A rather inauspicious way to kick off the season last night with the Colts absolutely bludgeoning the Saints. I'm personally looking forward to all the commentators flipping on the Saints and telling us how the Colts are great and will repeat for the Super Bowl a mere day after no one picked the Colts to repeat. Gotta love the media. Anyway, onto the West.
1. San Diego Chargers 13-3 (Last Year: 14-2)
That picture pretty much explains what the West is all about. That man, LaDainian Tomlinson is off a record breaking TD year minus the playoff success. This years Chargers would be the frontrunner for AFC Champs with the Pats, and in some circles they still are. However, like some kind of science experiment from Trading Places,the Chargers fired their head coach due to poor playoff performance for a coach with an even worse playoff history, Norv Turner. This will answer a major question in the sport of football: How much can a coach mess up a team? It will be interesting to see. I don't expect the Chargers to be as successful as last year. The Broncos will push them and QB Phillip Rivers may find some growing pains. However, this is the most talented team in the NFL. That should count for a lot.
Best Fantasy Player: Vincent Jackson - clearly, I'm joking. It's LDT. The runaway #1 pick of every fantasy draft. It isn't even close. So if you get him feel fortunate and enjoy the ride.
2. Denver Broncos 10-6 (Last Year: 9-7)
Last year was a hiccup to the usual Broncos football. The team was stuck in between major changes at RB and QB. Now that the Jay Cutler era has begun, the Broncos can start getting back on track. On offense, with the addition of Travis Henry, everything should be clicking. The biggest problem for the Broncos was their pass rush, which they have made a major effort to improve by drafting DE's Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder in the first two rounds of the draft. Probably the biggest move the Broncos made was acquiring Dre Bly to start opposite Champ Bailey in the secondary. Those are two guys you can leave on an island and they should be fine. They are shut down CB's, and I'll be interested to see how difficult it is to throw on them.
Best Fantasy Player: I can't say Travis Henry just because you never know what Mike Shannahan is going to do about splitting the carries, so to be safe I'm going with Javon Walker, and I'm going to use the rest of the time to talk about Champ Bailey.
Not only have we seen that the Redskins were dead wrong in trading Bailey for Clinton Portis a few years ago, Bailey has placed himself as the top CB in the game. He was my pick for Madden 08 cover man. Usually there is a correlation with the new features of the game and the player's position on the cover. They should have put Champ on the cover and made a cornerback/secondary function to make it esier for the user to manually cover widereceivers. Would have been great.
3. Kansas City Chiefs 6-10 (Last Year: 9-7)
Everyone is down on the Chiefs, but I don't see why. They overachieved last year, but are they this terrible mess? No more than usual. Damon Huard is 10-6 as a starter, there have never been good WR's there, and while people make a big deal about Larry Johnson's carries (they do need to limit those)he is still a great RB. Let's face it, the Chiefs haven't had great WR's, well ever. They have the formula to win some games with what they have.
Best Fantasy Player: Larry Johnson - as long as his carries are limited I think LJ can have the best season of any RB coming off 400+ rushes. He's a bull, not some finesse back, and hopefully the Chiefs will spell him more and realize if they burn him out, then they will be the worst team in this division for years to come.
4. Oakland Raiders 4-12 (Last Year: 2-14)
Believe it or not, there were two positives to come out of last years season for the Raiders. First, their defense emerged as one of the up and coming in the league. Despite the record, the D was very good, but when the offense doesn't score, well if you let up 10 points you're screwed. Second, they got the first pick in the draft, which they used on JaMarcus Russell. While he hasn't signed yet, which is the Raiders fault for not giving him his money and using the luxury of negotiating with his agent prior to the draft, he has all the physical tools to succeed in the NFL. Next year they could make some strides and challenge the Chiefs to get out of the cellar.
Best Fantasy Player: LaMont Jordan - he was a top fantasy player not too long ago, but an inept offense along with injuries compromised Jordan's season. He is a dark horse this year in the fantasy world, but would be a great back-up option to have.
1. Seattle Seahawks 10-6 (Last Year: 9-7)
The NFC West is the most highly contested and debatable divisions in the league. Whether it is due to its supreme talent level or swelling of mediocrity is still up in the air. However, this division has belonged to the Seahawks for the past few years, and I think they have a couple of seasons left. They still won the division without their best player, Shaun Alexander who is coming fresh off the Madden Curse. That is pretty impressive, and if QB Matt Hasselbeck can rebound and have a good year, then Seattle should win the division again.
Best Fantasy Player: Shaun Alexander - 2 years, 1 Madden Cover, and LDT removed from his career year, Alexander was once the fantasy darling turned into fantasy question mark. There are two camps for Alexander, the "He's going to recover and score 30 TD's camp" and the "His foot is still injured and won't be the same camp." I'm leaning more towards the former rather than the latter.
2. San Francisco 49ers 9-6-1 (Last Year: 7-9)
The Niners are this years sleeper darling, but I'm not jumping on that band wagon. They will be better, but they're still young. Vernon Davis needs to come into his own on offense, and the free spending the Niners did in the off-season to acquire Nate Clements and Michael Lewis was money not so well spent. Hint to every team that plays the Niners, pump and go to the X receiver. It'll get Lewis all day long. Oh, and I kind of owe an apology to Alex Smith who has turned out much better than I ever imagined. Yes, with what little he has done so far he has still far exceeded my expectation. If he takes the jump this year he is supposed to, then I will give him an outright apology next year. Oh, and that's right, I'm calling for a tie.
Best Fantasy Player: Frank Gore - I liked Gore coming out of Miami, but injuries limited him. While he was mostly healthy last year, his broken hand during training camp has to worry you about his overall ability to stay healthy. Beyond that, as long as he holds onto the ball on the goal line and doesn't give up those TD's to converted RB Michael Robinson, there isn't much to dislike.
3. St. Louis Rams 8-7-1 (Last Year: 8-8)
Quite a division for RB's isn't it? You have 4 of the top 6 RB's in the league. The 2nd of which is Steven Jackson of the Rams. While Jackson came on late last year, he is ready to explode with a great year. He is aiming for 2,500 total yards from scrimmage and a lot of TD's. While that sounds all well and good, the Rams are not the constant threat on offense they once were. They still have their key players like Torry Holt and Marc Bulger, but something just holds this team back. After playing as them in Madden in an exhibition game, I'm guessing it is their secondary. I don't have the slightest clue who any of these people are. That's not a good thing I'm sure.
Best Fantasy Player: Steven Jackson - is rather the obvious pick for this team. However, keep in mind that his TD stats were poor until the last few weeks of the season, and teams will now show more focus on him. While he will still be a star, ideas of 2,500 total yards from scrimmage isn't going to happen, and he is guilty of a fantasy RB sin, fumbling the ball.
4. Arizona Cardinals 7-9 (Last Year: 5-11)
Here was last years sleeper darling. However, they couldn't overcome being THE CARDINALS. Edgerrin James fizzled as their big free agent signing and rarely did both the offense and defense perform together. This year though, they have a new coach in Ken Whisenhunt and a new hope to acutally get better. They are on the right path, but in this division they need to straighten out their defense a little more. I look at this division as flip-flopping in a couple years with the Cardinals and Niners battling at the top and Seattle and the Rams demoted to the lower level. We'll see though. I must admit, I'm going to miss those Dennis Green press conferences.
Best Fantasy Player: Larry Fitzgerald - one of the best receivers in the game. The guy is so talented, he just needs Matt Leinart to get him the football and he will toast this division.
Tomorrow: The East