck plays such a big role in the NFL that putting your money on a repeat champion just doesn't seem like a good idea. Having said that, I expect the Packers to be a very good team for the third straight year.
Tony Care: I believe we’ll have a repeat winner. There is no way Green Bay is going to suffer that many injuries this time and Aaron Rodgers is on the verge of becoming the best player in the NFL. What has to be scary for the rest of the NFL is that the Packers are a better team this year and they didn’t have to make a splash in free agency to improve. Let me throw out another name for you: rookie RB Alex Green. He could be this year’s James Starks.
There is no other sports league in North America that produces so many worst-to-first teams on a regular basis. Of the teams that finished last a season ago, which club has the best chance of winning its division this year?
Jesse Campigotto: Probably Arizona. A 7-9 record won the NFC West in 2010, so the Cards (5-11 last year) may not need more than a three-game improvement to go from worst to first. I'm not buying the hype on Kevin Kolb, who's thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his career, but an upgrade to even a serviceable quarterback from the journeymen Arizona ran out there last year could be enough to beat the underwhelming Seahawks, 49ers and Rams.
Chris Iorfida: A lot of people will probably pick Minnesota because they have talent, a tough-minded coach and no more Favre headaches. But I think it will be either Washington or Tennessee. The Redskins have played some sound football in the pre-season and people forget they were 5-5 last year despite all their issues. But I'd pick the Titans just because the AFC South is so up in the air with Peyton Manning's injury. I do worry about Chris Johnson's lack of touches, but Javon Ringer averaged 4.7 behind that line. They're hard-nosed, won't be as bad offensively as the second half of last year (13 PPG), plus I think a change in culture will do them good.
Tony Care: Arizona looks like the best for me for two reasons: The NFC West is still lousy and the acquisition of Kevin Kolb at least gives the Cardinals a fighting chance against the Rams, Seahawks and 49ers. Although, I’m with Jesse with the Kolb criticisim. The one player to watch is running back Beanie Wells, who has been a big disappointment after two forgettable years. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt really likes the way Wells ran in the pre-season, which could be great news for wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Jason Davidson: I'm going to have to go ahead and say the Arizona Cardinals. Yes, they were a weak team in 2010, bringing up the rear in the NFC West with a 5-11 record but remember, they also play in the weakest division in football. Although I picked the St. Louis Rams to win the NFC West crown in 2011, the Cards have the best chance of challenging for the title especially with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks most likely to endure difficult seasons. In either case, an 8-8 record just may be good enough in order to host a playoff game in January.
No one can figure out the San Diego Chargers. For all the talent this team has, it can’t seem to get off to a good start, which ultimately bites the franchise at the end of each season. The Chargers’ first five games – Minnesota, at New England, Kansas City, Miami, at Denver - are favourable. So can this team finally get it together and begin September with a run rather than wait until after the halfway point?
Jason Davidson: Ah, the San Diego Chargers. Like one of those puzzles you struggle immensely to solve, who knows what you're going to get with this team. On paper, they appear to have all the tools to come out on top in a relatively weak AFC West. Philip Rivers can get the job done at quarterback although he has yet to make the jump to the next level. The biggest issue with the 'Bolts' in recent years has been their struggles out of the gate. However, in 2011, the opening five games on their schedule should yield positive results. In all honesty, they should win four of their first five with teams like Minnesota, New England, Kansas City, Miami and Denver on the docket. Toughest challenge for the division title will come from the Chiefs as the Oakland Raiders and Broncos are still a ways from competing.
Jesse Campigotto: I feel like San Diego has the best chance to win the Super Bowl. This doesn't mean they'll actually win it, of course, but I don't see a team that faces a more favourable path. Their divisional opponents – Denver, Oakland and Kansas City, which I think is headed for a decline – are soft, and the rest of their schedule doesn't look overly daunting. If they can split their four toughest games – at New England and the Jets, home to Green Bay and Baltimore – the Chargers have a good shot to reach 12 wins, which should give them a first-round bye. Thirteen wins could give them home field throughout the AFC playoffs — a significant advantage for a warm-weather team playing January football. If that happens, Philip Rivers and his high-powered aerial attack — not to mention the underrated defence — will have the conditions they need to go all the way to Indy for Super Bowl XLVI.
Tony Care: I’m going to defer to my NFL contenders piece on this one. Special teams won’t kill the Chargers like they did last year. Offensively, San Diego is loaded and Philips Rivers gets Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates for a full season. Remember also that the Chargers had the No. 1-ranked defence from a year ago and have beefed up the unit with Bob Sanders (I know, he needs to stay healthy), linebacker Takeo Spikes and the drafting of defensive lineman Corey Liuget. I think this is finally their time to make a run.