2007 Football Forecast
Another season of NFL action is here and Cigar Aficionado's gridiron guru gets down and dirty to make his predictions
From the Print Edition:
Richard Branson, Sept/Oct 2007
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1 Seattle Seahawks
After struggling most of the season, the Seahawks took to the sky and became one of three teams (along with the Patriots and Colts) to win their division three straight times. All it took was a 9-7 record. Injuries to their two key offensive players contributed to a lackluster season: RB Shaun Alexander (896 yards) didn't get his 1,000 yards and QB Matt Hasselbeck, sacked 34 times in 12 games, passed for only 2,442 yards and 18 TDs. The club has neglected the offensive line after foolishly losing Pro Bowl G Steve Hutchinson to the Minnesota Vikings. To make matters worse, the Seahawks, without a No. 1 pick, didn't have a very good draft. Of the eight players they selected, only two were offensive linemen. The underachieving defense (341 points allowed) was in the middle of the pack.
2 San Francisco 49ers
Coach Mike Nolan used free agency to import seven new starters in hopes of improving on a 7-9 season. It was almost as if former owner Eddie DeBartolo was back spending money correctly. QB Alex Smith showed dramatic improvement, although the loss of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, now the Raiders' head coach, could impede his development. RB Frank Gore (1,695 yards) was the NFC's top rusher and a weapon in the passing game (61 receptions) as well. WRs Ashley Lelie and Darrell Jackson should help make the offense more potent. Defense wins championships, so Nolan lassoed elite CB Nate Clements from the Bills and LB Patrick Willis with his No. 1 pick. Nolan and the Niners also struck gold in the draft with Michigan T Joe Staley and Washington State WR Jason Hill.
3 Arizona Cardinals
Dennis Green is out after three futile seasons (16-32) and former Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is in. Owner Bill Bidwill hasn't had a winning team since 1998, but Whisenhunt, the club's eighth head coach in 19 years, is the perfect fit to find the oasis in the desert. The Cards are loaded on offense with second-year QB Matt Leinart, Pro Bowl WR Anquan Boldin (1,203 yards), WR Larry Fitzgerald (946 yards) and RB Edgerrin James (1,159 yards). Leinart will flourish under Whisenhunt, who tutored Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. If ex-Steelers offensive line coach Russ Grimm fixes the Cardinals' unit, the team could fly to the top of the roost.
4 St. Louis Rams
Coach Scott Linehan finished last season on a three-game winning streak. If he doesn't stay on a roll, owner Georgia Frontiere could be on track to have another ex-coach. Linehan added Titans WR Drew Bennett and Dolphins TE Randy McMichael to the second-highest-scoring NFC offense. Marc Bulger ranked fourth in the NFC with a 92.9 QB rating. In Torry Holt (93 catches, 1,188 yards, 10 TDs), he has an elite receiver. RB Steven Jackson had a breakout year, scoring 16 TDs and leading the NFL with 2,334 yards from scrimmage. No. 1 draft choice Nebraska DE Adam Carriker will help a defense that allowed a mind-boggling 4.9 yards per carry and finished 31st against the run. However, with RB Marshall Faulk gone and WR Isaac Bruce in the twilight of his career, the Rams could be the greatest no-show on turf.
Danny Sheridan is a sports analyst for USA Today for which he provides the daily odds on all sporting events.
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