2009 spoiler alerts (cont.)
Expectation: Albert Haynesworth, Dan Snyder's latest multimillionaire, has been set up to fail.
Spoiler alert: Sure, Snyder overpaid for the erstwhile Titans defensive tackle, but the Washington Redskins actually boast some comparable pieces on defense to Tennessee, and that should allow Haynesworth to thrive. Like Tennessee's defensive line (which features Kyle Vanden Bosch, Tony Brown and Javon Kearse), savvy veterans and journeymen comprise Washington's line (Phillip Daniels, Cornelius Griffin and Andre Carter). As in Tennessee, Haynesworth is the best of the bunch. The biggest link between the teams might be at linebacker, where the fierce Keith Bulluck led the Titans and London Fletcher provides inspiration for the Redskins. Haynesworth will love having Fletcher, a leader and ultimate teammate, behind him. By the same token, Fletcher will love the mayhem Haynesworth creates up front.
Expectation: The Arizona Cardinals, so close to becoming Super Bowl champs, should roll into the playoffs again.
Spoiler alert: There is a reason Super Bowl runners-up rarely make the playoffs the next season (the 2000 Titans and 2006 Seahawks being the only exceptions this decade). Make that multiple reasons. Fatigue, disappointment, anger, turnover and expectations are all factors. This could be doubly so for the Cardinals, who were a Santonio Holmes' tiptoe-grab away from winning it all. While Warner and Larry Fitzgerald return (and negotiations with Anquan Boldin's new agent, Tom Condon, approach), the Cardinals may have trouble recreating that magic. I bumped into coach Ken Whisenhunt, his wife, Alice, and Cardinals PR man Mark Dalton at the Masters in April. I congratulated them on the 2008 season. I didn't mention the stat about runners-up. I'm sure I didn't have to.
Expectation: The Detroit Lions won't sniff .500 this season.
Spoiler alert: New coach Jim Schwartz need only look south to Atlanta to see what a first-year head coach and rookie quarterback can do together. Winning doesn't come easy in the NFL, but it can come quickly. The Lions can't expect Matthew Stafford to mimic Matt Ryan or Flacco (Stafford has to beat out Daunte Culpepper first), but they can feel good about their future and their present. Like the Miami Dolphins after their one-win 2007 season, the Lions have turned over their roster in an attempt to shed the remnants from their winless season. (Heck, they even created a new logo!) Linebacker Julian Peterson and defensive tackle Grady Jackson are instant upgrades. The secondary looks better, too, with Phillip Buchanon, Anthony Henry and Eric King, who played under Schwartz in Tennessee. We're years away from a parade here, but maybe only a few months from respectability.
Spoiler alert: While Bush is an explosive player and an important cog in the Saints' offense, the New Orleans defense has been the real reason for the Saints' woes. Even with Drew Brees lighting up the scoreboard last season, the Saints spent much of the year trading touchdowns, thanks to their punchless defense. To buck that trend, the Saints hired defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the NFL's defensive fix-it man and a guy who loves to bring pressure. And another thing; Bush may be remarkably talented, but the Saints are equally excited about Pierre Thomas' power running, and Thomas will receive the bulk of the carries now that Deuce McAllister is gone. With Bush undergoing micro-fracture surgery on his knee last season, the Saints will need to lean on Thomas even more.
Damon Hack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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