The Notebook’s NFL division previews come to an end today with a look at the homes of last year’s Super Bowl teams—the NFC North and Green Bay, and Pittsburgh’s AFC North. Links to each team’s full preview is included, along with a predicted record. Following the pro predictions is analysis on a bad first week for the Pac-12.
1)Green Bay (13-3): How good can the Packers be if they keep everyone reasonably healthy all year long? 13 wins is how good, as Green Bay rolls to the #1 seed in the playoffs.
2)Detroit (9-7):The defensive front four makes the Lions a contender. If they bench Matthew Stafford in favor of underappreciated Shaun Hill, they can make the playoffs.
3)Chicago (7-9): Everything went right for the Bears last season and while they are fundamentally sound, they still lack talent on the offensive line and will see the luck pendulum swing the other way.
4)Minnesota (5-11): Leslie Frazier’s the right man for the job, but the Vikes are rebuilding and in 2011 they do what rebuilding teams do—finish last.
1)Baltimore (11-5): If the Ravens can squeeze another year out of defensive vets Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed, they can finally exorcise their demons from Pittsburgh.
2)Pittsburgh (10-6): Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamulu and a great linebacking quartet can only obscure this team’s line problems on both sides of the ball for so long.
3)Cleveland (6-10):The offensive line needs somebody besides Joe Thomas to step up, or Colt McCoy’s going to be spending considerable time gazing at the sky in Cleveland.
4)Cincinnati (4-12):Cincy’s not a hopeless team, but this organization is so dysfunctional that you have to assume the worst.
The final NFL preview, with Super Bowl picks runs tomorrow, as we set the stage for Thursday night’s opener in Lambeau Field.
ALARM BELLS IN THE PAC-12
It wasn’t a stellar beginning for the Pac-12 this past Saturday, as the conference hoped to usher its new dozen-team existence by building off of last season when Oregon made the national championship game and Stanford won the Orange Bowl. Instead, on a week when most major conference teams are doing tuneups, six of the conference’s teams have reason to sound alarm bells. Let’s take a brief snapshot of those six…
*The most visible defeat was Oregon’s 40-27 loss to LSU in primetime on ABC. The downside to this is that the Ducks’ deficit got as high as twenty points in the second half and they were beaten at the line of scrimmage. LSU backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford led an attack that piled up 175 yards and this game now joins Auburn in last year’s title game and Ohio State in the ’09 Rose Bowl, where Oregon has been physically overmatched by top programs. On the positive side, the Ducks shot themselves in the foot most of the night with four turnovers and twelve penalties, so there’s hope they can clean up their game and make the most of a potential second chance in a big bowl game.
*USC barely held off Minnesota in the Coliseum 19-17. The narrow margin at home against a weak opponent is bad enough, but when you can’t handle the Golden Gophers at the line of scrimmage it’s a clear alarm bell. USC was bailed out by Matt Barkley’s repeated connections with receiver Robert Woods—17 of them to be precise, for 177 yards. There was no consistent ground game or diversity of targets in the passing game.
*UCLA suffered a disappointing 38-34 loss in Houston, but I think the Bruins can take the most hope out of their loss. They played a pretty good team on the road, ran the ball well with Jonathan Franklin and had their chances in this game. Like Oregon, UCLA beat themselves with double-digit penalties. The concern here has to be if lack of disciplined play will become a staple of Bruin football this fall.
*No one suffered more embarrassment than Oregon State, who lost in overtime to Sacramento State, 29-28 and Washington nearly joined the Beavers in humiliation, barely escaping Eastern Washington 30-27. Both teams were lit up in the secondary and neither is going to see their lives get easier. Oregon State goes to Wisconsin to face Russell Wilson and the Badgers while Washington draws Hawaii and its tremendously talented quarterback Bryant Moniz.
*Speaking of Hawaii and Moniz, they’re fresh off churning out a win over new Pac-12 South member Colorado. The Buffalo pass defense actually hung in okay, but in spite of a longstanding Hawaii tradition of being soft on defense, Colorado was unable to run the ball with any degree of effectiveness.
Coaches say a team makes its biggest improvement from the first game to the second game. On those grounds, there’s going to be some nervous staffs watching their teams develop this weekend, as they look to improve off these results.
*It's Getaway Day at Del Mar on Wednesday, September 7. Visit Bloodhorse.com for updates on the doings here and at major tracks around the country.
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