The 49ers were at the doorsteps of the Super Bowl last year, and they may be the team to beat come playoff time this year. Photo by Jeff Lewis
Take the 49ers in the NFC
Defense wins championships, and if it weren’t for two fumbled punt returns in last year’s NFC Championship Game, the 49ers would have been playing in last season’s Super Bowl instead of the New York Giants.
The 49ers still have the defense, the running game, and the addition of wide receiver Randy Moss could give them enough of a passing game to put this team over the top.
There has been a lot of talk around the league that the best team going into the regular season is the 49ers. Head coach Jim Harbaugh quickly turned around Stanford when he was a college football coach, and he has done the same in San Francisco. The 49ers went from one of the doormats of the NFL to being on the verge of making the Super Bowl in just one season with Harbaugh at the helm.
The only real question mark on this team is if quarterback Alex Smith can be good enough to navigate this team through a Super Bowl run. Having Moss will help, but even he is a question mark, because he did not play last year, and the season before that he was not a productive receiver.
Smith limited the turnovers for the most part last year, and if he does that again this year, the 49ers will be in a position to make another run.
Look out for the Chicago Bears to also be in the hunt. They missed the playoffs last year, but that was mostly because of injuries to running back Matt Forte and quarterback Jay Culter. The Bears looked like the best team in the league around midseason, but when those injuries hit, their season was pretty much over.
The Bears look like they are a loaded squad after adding wide receiver Brandon Marshall, but they are not about to just waltz right into the playoffs because the Green Bay Packers are their division rivals. The Packers were 15-1 last year with a high flying offense, but it was no surprise that the Giants knocked them off in the second round of the playoffs because the Packers had the worst passing defense of all time.
The Giants cannot be counted out, but they usually stumble their way through the regular season and get hot at the right moment
Patriots still the team to beat in the AFC
The New England Patriots are not looking like the favorite to win the Super Bowl, but they have a pretty easy road to get there. It would be hard to believe another team winning the AFC East.
The Buffalo Bills are getting some positive press, but they do not look like they are in the same class as the Patriots.
The New York Jets look like they are going to be a mess with the Tim Tebow experiment. The Jets are saying that they do not have a two-quarterback system, but no team gives up high draft picks for a quarterback that they expect to be a backup. And if Tebow gets 15-20 plays a game, around a third of the team’s offensive plays, than they have a two-quarterback system, which does not work in the NFL. The Jets have been a media circus this offseason, and if quarterback Mark Sanchez struggles, it is not going to look good in New York. Sanchez has not developed into an elite quarterback, and if he struggles fans will be calling for Tebow.
Filling out the AFC East, the Miami Dolphins do not look like a mess, they are a mess. The Patriots should have a very easy time running through this division, and they have one of the easiest schedules in the league, so they should get home field advantage in the playoffs pretty easy.
One team that might give the Patriots a run for their money is the Denver Broncos. Any team with Peyton Manning at quarterback is a contender, and he has been proving his doubters wrong.
In training camp and through the first two preseason games, he has shown that his arm strength is not an issue, as he has been able to make all of the throws that he was able to before the neck injury, and he has put a lot of zip on his passes.
As for being hit hard, that question was answered last week against the Seattle Seahawks. The Broncos have had a “no touch” rule for practice, so the first hit that Manning would have to take in a year and a half would come in a game. That happened against the Seahawks, when Manning was nailed as he released the football. He simply picked himself up off the grass, went back to the huddle, called the next play, and fired the ball downfield for a completed pass. He was fine.
As for being rusty, just look at Tom Brady in 2009. He was injured in the first quarter of the first game in 2008, missing the entire season. He came back in 2009 and played in all 16 games, throwing for 4,398 yards and 28 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Right out of the gate he looked like his old self, so do not count on Manning needing a few games to get back in rhythm.
Could be a wrap on Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens could be next
After a dismal season last year, wide receiver Chad Johnson had one foot out of the NFL’s door. Now it might be a wrap for the 6-time Pro Bowl player. After being arrested for domestic violence for head butting his wife, it looks like Johnson’s chances may be over. It is going to be hard to find a team to take him with all of his baggage, and it is really not the baggage that teams are avoiding, it’s his age.
At 34 years old, Johnson is not the All-Pro receiver that he was earlier in his career. If he could still put up a 1,000-yard season, there would be a lot of teams willing to take on him and all of his issues. Just look at wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who has had numerous run-ins with women that he was involved in. He is still in the NFL because he can produce at a very high level, which Johnson cannot.
Johnson has always gotten by on great athletic abilities, but he was never a precise route runner, and he did not need to be because he was such a great athlete. But now that he is not as fast, or as quick, not being precise is an issue, which was one of the reasons that the ball was not thrown his way much when he played for the Patriots last year.
Even with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell cleaning up the sport, the NFL still looks past poor behavior off the field for players that can dominate on it. Johnson simply cannot dominate anymore, so there are not any teams that are going to deal with his baggage.
Terrell Owens may end up in that same boat. He found a team in the Seattle Seahawks that would give him a chance, but so far he has not produced much. At 38 years old, he was lucky to get one final chance, but if he does not start producing it could be a wrap for him.
Desean Jackson admits to not playing hard
Desean Jackson (Long Beach Poly HS) held out last season to get a new contract, and he said that he did not play as hard to protect himself from injury. He now has a new contract, and is looking to have a bounce back season. Photo by Jeff Lewis
Expect a great season from Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Desean Jackson (Long Beach Poly HS), because after getting a big contract, he is now going to start playing hard again.
Jackson admitted that his contract situation last year caused him to protect himself from injury a lot more, which hurt his production on the field. After 1,000+ yard seasons in 2009 and 2010, Jackson ended last year with 961 yards, the lowest of his career since his rookie season.
Jackson held out of last season’s training camp because he wanted a new contract, and he only reported about three weeks late because if he had not, he would have lost a year of service time. He went on to have an up and down season, in which he was deactivated for one game by the team, and his maturity was questioned.
Now Jackson has a five-year, $51 million contract, so expect him to act right this season.
Vick hurt again, not a good sign for RG3
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is injured, again. This past Monday night against the Patriots, Vick avoided one pass rusher, only to find another one coming right at him. He quickly threw the ball, but he still took a crushing blow to his ribs, knocking him out of the game.
Vick has had injury problems in the past, bringing up the question of his durability again. The problem Vick is having is that he has the body of a receiver, but he is playing quarterback. He is listed at 6-0, 215 lbs, but reports say that he is really 5-11, and he could be less than 200 lbs.
Most NFL quarterbacks are in the 6-2 to 6-5 range, and weigh anywhere from 225 to 250 lbs, which allows them to see over tall offensive linemen, and to take vicious hits from defensive players. The extra thickness keeps them healthy. Carolina Panthers quarter Cam Newton is listed at 6-5, 245 lbs.
But for Vick, being undersized and taking a lot of hits is not a good mix.
Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is listed at 6-2, 223 lbs. Hopefully those numbers are accurate, because if he is lighter than that, with all of the running that he does, there is a fear that he may also have durability issues.
But coming out of college, Griffin was a much better passer than Vick, so it would be in his best interest if he limits the running and relies on his arm.