Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Nutshells '07: Our annual previews

Every year during the preseason, Down and Distance presents our Nutshell team previews. The goal is to sum up each team's key story lines in 50 words or less, though a few of these run over. Feel free to clip and save these to discuss with your family or clergyman.

Arizona Cardinals: It may take one more season beyond 2007 for the experiment to run its course, but we are as close as we've ever been to determining whether a team can actually have losing imprinted in its DNA.

Atlanta Falcons: Frankly, the team should be thankful for the dogfighting "distraction." It'll keep them from recognizing that their electrifying superstar once-in-a-lifetime quarterback hasn't gotten them anywhere.

Baltimore Ravens: It's tempting to say this season is Baltimore's last shot at a championship, except that last season probably was.

Buffalo Bills: Step 1: Draft a feature running back (Travis Henry), then let him go in free agency rather than pay him. Step 2: Draft a feature running back (Willis McGahee), then let him go in free agency rather than pay him. Step 3: Draft a feature running back (Marshawn Lynch) ...

Carolina Panthers: The Panthers went 7-9 in 2002, then 11-5 in 2003, then 7-9 in 2004, then 11-5 in 2005, then 8-8 in 2006. Every year they get picked to go to the Super Bowl. The pattern suggests that it might not be so absurd this year.

Chicago Bears: In Chicago, home to exactly one NFL champion in the past 43 years, the quarterback is on the hot seat after the Bears reached the Super Bowl in his first full season as a starter.

Cincinnati Bengals: Team owner Mike Brown and coach Marvin Lewis would like to thank Pacman Jones, Michael Vick and Jared Allen for keeping SWAT teams occupied during the offseason.

Cleveland Browns: In marked contrast to, say, the Dolphins, the Browns are on their third quarterback of the future in the last eight years. It seems that at least one acorn that fell off the Belichick coaching tree has landed on concrete.

Dallas Cowboys: I was just saying: Nothing will make spotlight-chaser Terrell Owens and skirt-chaser Tony Romo really focus like a loosey-goosey "players' coach."

Denver Broncos: The addition of Dre Bly gives the Broncos the best secondary in football. They already have a solid front seven, a perennially strong running game, great coaching, and even good kickers. The only question mark is quarterback Jay Cutler. So if things don't go well, count on Bly to identify the problem.

Detroit Lions: The problem is not that the Lions have used their top draft pick on receivers for four straight years. It's that they haven't done anything else.

Green Bay Packers: With Brett Favre poised to break all of Dan Marino's career passing records, we'll be hearing way more about the Packers than we should. In other words, this year won't be any different from the past five.

Houston Texans: Here's hoping that while Matt Schaub was the backup in Atlanta, he picked up a few tips from Michael Vick on what to do when the pocket collapses.

Indianapolis Colts: If they're going to win the Super Bowl, they're going to have to do it with an undermanned, undersized, underachieving defense. Again.

Jacksonville Jaguars: The quarterback controversy has been settled once and for all. No one has Jack Del Rio's confidence.

Kansas City Chiefs: When Larry Johnson ends what is probably the wisest contract holdout in years, Herman Edwards is going to kill him. Of course, that was the plan even before L.J. held out.

Miami Dolphins: Continually unable to find their quarterback of the future, they gave up and got another one from the past. Trent Green will remind fans of Dan Marino in at least one respect, though: Both are old in 2007.

Minnesota Vikings: A top-notch rush defense doesn't do you much good when the other team just throws the ball over your head the whole game. Getting into a shootout won't work, either; Tarvaris Jackson always brings a knife to a gunfight.

New England Patriots: With the exception of Corey Dillon, the Pats have long avoided going after big names, so why'd they pick up Adalius Thomas, Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth? Just to fuck with you.

New Orleans Saints: Though they're everyone's chic pick to make the Super Bowl, you can't catch the entire league by surprise two years in a row.

New York Giants: Chicken-and-egg time: When's the last time you saw a team with a "disciplinarian" coach that wasn't full of discipline problems?

New York Jets: They got to 10-6 last year by playing nondivisional games against the NFC North and AFC South (2 playoff teams). This year they get the NFC East and AFC West (5 playoff teams, plus the Broncos.)

Oakland Raiders: The first-round draft pick is still unsigned. The 32-year-old coach is rumored to be getting rid of players older than he is. Robert Gallery is turning into one of the all-time draft busts. The silver lining for the Raiders is that an NFL season is kind of like the SATs: You get 2 wins just for signing your name.

Philadelphia Eagles: They could go to the Super Bowl again, and yet, at some point in the season, some damn fans are still going to be agitating for A.J. Feeley.

Pittsburgh Steelers: They could win the Super Bowl again, and yet, at some point in the season, some damn fans are still going to be agitating for Charlie Batch.

St. Louis Rams: Every other preview reads: "You know the Rams are going to score!" From 1999-2001, the Rams had the No. 1 scoring offense each year. The past three years? 19th, 11th, 10th. Meanwhile, in their Super Bowl seasons, they had the No. 7 and No. 3 scoring defenses. The past three years? 19th, 30th, 23rd. Yes, you know the Rams are going to score. And you know the opposition is going to score more.

San Diego Chargers: This is the same team as the one that had the NFL's best record in 2006, with one small change: They replaced a coach who famously can't win playoff games with a coach who famously can't win regular season games.

San Francisco 49ers: Remember when the Texans went from 4-12 to 5-11 to 7-9, became a trendy pick as a playoff sleeper, then went 2-14? The 49ers, having gone from 2-14 to 4-12 to 7-9, are a trendy pick as a playoff sleeper. Stay tuned!

Seattle Seahawks: After a storybook season in 2005, Seattle has slid back toward the middle of the pack, which is usually good enough to win the NFC West.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: First they traded for Jake Plummer, then they signed Jeff Garcia. If Garcia goes down, Jon Gruden has Drew Bledsoe, Jeff George, Tony Banks, and Stan Humphires on speed dial.

Tennessee Titans: Jeff Fisher is a fine coach, but a lone Super Bowl appearance eight years in the past won't be enough to save his job.

Washington Redskins: The very fact that we aren't talking about a raft of abominable free-agent signings indicates that it was a good offseason for the Redskins. They did sign Fred Smoot, but remember that he was a key player for the Skins before going to Minnesota and nearly getting the Vikings thrown out of the state.

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