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Football Predictions: A Second Slice
8 Predictions For 2008 If You're A Fan Of The...
New Orleans Saints
1. Tight end Jeremy Shockey plays with a chip on his shoulder. Even when there may not be a reason to have a chip there, he seems to find one, getting so agitated about rumors that he might be sold by the Giants, that the easiest way of clearing the air was for NY to do so. He averaged 60 catches a season with the Giants, so there's no reason to think he won't have a great year in this offense, especially if he's fired up.
2. Deuce McAllister is officially ahead of Reggie Bush on the depth chart, but he isn't fully back from injury.
3. Reggie Bush will make a breakthrough this season. So far, he's been looking for his natural athletic prowess to make the difference, but in the NFL, that's not enough. He's yet to break 600 yards as a rusher, but with McAllister starting the season gimpy, that may be all the leverage Bush needs to get a bigger backfield share. If not, the words 'Reggie Bust' may be intoned.
4. WR Robert Meachem ascends to Devery Henderson's start role.
5. Martin Gramatica – back as a regular, the little kicker will re–establish his career, winning a couple of big games from 40+ yards.
6. Everybody will pick the Chargers to win the game in London, so I'm going with the Saints. New Orleans must be getting pretty used to relocating, so making the trip across the pond may affect their rhythm less than San Diego. The X–factor: rain. If it's as wet as it was last year, advantage Chargers, because their running game relies more on north–south running than making cuts. But it couldn't be that wet again, surely?
7. The Saints won't escape the division, sealing it on the closing weekend when they host Carolina.
8. Getting back to the playoffs after the disappointment of last year may allow the Saints to relax. When it comes down to it, the defense will look improved, but some slip will leave them short of the big game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1. Joey Galloway will start to look old this season. He's still fast and still a deep threat, but the Buccaneers know he and Ike Hilliard are the not the shape of things to come, and they added ex–Cowboy/Brown/49er Antonio Bryant as insurance and rookie Dexter Jackson from Appalachian State. The most important of these may be Jackson, whose ability to shorten the field as a returner could be a major new weapon for the Buccs.
2. As unconvincing as the receiving corps is, Jeff Garcia is the right quarterback to get the best out of them, never throwing a difficult pass. But he's tidy at best. He will get through the season without injury, but won't top 3000 yards.
3. Ernest Graham will still be the starter in the backfield with Cadillac maybe a year away from regular contributions, but Graham's still not the exclusive back with Dunn back in town and Michael Bennett around. He will be asked to be a workhorse of the three, but he's not elite.
4. Warrick Dunn will retire at the end of the season. Now relegated to light duties, he's really here for the warm fuzzy feeling the Tampa Bay fans will offer him, and could slip to third string.
5. Aqib Talib is going to be on some highlight reels. He's also going to get beaten by some savvy veteran receivers when he goes for some big plays.
6. AFC West foes may be the undoing of Buccaneers playoff hopes. They visit Denver and Kansas City, which are hardly at their best, but are difficult venues, and have San Diego and Oakland visit at the end of the season. Oakland will be a different team by then than they are now, and may provide an upset.
7. The Buccs are another in the 9–7 mess that is the NFC.
8. Jon Gruden will survive for another season, becoming the winningest coach in Tampa Bay history along the way.
1. A lot will be made of Steve Smith and the return of Muhsin Muhammad, but the receivers to watch will be the next generation: Dwayne Jarrett. In his debut season he caught just six balls, but the former second round pick should rival no.3 DJ Hackett by the end of the season if not appearing to be Muhammad's heir apparent.
2. Jonathan Stewart won't be thrown straight into the offense when the team has DeAngelo Williams on the roster, but will likely take over before long the way Adrian Peterson did at Minnesota. Stewart may produce the most yards on the ground of any back in the NFC in the second half of the season.
3. Julius Peppers is in a contract year, and needs to play up to his reputation after a 2.5 sack season, the least impressive of his career. He will do that, or close to that with around 8.5 sacks.
4. The defensive side of the ball will slip back. Mike Rucker and Dan Morgan have left, and while what remains – Na'il Diggs, and second–year man Jon Beason – are good for tackles, they don't bring the heat. Tyler Brayton will be the other end opposite Peppers, and they'd better hope 2007 pick Charles Johnson shows something this year or Peppers could be the only thing going on from the front seven.
5. This will be the most changed team of the year, rankings–wise, but that's not necessarily all improvement. The offense was ranked 29th last season and the defense 16th; Don't be surprised if those rankings flip.
6. The Panthers won't pin three wins back–to–back–to–back all season. But they'll still be in with a chance at the end. Unhelpfully, the season ends at the Giants and at New Orleans, both of whom are unlikely to be letting up those weeks.
7. A mid–pack team, the Panthers will be a step behind the 9–7 crowd.
8. Another mediocre season will spell the end of John Fox, who will have no trouble catching on somewhere else as a coordinator (or even as a head coach in St Louis).
1. Matt Ryan will be real good. He won't avoid rookie mistakes, but in terms of leadership, moxie and all the intangibles a team could hope for in a first round quarterback, he has them. There won't be a huge disparity between his touchdowns and interceptions, although the sacks and fumbles could be high.
2. Matt Ryan could be real part–time. The offensive line is being rebuilt, and that's no time for a rookie passer.
3. Sell stock in Roddy White and by stock in Michael Jenkins. Matt Ryan is not going to have the time to seek out his deep threat, and last year's outlet target, TE Alge Crumpler is gone.
4. Michael Turner will look good early, with some big plays, but he's never carried the load and will wear down. Jerious Norwood will add occasional sparks, but neither of these are bulldozers. Look for the Falcons to have trouble converting on short yardage.
5. Morten Andersen remained a great kicker below 40 yards, but the Falcons brought in Jason Elam in the offseason in the hope of hitting more than 50% beyond 40. That will certainly happen.
6. The late addition of CB Domonique Foxworth is going to reward the Falcons. He's a character guy and only cost a conditional 7th.
7. Five wins is possible, and would be a sound foundation for 2009.
8. Whatever the final record, the lack of bad things happening, and the sense of progress will be a huge feel–good factor heading into 2009.