Fearless Forecast - Part One

In a return to form of the ever-popular "Beat The Man", G. Scott Jones advises responsible wagering and sets out the NFL's heroes and zeroes. Required reading!

Ah…yet another Football Forecast. We can never have enough, yes? If you publish it… we will look. But this isn’t just ANY forecast, folks. It’s mine, see. I’m unpublished. And that’s gotta count for something, right?

Last year you watched me establish amazing credibility with my weekly Beat The Man picks. Each week I spotlit 3-5 picks and together we crushed The Man for a Vegas-thumping…uhm .500 record ATS. Basically, we spent the 10% vig each week for extra intensity on Gameday and helped Vegas build another hotel. But it sure was fun, wasn’t it? (If you started with me early, and ignored me by week 10 – you made a tidy profit). BTM will be front-page news this season. That’s what I earn with a .500 record and some fancy sentences.

I’m even better at pre-season predictions.

For instance, last year I had the Titans and the Bucs at the BigBowl. Buffalo was going to damage many teams, Philly would crash and burn, Green Bay stunk, New England had nothing and the Carolina Panthers were still the Carolina Panthers. Who’s your Daddy, eh? (I did have the Bengals on the watch out list, along with Dallas (who exceeded my expectations), and of course Seattle. Plus Indy and KC as big time contenders. (So I wasn’t completely bunk).

Now I’ve got a year under my belt and feel an absolute right to enlighten you all to my technically advanced opinion. So without further manipulation of the truth, here’s how I see things this year:

Teams that suck
Let’s do this list first, eh? We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up. Hey, bet you don’t see that elsewhere! See, I told you I was different.

Just plain ol’ bad. What are we working with here? Bad back overachiever Jeff Garcia will really put those pocket skills to use behind an O-Line that couldn’t protect last year. If the new additions at Guard pan out, and they avoid last years injury bug – is this the QB that can take advantage of the stretch-the-field WRs? Negative – he can’t get them the ball deep. Running game does have potential if those Guard positions cement, and Rookie flash Lee Suggs can handle the load (I believe that he can, actually).

Defense? On a 5-point scale I rated them: DL 2.5, LB 2, DB 1.5. That’s a nice steady decline to the end zone. Go ahead, strike fast, we don’t have much to stop you.

The Dog Pound will be wearing poodle heads this year. Woof woof.

I felt like Chicago was having a good off-season. And I like their draft a little bit, so I had expected my assessment to be somewhat favorable. But after getting my nails dirty, the reality is – they suck. RB Thomas Jones ain’t gonna cut it. Certainly not enough to take the pressure off of just out of his diapers QB Rex Grossman. People have a good vibe about Grossman, they think he has a chance, and so do I. But he doesn’t have a chance right away… and here’s who he’s throwing to: Inconsistent Marty Booker, and the guy we’re glad got taken before we picked – David Terrell. He’s shown nothing. Who’s behind them? No one.

On Defense Lovie Smith is going to use everything he knows to make them better than mediocre. Some nice fresh blood on the D-line is a good place to start. DT Draft picks Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson join promising young DE talent: Michael Haynes and Alex Brown. Behind that you have Urlacher (and maybe 2nd yr player Lance Briggs) and a secondary we can’t be very secure about. Charles Tillman played good ball, but one yr doesn’t decide a player. And he’s got very little talent around him other than Mike Brown (who may be a 1yr wonder himself).

If I’m new coach Smith, I’m handing the ball to A-train all day, behind an improved O-line, and hoping we can keep it close enough to squeak out a miracle. That’s the gist here.

This is a transition yr for the J-E-T-S. Departed veterans and an influx of youth are a recipe for “we’re not ready yet”. While many are touting WRs Santana Moss and ex-Titan Justin McCareins to have “explosive” potential, that seems wishful thinking to me (MC hasn’t posted that creditability yet, and Moss was a perpetual flirt before finally posting solid numbers last yr). With the exception of ex-Hawk Kevin Mawae, the OL is pedestrian. I expect Curtis Martin to hit the wall this year (take note FF fans). This means Pennington is going to have to hold the ball too long, often, and get clobbered in the process. And that’s not the problem side of the ball…

The Defense is just getting its feet wet. On that side of the ball, they did have a suitable draft (LB Vilma, CB Straight, S Coleman and Washington), which is good, cuz those rookies will see plenty of playing time by mid-season when the Jets are no longer involved in the big picture. (On the other hand, as a credit to Herman Edwards, if they’re able to establish their identity as the team you fail to respect… they could bump up into the Bottom Feeder category).

Game 1 vs CIN should tell us a lot about who the Jets are – if they get clowned, then that’s what they are.

Bottom Feeders
Contrary to teams that just suck – Bottom Feeders are quiet teams that I expect to put the hurt on unprepared “good” teams.

Will Carson Palmer play well enough to keep Jon Kitna on the bench? How many games will it cost them if he doesn’t? That’s a question I can’t answer. What about the loss of Corey Dillon? Well, Rudi Johnson proved a pile mover last year and RB Chris Perry is a very astute draft pick that gives the Bengals an extra dimension to an already potent offense. Now that WR Chad Johnson is a marked man, will Peter Warrick step up and be the bona fide player we all thought he’d be coming out of Florida State? I think yes. If Palmer can play, this offense can hurt you.

Will coach Lewis improve the defense to the status of playoff team? Uhmmmmm…yeah-no! (otherwise known as, I want to say “yes”, but the talent says “no”). Serious problems on the DL and DB says they can’t stop the pass… But I like what the Bengals are doing. And no one has been able to say that for over a decade. I think they’re a team to watch and one that will chew your ankle if they must to get a win out of you. The epitome of a team on the creep…

If the Tigers-of-a-Strange-Breed can split their first 4 games (vs NYJ, MIA, BAL, PITT), I’m thinking they’ll cause problems throughout the year. Keep an eye on that line, betting man…


“Well, well, well”, said the funky chicken...”Surprise, surprise, surpriiise!”, said Gomer Pyle… “I’m a little concerned about Atlanta”, said this article’s author. Freshman coach Jim Mora (ex 49ers Defensive Coordinator) has lots of toys to work with here. Michael Vick is always cause for concern. Peerless Price gets some breathing room with the drafting of Ohio St WR Michael Jenkins (who some rate very highly), and quiet guy Dez White comes over from Da Bears for a decent 3rd option (not to mention TE Alge Crumpler turning some heads). Some are not crediting the tandem of Head thumper T.J. Duckett and waterbug Warrick Dunn as much as I do, but that’s a duo that can do some damage… if not for O-line concerns. Did I say O-line concerns? New line coach Alex Gibbs comes over from Denver. He’s been known to solve O-line concerns, eh? Now let’s get to that defense. That’s what coach Mora told me…

They’re going back to the 4-3. (Which is smart, because to take away the best part of your defense – relegating pass rushing DE’s Patrick Kearney and Brady Smith to what is essentially DT duties in a 3-4 – so you can add another quality LB you don’t have on the roster, into the basic formation? Is stupid. Stupid is as stupid does, eh Gump?) Their talented inside guy Rod Coleman is met with this year’s ‘Schleprock steal of the Draft’ Chad Lavalais to make for a very impressive, attacking D-line. About those LB’s – outside of Keith Brooking, maybe rookie Demorrio Williams has a chance to impress. And at DB, they tabbed aNOTHER stellar draft pick in DeAngelo Hall. I am banking on Hall to be a playmaker right out of the box. He’ll be mirrored by the suitable Aaron Beasley and x-Niner Jason Webster. Safety? That’s a concern. Watch for aaaaaaNOTHER rookie, Etrick Pruitt, in one of those spots.

The Falcons just happened to stock themselves at positions of need, with talent I like in this year’s draft. They also have some dynamic athletes already in place. And a coach that I feel knows just what to do with that talent. They’re a concern.

Okay, this oughta be real interesting. This offense, while young, appears to be very solid and explosive. QB Joey Harrington now has several weapons to throw to. Rookie WR Roy Williams is the perfect compliment to Charles Rodgers (who suffered through an injury plagued freshman season), and former 49er Tai Streets is an excellent 3rd option (shades of Bobby Engram). Let’s not forget blazer Az-Hakim at his more fitting 4th wideout spot either. At Running Back, Kevin Jones is going to light up the world and compete for Rookie of the Year. I love this kid. All this nonsense about strictly an outside threat, is just that – nonsense. What you’ll see is Emmitt Smith style slippery between the tackles (he’s always falling forward), and Shaun Alexander type explosion once he gets through there. Great Back – watch and see. And guess what? They have one of the better young O-Lines in the NFL. We’ll see points scored in Detroit.

The Defense is actually very serviceable, while also a bit young. Not much to get excited about up front, but not much to worry about either. LB could be a team strength if rookie Teddy Lehman is able to step right in and join last year’s success, Boss Bailey (I believe he will). And in the Secondary, quality CB Fernando Bryant joins Dre Bly for a very heady tandem. Add to that mix draft guru Rob Rang’s [Editor Doug, promo link op!] [Editor’s note – I don’t sleep, Schlep!] sleeper favorite Keith Smith, and veteran Brock Marion at safety and you’ll see that the ONLY thing Detroit has done this off-season is improve their team and chance to compete.

Young squad, athletically talented – coached by Mariucci? Sound familiar? I expect Detroit to motor up and give a LOT of teams trouble. We may be looking at a Wild Card surprise here...

Great Pretenders
You’ve seen these names tossed around as teams to fear this year. I don’t fear them. Like Churchill said, “The only thing to fear is…” uh, myself!

Knock knock... Who’s there? The NFC Championship… NFC Championship with who? Not the Philadelphia Eagles. This year the wheels come off. While everyone is pointing to the signings of The Freak (Kearse) and The Geek (Owens) as the missing ingredients – I point to something else: They’re desperate. 3 Championship losses will do that to you, eh. So they scrapped the past years’ plan and went for the quick fix.

Here’s the reality: They lost 2 premier CB’s in Taylor and Vincent. That area of the defense is now in disarray. They lost Defensive MVP LB Carlos Emmons, that area of the defense has now been obliterated since their blitz-happy heyday. Starters Jones, Simoneau, and Wayne – are pedestrian. Can the back 7 be offset by a scary, scrappy, and athletic front 4? Can any front 4 be that good? No. Therefore, the strength of the team has officially been decimated. They can’t run Johnson’s scheme’s anymore without getting burned for quick scores.

Is the Offense good enough to make up for it? Donovan McNabb, Running Back-by-committee, and Terrell “I’m-a-pain-in-the-ass-when-things-don’t-go-my-way” Owens? Get yourself a cushion TO-ilet. That ass is gonna hurt this year. The Eagles will not make the playoffs. (This division is no longer a walk-thru). That’s right, baby – fearless predictions.

I absolutely did not expect to discredit this team for 2004, one of my pocket success teams of 2003. But these are the facts: They’ll have to score constantly to have a chance. Last year’s defensive improvement has been shattered by the Manning contract. An average defense cannot afford to lose scrappy DE Chad Bratzke, fast and aggressive chatterbox LB Marcus Washington, and at-least-suitable CB Walt Harris.

Replacement players via Free Agency? None. (In fact, a trade for G-Bay bust Jamal Reynolds recently went empty - failed physical). Rookies? Undersized OLB Kendall Pope is not ready, nor is the more promising Gilbert Gardner. CB Jason David only has a couple inches on my 7yr-old nephew and Von Hutchins belongs is some over-budget vampire flick. SS Bob Sanders can play, however, I doubt he’ll immediately supplant capable starter Idrees Bashir – so that position fails to improve. Dwight Freeney, you’re going to be a very, very busy man. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning will have lots of success pointing to this year’s stats to qualify his contract. But the only number that really matters is in the win column. Just ask Dan Marino.

Watch for Indy to have their hands full in a division with the once again solid Titans (saved by a stellar draft) and upstart Jags and Texans…

The Dolphins, after having a tremendously disappointing 2003 (and before Ricky Williams’ retirement brought the noise) quietly had a horrible off-season.

First of all – Dave Wannstedt is still the HC. That’s bad. They needed to improve their OL and after failing to land their targeted FA’s, now boast 4 new starters at a position where unity and chemistry is paramount. That’s bad (though I love draft pick Vernon Carey). They shipped a #2 pick to Phily for 3rd string QB A.J. Feeley, inviting a QB controversy for a guy who’s likely not much better than incumbent Jay ‘my ears are enormous’ Fiedler. They finally landed a top tier WR to compliment Chris Chambers. That’s good. His name is David Boston, and if you live in San Diego – that’s bad. And lastly, Dave Wannstedt is still the coach (yeah, I know, I already said that. It’s worth repeating). They’ve still got a great defense though. You know, the one that dominates all game long but can’t stop a drive to win a game.

And now Rasta Man is spending his days in Jamaica? Uh, they’re another truck that suddenly lost its wheels.

Pedestrian Defense. Borderline playoff team and nothing more. Last year the Pack did a lot of stellar game-planning, and had a lot of things go right for them otherwise (if you wanna buy into all this ‘Brett Farve’s father is better than anyone else’s father, so God wanted the Packers to win’ stuff – that’s fine as well). Good fortune doesn’t happen on a consistent basis. And the talent just isn’t here. I’ve got the D-Line through the Secondary all rated at 2.5. That just doesn’t get it done. Not many moves in the off-season. Not much to scream about in the draft. Sorry, but we’re not talkin’ Brie here. More like basic Cheddar.

Top Contenders

Here it is, The Must List. Pull out a wad of cash and throw it down on these guys… cuz I said so and I didn’t have to sweat to make your money. You did. (What that means is, you should only gamble on teams you truly believe in, not just a “hot tip” from some internet dude you’ve never met. Be responsible).

Short and sweet: I find this team superior to last year’s. Tom Brady is now a bona fide top echelon QB. Corey Dillon fills a gaping hole. Young WRs have another year under their belt and add the intriguing P.K. Sam. And the enormous loss of Ted Washington found a capable sub in stellar Miami rookie Vince Wilfork. Additionally, they now possess a very real intimidation factor. No one knows how to solve the ever-changing game plan of mad genius Bill Belichick and his equally astute counterpart Charlie Weis. They love football. Fear them.

Scary. Very scary. This might be the team to beat for the rights to Florida in January.

Offensively… they can score, we know that. Defensively? This just in: They now understand that’s part of the game. This Defensive Line is going to wreak havoc on opposing teams. Hovan and Williams inside is the most athletically decimating center of any Defense. Now they have “my favorite Rookie” Udeze on the outside as well. He’s going to make us hurt for not moving up in the draft. At LB, they now have possible starting rookie OLB Dontarrious Thomas, joining last year’s new stud E.J. Henderson (I missed on Williams but correctly pegged Henderson as a major talent), and athletically gifted Chris Claiborne. That’s a suitable LB corpse. Additionally, forever bleeding secondary problems appear more secure with the acquisition of Buffalo mainstay Antoine Winfield, a scrappy corner who’s run support pays dividends as well. Corey Chavous excelled last year in his new role as SS. Not a great secondary, but suitable. Their front 4 will improve what’s average behind it (as opposed to the other way around which, as we’ve learned in Seattle – doesn’t work).

But – is Mike Tice a good coach? Or is he the unstable type that compromises the teams certainty and qualified stance? I think maybe the later (Sorry Mike, loved you in Seattle). Regardless, this team will be tough to beat. And I was not at all saying that about them last year.

Interesting. Following the Super Bowl, I had a true sense this team would return stronger than before. Motivated and confident. Then they had what I had perceived to be a poor off-season. Only – it wasn’t.

Here’s what we’re lookin’ at there: Jake Delhomme can play. Put him down as a 2nd tier QB at the very least, with extra points for intangibles. The running game, as we know, is supreme. It will be better with more carries for DeShaun Foster. The OL experienced a 3/5 overhaul (3 new starters) Jeno James and Todd Steussie were replaced with Rich Tylski and Adam Meadows. OT Meadows will play the right side while Rookie phenom Jordan Gross shifts over to the left (where he played in college). LG is a concern, but they have enough bodies to find a suitable player. I think that line holds. Which means WR’s Steve Smith, Mushin Muhammad, Ricky Proehl, and stellar USC draft pick Keary Colbert will have time to damage you. This offense scored MUCH higher on my chart than expected.

Defensively they’ve encountered some concerns in the Secondary – where I don’t think Ohio St rookie Chris Gamble is worth a wager. Deon Grant, Reggie Howard, and Terry Cousin are gone. Their dime package is a major concern. BUT – they’ve improved at LB. Mark Fields may be healthy again, and they snatched up Brandon Short and Jesse Armstead. That’s a major upgrade over last years starting squad. (And we don’t even need to discuss their D-line. Consider it an asset to the Secondary.) I think if you’re in the NFC (ahem) you ought to be legitimately concerned about the Carolina Panthers.

You just have to love this team. Jeff Fisher and GM Floyd Reese have done a remarkable job since they departed Houston. Shockingly competitive as a team without a city for a couple years, and absolute legitimate once they thumped into the Coliseum in Nashville – and ever since.

This off-season saw the retirement of bread-winner TE Wycheck, a trade of productive deep threat WR McCareins, continual theft on the D-Line (including Freakboy Kearse), and a tearful farewell to Eddie George. Time to fall from grace, yes? Wrong. Much like heart-of-a-lion QB Steve McNair, Tennessee finds a way to prop themselves up and compete. A mammoth draft of talented DE’s LaBoy, Schobel, and Odom, plus super-steal DT Randy Starks, satisfies D-Line concerns for the next 4 years. Add to that freaky athletic first selection TE Ben Troupe, and 8 other draft choices… the bleeding has properly been sutured with fresher skin. Scary talent in the secondary ensures a once again scrappy Defense. And what about the loss of mainstay RB Eddie George? Well, that stings, but they do have a suitable replacement in hard-hitting RB Chris Brown (and Antwoine Smith serves as a decent B-back).

Mr. Fisher knows how to tap the character of his team. They compete, each and every week. Count on it.

Says right here this is THE team to keep a curious eye on all year long. Mark it down.

Last season, the Jags quietly went 4-4 down the stretch after a horrid early start. In the process, the offense exampled a propensity for huge chunks of yardage between the hash marks… only to falter with a mistake here and there, dropping them short of the end zone. This happened over, and over, and over again (I know cuz I’m a gamblin’ man, and they had me scared). In fact, they abused the competition, frighteningly efficient between the 20’s. Head Coach Jack-box Del Rio has these boys believin’. And guess what – they just got a lot better in the off-season. I actually have them just ½ point behind TEN on my rating scale and way out front of Indy, Baltimore, KC, Philly, Tampa, and others (which blew me away, even though I already had them on the come prior to my forecast breakdown).

With the additions of WR Reggie “All-Star” Williams and Ernest Wilford jelling the pass game, RB Greg Jones the perfect bruiser to compliment oft-injured Fred Taylor (and relieving those concerns), LB Daryl Smith complimenting an already very competent front 7, and ex-Carolina Safety Deon Grant added to a rough and heady secondary – not only are they on the come… they’re legitimate playoff contenders. You heard it here first. Use it or lose it.

Surprised myself with this one as well. Normally, ever since the Dolphins tried to buy a Championship when Free Agency was a new thing, I avoid teams with extensive roster changes. The Skins have been doing that ever since trigger-happy owner Dan Snider bought a new toy to play with. But guess what… This toy can do plenty!

The D-Line is a concern, other than that: Brunell can still play. Clinton Portis is the most terrifying RB since Barry Sanders. The Posse is back at WR in Coles, Gardner, and Thrash. Their O-line won’t remind you of The Hogs, but they’re better than advertised. Joe Gibbs knows offense. On Defense, Gregg Williams knows what he’s doing as well. And he’s got a nice LB core with Arrington, Barrow, and Washington. Backed by Smoot and Springs, Walt Harris, and the next in a recent bonanza of 1st RD stud Safeties – Sean Taylor. That’s a secondary that can compete and qualify the trade of Champ Bailey for Clinton Portis.

On paper, you have to like what you see here. It’s enough for me to ignore the past and expect the Skins to win the Division. Welcome back, Mr. Tibbs (er, Gibbs).

So that’s it for this year’s Fearless Forecast. Check back here each week during the season for the weekly BTM picks and print up a bunch of fake money in preparation, eh. Schleprock here, checkin…

Oh wait, I left someone out you say? Is there a team I left off The Must List? Hmm… oh yes, yes there is. But I’ve run out of room for today’s article so check back next week for the team I have little doubt will take it all. And it’s the first time I’ve ever made this particular team my bona fide Super Bowl pick. Yessir. Absolute truth. 10 bucks says you can’t guess who that might be… (damn, I landed on Park Place again).

G. Scott Jones is a Freelance writer who contributes regularly to Seahawks.Net. Reaction of any sort is always encouraged at schleprockhawk@sbcglobal.net.

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