New tight end Tony Gonzalez will try to lead the Falcons to back-to-back postseasons.
Peter King's Mailbag
Peter King will answer your questions each week in Monday Morning Quarterback: Tuesday Edition.
Matt Ryan can salve a lot of wounds, and now that he's got the best offensive tight end in football, Tony Gonzalez, to patrol the middle, he should increase his accuracy from 61 to 67 or 68 percent. Atlanta needs first-rounder Peria Jerry, who injured his knee over the weekend, to be a disruptor on the defensive line; it's a big gap in their defensive front. Mike Smith's terrific handling of John Abraham last year, keeping him healthy for the first time into January in the star pass-rusher's career by rotating him a lot and making sure he always sat for a third of Atlanta's defensive snaps, will pay dividends again this season.
Just an unsettling offseason, so far. I love the free-agent signing of Bryant McFadden to pair at corner with Dominique Rogers-Cromartie (does any other corner combination in football contain 13 syllables?), but the Cards are too unsettled right now. Will Boldin or Darnell Dockett, or both, shoot their way out of town? Will Beanie Wells be a good fit for the two-headed running game, along with Tim Hightower? One thing we do know: Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald will be Brady-Moss-like prolific as long as Warner can stay healthy.
Every year a trendy pick. Every year 8-8. Notice I said the top dozen teams all have reliable strong quarterbacks. I stopped at Matt Schaub, who has been just OK. Quick aside, the Texans paid more for him (two second-round picks, plus moving down two spots in the first round) than Kansas City did for Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel combined (a second-round pick in the 2009 draft).
14. Green Bay
I'm shocked the Packers won only six games last year. It just showed how valuable a piece of their puzzle Cullen Jenkins was. At 6-2 and 305 pounds and with good lateral quickness, he should come back from the torn pectoral that caused him to miss 12 games last year and play very well in the new 3-4. This is a team with far better talent than six wins, and I expect Aaron Rodgers to be better in the fourth quarter this year than last, by the sheer experience factor.
Hiring Dom Capers to run the defense was smart because the 4-3 wasn't working with the talent Green Bay had in-house. With B.J. Raji anchoring the middle, and Jenkins and Clay Matthews and new outside 'backer Aaron Kampman rushing, I wouldn't be surprised if the Packers won 10. But they'll have to run the gamut of a tough schedule the last month of the season (Baltimore, at Chicago, at Pittsburgh, Seattle, at Arizona) to make the playoffs.
It's hard to forecast because the offense is so spotty after Adrian Peterson, and I can only assume Percy Harvin will stay on the straight and narrow with so much at stake in his life and career, but they don't sell insurance for those kind of things. We don't know who will play quarterback for the Vikes. But either Sage Rosenfels or Favre would be better than Gus Frerotte. Eight times they scored 28 or more last year, mostly with Frerotte playing. The biggest benefit? Minnesota has the easiest first month in football: at Cleveland, at Detroit, San Francisco, Green Bay, at St. Louis. If they don't get out to a 4-1 start, you know something's wrong.
16. New York Jets
They were 8-3 last year after 12 weeks with a quarterback playing well but not great, and they only fell off the face of the earth because Favre couldn't throw well down the stretch. The key will be whether Mark Sanchez can adapt to Brian Schottenheimer's offense and digest it in time to play very early, like opening day. Because what coach Rex Ryan is aiming for is clear. Speaking of Ryan, the Jets will be a fun team to watch because he's going to make some lesser lights shine in roles they've never played before. It's a fun defense, and his troops will eat it up. I could see the Jets anywhere between 6-10 and 11-5.
The difference between this year and last might just be the schedule. This one's a bruiser, starting with Atlanta on the road, Indy at home and San Diego on the road, and ending at Tennessee and home with Houston and Pittsburgh. Every one of those teams could win 10 games, and that's how the Fins have to start and end the season. I really like the Pat White second-round pick, but if Chad Pennington doesn't stay upright, playing Chad Henne with White in relief could be a major pothole.
Sorry. I can't get the taste of that last game out of my mouth. That was as bad a game as I've seen a playoff quarterback play in years, and as much as I admire Jake Delhomme as a person and like him as a player, I'm going to have to see him play better than the guy who was just OK (59 percent completions, 206 passing yards a game) last year. The Julius Peppers situation is unsettling too, particularly for a team that didn't play well on defense at all down the stretch. Points allowed, last seven games: 45, 31, 23, 10, 34, 31, 33. So pardon me if I'm not on the Panthers bandwagon just yet.
Hard not to like what the Seahawks have done in the offseason, replacing the declining Julian Peterson and Rocky Bernard with Aaron Curry at linebacker and defensive-line-rotation pieces Colin Cole and Cory Redding. T.J. Houshmandzadeh's a very good addition, but he's not really much different than Bobby Engram, other than he should be able to stay healthier than Engram. But this team will sink or swim on the back of Matt Hasselbeck. Jim Mora told me in about 16 different ways Hasselbeck's back is fine. Hasselbeck has echoed that repeatedly, but let's see how he holds up when the real games start.
For years, Broncos fans had to sit back and just trust Mike Shanahan, because some of those weird Maurice Clarett-ish decisions he made were so counter-intuitive. So now Pat Bowlen hires boy wonder Josh McDaniels, and the Broncos fans have to think the same thing all over again. Jettisoning Jay Cutler? Drafting a running back with the first pick when the crying needs are all over the defense? Paying a long-snapper $1 million a year? I like McDaniels. I think he's smart, he doesn't have rabbit-ears, and he's a man of his convictions. He can coach the hell out of the quarterback position, but he may not have a very long honeymoon period.