Sports Outside the Beltway

NFL Power Rankings – 2008 Preseason

The gang at ESPN has ranked all 32 NFL teams. Here’s the top 10 (final 2007 rankings in parenthesis):

1 (1) Patriots 16-0-0 A healthy Tom Brady and a happy Randy Moss make the Patriots championship contenders this season and for years to come. (MS)

2 (2) Colts 13-3-0 They haven’t had a lot of offseason turnover and they already were very good. Continuity means a lot. (PY)

3 (6) Chargers 11-5-0 If the Chargers can get over their injury issues, they could be in the Super Bowl mix all the way to Tampa. (BW)

4 (3) Cowboys 13-3-0 Felix Jones should help the running game immediately. But who will emerge as the No. 2 receiver? Patrick Crayton wasn’t up to the task in late ’07. (MM)

5 (4) Jaguars 11-5-0 They sometimes get overshadowed by division rival Indianapolis, but the Jaguars have an elite roster and an elite coach in Jack Del Rio. (PY)

6 (9) Giants 10-6-0 Teams other than the Patriots aren’t supposed to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Will Michael Strahan retire? Can they compensate for free-agent losses at LB? (MM)

7 (8) Steelers 10-6-0 A very strong draft catapults the Steelers into Super Bowl contenders. RBs Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall should be one of the best 1-2 punches. (JW)

8 (7) Seahawks 10-6-0 New O-line coach Mike Solari stands out as the Seahawks’ top offseason acquisition, perhaps allowing them to keep their edge in the NFC West. (MS)

9 (13) Browns 10-6-0 The 2007 darlings face high expectations. The offense will score. Can the D, anchored by additions Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams, hold up its end? (JW)

10 (5) Packers 13-3-0 This is an unpredictable team in the wake of the retirement of Brett Favre. Who will step up and make the big plays this year? (JW)

Click here for 11-32.

Dropping the Packers, were 13-3 and lost in the NFC Championship game to #10 seems about right. After all, they lost one of the best quarterbacks in League history to retirement. But how do you justify dropping the team that beat them, along with the #4 ranked Cowboys and the #1 ranked Patriots on their way to winning the Super Bowl down to 6th place? Even if Strahan retires, they still have the most dominant defensive front in the League and Eli Manning should only get better.

I like the Cowboys’ chances at #4, though, especially since that puts them as the favorite team to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. They’re a deeper team than the Giants, I think, and have really shored up their defensive backfield with the Pacman Jones trade and the drafting of Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick. But the Giants deserve to be considered the team to beat.


2007 Giants preview

2006 Recap
The 2006 season ended in disappointment as the G-Men lost in the wildcard round (to Philadelphia) on a last second field goal. Tiki Barber had a great game that night (28 touches, 152 total yds), but the Giants D couldn’t stop the Eagles rushing attack, especially on the last drive when they marched down the field to make an easy field goal.

Tiki retired after the season to pursue a television career (which is making headlines of its own).

The Giants had a fairly uneventful offseason. No major splashes in the free agent market or in the draft. Steve Spagnuolo was promoted from Eagles linebacker coach to Giants defensive coordinator. Michael Strahan threatened to retire, but then showed up Monday (possibly in a bid to simply skip training camp). Will Demps is out for the year with an elbow injury, and Mathias Kiwanuka was moved from defensive end to outside linebacker.

Key losses
RB Tiki Barber
K Jay Feely
S Will Demps
LT Luke Petitgout

Tiki will be missed the most of these four players. He carried the Giant offense at times last year, and accounted for over 40 % of their offense the last three years. Brandon Jacobs has been an excellent backup, but now he’s the star – will he be able to carry the ball 20+ times a game when he’s never carried it more than 11 in a single game yet? I think the answer is yes. He’s a big, strong guy (6’4″, 265 lbs., which is as big as some defensive ends and bigger than most linebackers), and with the depth the Giants have at RB (Derrick Ward, Ahmad Bradshaw, Reuben Droughns), he won’t have to carry as much of the load as was initially feared after Tiki’s retirement.

I won’t cry over losing Jay Feely. He was a good but not great kicker that often missed in important, close games. Lawrence Tynes won the kicking job – he has made 78.2 % of field goals in his career, a decent percentage (and just a hair under Feely’s career of 79.6 %).

Will Demps was one of the big free agent acquisitions heading into last year, but had a disappointing first year with the Jints after coming over from Baltimore. James Butler, however, played very well in limited time so I don’t mind him becoming the starting free safety in 2007.

Losing Luke Petitgout might have a bigger impact any other loss, even Tiki. When he was healthy, he was a very solid left tackle (a premium position in the NFL), and his injury in the Chicago game last year was essentially the turning point of the whole season – they were winning that game and could’ve gone 7-2, but with Luke out Eli was mauled the rest of the game; the Jints lost and they finished the season going just 2-6.

Key additions
CB Aaron Ross
WR Steve Smith
LB Kawika Mitchell
RB Ahmad Bradshaw

Aaron Ross was selected with the 20th overall pick in the April draft. He was a top CB out of U-Texas and secondary help is what the Giants needed (and still need) desperately. I like what I’ve seen from him in the preseason despite getting picked on – he’s made some nice tackles, has shown good speed and change-of-direction ability, and despite allowing some long catches has been in good position (but the throws were perfect). He should be the starting nickelback, and could take over starting by mid-season (he also returns punts). The only downside is that he’ll turn 25 this month, quite old for a rookie CB.

Steve Smith (out of USC) was selected in the 2nd round and has excelled in camp and in the preseason (8 catches, 78 yds, 1 TD). He has probably taken the #3 WR spot over Sinorice Moss. Along with Shockey, Plax, Toomer, Moss and Mix, the Giants (could) have a one of the best passing attacks in football (a lot of which still rests on Eli).

LB Kawika Mitchell was the only impact free agent that rookie GM Jerry Reese signed. He’s 27 and to this point played his entire career with the Chiefs where he amassed 302 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 13 pass deflections and 3 picks. Reese signed him to a nice, low risk contract (one year, $1 million). He’ll be the starting weak side linebacker.

RB Ahmad Bradshaw could turn into the steal of the 2007 draft. He was taken in the 7th round out of Marshall and has excelled in the preseason – 26 carries for 177 yards (6.8 per carry), 4 catches for 31 yards. He looks like a bigger version of Tiki: quick, agile, a little small – and he’s the starting kick returner. The offense for the 2007 Giants should be very strong, which brings me to…

Keys to the season
Eli’s progression
This will be Eli’s 4th season in the league, and if the team is going anywhere he needs to step up from his previous three. If the preseason is any indication (69% completion rate, 3 TD, 0 INT, 107 rating), he’s going to have a breakout year. QB coach Chris Palmer came over from Dallas where he finished molding Tony Romo into (seemingly) a very solid QB.

Steve Spagnuolo’s new D
The new defensive coordinator that came over from Philly has brought a blitzing, attacking defense that is part of the reason Mathias Kiwanuka moved from DE to OLB. His kind of style is high-risk/high-reward. It will be susceptible to screen passes, draws and hot routes, and if the blitzers do not get to the QB, it will leave the weak secondary very exposed. If they can get to the passer, it will hide a lot of problems with the DBs. If nothing else, it will be exciting to watch.

Because of the weak NFC East, the Giants actually have a decent shot at the division title. They’ll win anywhere from six to nine games. This may sound horrible, but I would rather have the team suck badly than be simply mediocre (which is probably what will happen) – I’d rather draft Darren McFadden (or another top player) and get a new head coach in here than continue plugging along as just another mediocre NFL team. Final prediction: 8-8 (wildcard team), Eli has a very good year (QB rating over 90), but the secondary kills them too often to win consistently.

sources:, Wikipedia, ESPN


Giants 2006 recap and 2007 preview

by Football Outsiders -

Head coach Tom Coughlin signed a shiny new one-year deal earlier this off-season — which doesn’t say much for his long-term job security — but he will have two new coordinators for 2008. Kevin Gilbride, who replaced offensive coordinator John Hufnagel in Week 16 last season, will keep the job; Eagles linebackers coach Steve Spagnuolo will replace Tim Lewis, now the Panthers secondary coach.

Under Lewis, the Giants finished 21st, 11th, and 13th in defensive DVOA the last three seasons, often with injuries at key positions. In 2006, linebacker LaVar Arrington was lost for the year with an Achilles’ tendon injury, and defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora missed time with various ailments. Still, the improvement from bottom third to middle of the pack wasn’t enough for Lewis to keep his job. Coughlin hired Spagnuolo without conducting an in-person interview with other candidates. Part of the appeal had to be Spagnuolo’s association with Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. Philadelphia features an aggressive, blitzing scheme, something Lewis didn’t emphasize in New York or in a previous stint as Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator…

Continued here.


Strahan and Petitgout Done for Year

The Giants’ injury problems continue:

Seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan will miss the rest of the season for the New York Giants after aggravating a sprained right foot last weekend against the New Orleans Saints. He was placed on injured reserve Tuesday and could need surgery, the team said.

The Giants (7-8) can almost surely clinch a playoff berth by beating the Redskins (5-10) in the regular-season finale at Washington on Saturday.

New York also placed offensive tackle Luke Petitgout and returner Chad Morton on injured reserve. Morton injured his knee Sunday; Petitgout broke a leg against Chicago on Nov. 12.

Just what the Giants need – more injuries. Even if they do miraculously win at Washington on Saturday, they won’t go far in the playoffs without Strahan and Petitgout. Strahan’s replacement is not much of a downgrade, 1st rd. pick Mathias Kiwanuka; but Petitgout’s replacement is awful, 15-year veteran Bob Whitfield.


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