Finally, the 2011 NFL regular season kicks off tonight! It’s been a tremendously long offseason, highlighted by the lockout. Throughout this NFL season, I will bring you the Thursday Morning Quaterback. I picked Thursday because Monday and Tuesday were already taken by writers who are famous, I’m not, so Thursday is going to be the day.
Each Thursday I will give my take on the previous game the Miami Dolphins played, the one they have coming up, and cover my NFL rankings as I see them. I took tremendous heat from some of you fans for my ‘post lockout’ rankings, but I think it will be interesting to see how the rankings look week after week. Before I get to the rankings, let’s take a look at the results from Miami’s preseason, and a preview of their upcoming opener against the New England Patriots.
After the preseason for the 1st teamers got off to a slow start against the Atlanta Falcons, I kinda liked what I saw from Miami. Their offense certainly looks like it has more big play potential, and Chad Henne looked like most of us thought he should have looked last year. He showed confidence, took chances, and commanded the offense. Most credit has been given to the freedom he now has, but I’m still a little skeptical. I can’t stop wondering why they didn’t take off the handcuffs last year? Why didn’t he raise hell with former OC Dan Henning last year? I want to see someone with fire at the QB position, and last year Chad Henne just wasn’t that guy. If my OC called horrible plays, I would be the first in line to tell him things need to change. But as we hear all too often, the past is the past, and we can only hope that the Henne we saw in preseason weeks 2 and 3 is the one we see throughout this season. IF that happens, this team could be one to be in the mix come December, even though almost NO ONE in the media world is predicting that.
The road for the Miami Dolphins will not be easy coming out of the gate. They open with the defending AFC East Champions in the New England Patriots. A team that made a pretty big splash once the FA period opened by making trades for Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco. They have also added a former Pro Bowler at guard recently by adding Brian Waters. They also cut ties with Brandon Meriweather and Darius Butler, two prominent figures of their defense the past few seasons. Word out of New England is the Patriots will move to a 4-3 from a 3-4, but knowing this coaching staff and players, it will probably work once they get some more practice and games played.
The key for Miami in this game will be getting pressure on Tom Brady. When Brady hits the ground often, the Patriots usually lose the game. The defensive front for Detroit manhandled the Patriots’ O-Line, and took a 27-10 halftime lead into the locker room when both teams matched starters against starters. This performance is most likely what led to the signing of Waters, who is expected to start right away against Miami. If this highly talented front 7 for Miami can get to Brady, they have a chance, despite being beat by a combined 79-21 in two games last year. Miami clearly has it’s work cut out for them, but anything can happen, and I think Miami finally has enough play makers on the offensive side of the ball to go with what should be a top 5 defense. But now what a team looks like on paper can be thrown out because the results on the field is what is going to matter. Look for this game to have a much closer score than the two from last year, and if Miami can sack Brady 3 or 4 times, they will have a good chance to pull off the upset in front of the home crowd they are looking to win over this season.
Now on to the rankings. I will give you the team, and in parenthesis give you their previous rank.
32 – Cincinnati Bengals (32). Not much has changed here, they looked horrible this preseason. Rookie QB Andy Dalton has had a rough go at adapting to the NFL game. Their defense has many many holes, and their offense will have a tough time scoring points. It’s going to be a long year in Cincinnati once again.
31 – Carolina Panthers (27). Another team with a rookie QB that hasn’t adjusted to the speed of the NFL yet. He did show he can make some plays, but their defense showed they can give up plays as well this preseason. They will go with Cam Newton as they should, but don’t look for him to continue the winning ways he has enjoyed throughout his college career.
30 – San Francisco 49ers (30). The only bright light for the 49ers heading into this season is they play in the NFC West. Jim Harbaugh may not be able to work his QB magic with Alex Smith, a guy who has had to learn a new offense year after year since he was taken #1 overall in the 2005 draft. They are definitely in the ‘suck for Luck’ group of teams.
29 – Jacksonville Jaguars (25). Less than a week before they kick off their regular season, they cut their starting QB, what does that say about this team? They did the exact same thing a few years back with Byron Leftwich, but I don’t think they will have the same luck this time around. This puts them in the ‘suck for Luck and move to LA’ group!
28 – Seattle Seahawks (31). If they get anything out of the QB position, they could win 6 or 7 games this year. The only problem with that is they are rolling with TJax and Charlie Whitehurst.
27 – Oakland Raiders (24). Oakland swept their division last season, but they let go of the best thing they had going for them the past couple years in HC Tom Cable. If he would have stayed, this team would’ve won at least 8 games this season, but he’s gone, and so is their hope.
26 – Cleveland Browns (28). QB Colt McCoy has had his share of hype for the performance he had this preseason, but he has no weapons, Peyton Hillis will be game planned for, and they have to play Pittsburgh and Baltimore twice in their division. They could get off to a good start, but as the season wears on, their hopes will fade.
25 – Kansas City Chiefs (21). The Chiefs didn’t even show up this preseason. I said it before, the Chiefs benefited from big plays and an easy schedule last season, that won’t happen again.
24 – Minnesota Vikings (19). If McNaab can play like he did 5 years ago, this team will surprise some people. But their O-Line showed holes, All Day AP can’t do everything himself despite what fantasy owners think, and McNaab has no one to throw the ball to except….well……All Day AP. Bernard Berrian is not the answer, and Percy Harvin isn’t a number 1 receiver by any means.
23 – Washington Redskins (29). This team probably surprised me more than any other this preseason. Rex Grossman looked like he is really comfortable in this offense, and he has led a team to a Super Bowl. It looks like Shanahan’s zone blocking running scheme still works well, and Tim Hightower could be the perfect fit. They have a tough road playing in the NFC East, but Washington will be respectful, and has a chance to hang around if they get some breaks as the season goes on.
22 – Indianapolis Colts (10). No team fell further in the rankings, and the only reason they have fallen is because they will be without Peyton Manning. He is clearly the most valuable player to his team in the NFL. If they don’t get him back this season, they may not win more than 4 games. I’m not buying Kerry Collins as the savior for Indy, his beard has more white than the numbers on their blue tops.
21 – Tennessee Titans (23). They proved they can run the ball this preseason with or without CJ. But aside from Johnson, there aren’t too many play makers on this offense. Given Hasselback’s injury history, Jake Locker may be playing QB before seasons end.
20 – Buffalo Bills (20). I like the moves they are making, but it’s still not going to be enough to get them out of the basement in the AFC East. Letting Lee Evans go was a huge mistake and they will surely miss him.
19 – Chicago Bears (18). Cutler doesn’t look any better than he did last year, their stout defense is a year older, and the new kickoff rules will surely hurt the Bears more than any other team in the NFL. They caught a lot of breaks to get themselves in the NFC title game last season, and as history has shown, that usually doesn’t happen two seasons in a row.
18 – Tampa Bay Bucs (22). They failed to beat anyone with a winning record last year, except the Saints in the final game of the season, which meant absolutely nothing to the Saints. This team is talented, but it’s also extremely young, and that will show this year.
17 – Denver Broncos (26). After Miami failed to land a trade for QB Kyle Orton, Denver found their QB of the near future in QB Kyle Orton. John Fox didn’t really win with much in Carolina, and he’s laying the foundation to do that once again in Denver. This team should be competitive, and win their share of games.
16 – Arizona Cardinals (17). Kevin Kolb seems to be the answer for this team. But in order for them to win their division, someone other than Larry Fitzgerald needs to step up and be a target.
15 – St. Louis Rams (16). Sam Bradford could make his way to elite status in the years to come, but until they get him some weapons, he will have to shoulder most of the load. Their defense will be improved, and they do benefit from playing in the NFC West which they will challenge for the division crown with the Arizona Cardinals.
14 – Detroit Lions (15). This team is the trendy pick to make the playoffs in the NFC this season. They have tons of talent on offense, and their D-Line is absolutely scary. If Stafford stays healthy, and that’s a BIG IF, they could very well get a wildcard spot.
13 – New York Giants (14). No team has been bitten by the injury bug more times than the Giants this preseason. They key for them to challenge in their division will he Eli Manning cutting down on his interceptions from last season. They have a superior running game, and their defense should still be good despite losing some key players.
12 – Dallas Cowboys (12). Rob Ryan needs a little more time to get his defense playing the way he wants. Tony Romo should have a pretty good year now that he’s healthy, but their O-line is young and may take some time to develop.
11 – Miami Dolphins (11). The problem for this team moved from QB Chad Henne to the O-Line during the preseason. With 3 first round picks on that O-Line, they should be pretty darn good. But if you watched the games this preseason, you wouldn’t be able to tell they have 3 first round picks on that line. The offense showed big play potential, the defense should be better, but Tony Sparano’s strength as an offensive line guru could be the thing that gets him fired at season’s end if he doesn’t get it straightened out.
10 – New York Jets (13). They will have an elite defense, but their offense looked pretty pedestrian in the preseason. If Plaxico gets himself involved in the offense, this team could finally be playing some home games in January.
9 – Atlanta Falcons (5). Many picked this team to make it to the Super Bowl, but I’m not 100% sold on them yet. Matt Ryan will have an outstanding year, but the defense could prove to be the downfall to this team.
8 – Baltimore Ravens (9). Loaded with talent, great defense, great young QB, but they have yet to prove they can beat the Steelers. This team reminds me of the Bulls with Michael Jordan. Remember when he couldn’t get past the Detroit Pistons? Once he did he never looked back for years, the Ravens could be the same way.
7 – Houston Texans (6). If they don’t make it this year, they never will.
6 – Philadelphia Eagles (3). The play of their O-Line should scare Michael Vick. He took a pounding this preseason, and if that line doesn’t get fixed, their $100 million dollar man will be holding a clipboard. They have a nice backup in Vince Young, but I’m not sure he will be good enough to carry this team to it’s full potential.
5 – New England Patriots (4). They will win their share of games and make it to the playoffs, but to win in January you must be able to rush the passer, and protect the passer, something they failed to show in the preseason.
4 – New Orleans Saints (7). Drew Brees looks focused to make another run, as does the rest of this team. Ingram looks to be the back everyone thought he would be, and some key additions to the defense look like they are going to work.
3 – Pittsburgh Steelers (8). Everyone is back, everyone is healthy, and the winning ways in Pittsburgh should continue this season. They will be tough, physical, and Big Ben should have his best statistical season to date. They will be there come January.
2 – San Diego Chargers (2). I’m still going with San Diego to make the jump and make it to the Super Bowl this year. Last year they ranked #1 in offense and #1 in defense for many weeks, that was without a healthy Antonio Gates and hold out Vincent Jackson. Now Gates is healthy and Jackson is playing for a contract, this offense will be deadly with Phillip Rivers running the show. They seemed focus in the preseason, which should help them get off to a good start, which is something they have failed to do in the past.
1 – Green Bay Packers (1). Everyone is back, everyone is healthy, and they won the Super Bowl last year. They should coast in the regular season in their weak division, and come January they should be ready to make a run at a repeat.
Enjoy opening weekend, and until next week….