Thursday, September 4, 2008

Top 10 NFL storylines of this season

By Rick Morris

With all due respect to my friend Ben Chew, who I am happy to have as our newest FDH Lounge columnist, I disagree with his feeling about the start of the NFL season. I am really amped up for it personally, coming as I do from a football-crazed city in the Midwest. We live for this time of year in Cleveland, as that Cali-boy will find out as he spend more time here! Again, it was tremendous to read Ben's thoughts here and each addition we make convinces me more and more that we've got one of the highest-quality stables of analysts anywhere.

Additionally, let me quickly note that on our fantasy sports blog, we posted our first issue tonight of our new weekly fantasy sports newsletter. As with The FDH Lounge Multimedia Magazine, you can subscribe to all of the content on the fantasy sports blog via our RSS feed. In a note germane to even our readers here who don't care anything about fantasy sports, this edition of the newsletter contains the entire 2008 NFL regular season schedule.

I'm really looking forward to what we will see this year and in my estimation, here are the Top 10 storylines.

1. RIVALRY OF THE DECADE TEAMS BATTLING ADVERSITY. The sun has not set yet on the respective empires of the Patriots and Colts, but this decade's defining teams have each had to deal with injuries this preseason to their megastar quarterbacks. Both teams, especially the Pats, have had to deal with the realities of the salary cap in the last year or two and many teams smell some blood in the water. I expect both teams to produce their usual strong seasons, New England consistently so and Indy more so with a late flurry at the end and as I've predicted before, the Colts will carry their momentum through to a Super Bowl nobody really sees for them right now notwithstanding their undeniable talent and coaching.

2. IS MERRIMAN CRAZY? Shawne Merriman is going to play this year with a blown-out knee -- until he goes down for good, probably early on. The career of one of this generation's greatest players could well be snuffed-out for good due to his own overzealousness. What a shame.

3. WERE THE GIANTS A FLUKE? If you define that tag by whether they'll make it deep, deep into the playoffs this year, the answer is yes -- although that seems unfair. They'll certainly be playing in January and Eli Manning should probably consolidate some of his gains from last winter. The defense, though, will suffer for the loss of both dominant bookend d-linemen.

4. CAN THE COWBOYS LIVE UP TO THEIR POTENTIAL? Again, depending on how you define the question, Dallas should not underachieve this year. Expectations of a Super Bowl run seem a bit overheated given the fact that they are talented but not head and shoulders above the rest of the NFC. Jerry Jones wants a title, though, so Wade Phillips best be updating the resume for '09.

5. BRETT FAV-RUH AND THE PACKERS. How will Favre do in New York and how will Green Bay fare without him? Given the fact that the battle for the last AFC playoff spot will come down to several mediocre teams, Favre should be suited up in January -- and given that nobody else in the NFC North has a well-balanced offense, the Packers should be playing then too. I refuse to slot this storyline any higher out of protest to the incessant and disproportionate hype that it has received.

6. THE REAL BLACK QUARTERBACK SYNDROME. Are any GMs going to get their athletic QBs any legitimate WRs anytime soon instead of just thinking that these guys can rely on their multidimensional skills to win games by themselves? We've written about this before. For Vince Young, who has a bunch of CFL jokers lined up out wide, this is a serious issue. For David Garrard, who could win a Super Bowl with some decent help, this is a serious issue. On and on it goes ...

7. CLEVELAND BROWNS: OVERRATED SLEEPERS? The Browns are certainly the chic, fru-fru pick for the playoffs in the fashionable corners of the NFL punditry. Phil Savage has done a whale of a job rebuilding from the mess left behind by Butch Davis, who was probably the single worst judge of talent this league has seen in the last two decades. But with the team battered by injuries throughout the preseason and facing September rust and a tough early schedule (and a brutal overall schedule), this has the look of a team a year away from making any serious noise. Browns fans would do well to focus on the attainable this year: a character-building middle-of-the-pack finish against serious odds that sets the stage for a deep playoff run in 2009.

8. PUT UP OR SHUT UP TIME. Jon Fox's Carolina Panthers were serious frauds the last two years. With Bill Cowher living just down the road and breathing heavily down his neck, he won't survive a third consecutive disgraceful campaign. The Arizona Cardinals have started to resemble the cliche about the Brazil: it's the country of the future and it always will be. The Cards have everything in place to win a weak division and they must make a strong run at it. The Eagles haven't done much since their Super Bowl run a few years back and they must win in the playoffs to fend off criticism about underachievement. Mike Shanahan is under fire for failing to do much of anything since John Elway retired. If Denver can't pluck the low hanging fruit of a #6 playoff seed in the AFC, then he's officially just keeping his job due to past glory.

9. REFRIED SOUTH BEACH TUNA. The Dolphins' turnaround could well progress quicker than most anticipate, with 5-6 wins achievable against a forgiving schedule. An unstable QB situation could be alleviated by a good 1-2 punch on the ground once Ronnie Brown heals and if Ricky Williams stays clean.

10. "D" IN THE BIG EASY. Jonathan Vilma heads up some fine additions in the offseason as the Saints sought belatedly to put a good defense on the field to help out their stellar offense. While the overhyped Jeremy Shockey grabs more than his share of headlines for the newcomers, it's the other side of the ball where the impact should be felt -- one that could well carry them to the Super Bowl.

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