With two-back systems all over the NFL, quarterback play has never been so important in the YFFL. It's especially true in the NFC West, where one team is trying to be remembered by history, one is trying to repeat last year's performance, one is trying to get out of their superstar's shadow and one is trying to erase a season to forget.
It seems like it's said every year, but the window of opportunity is closing for the greatest collection of players to never win a Super Bowl. While that's an old theme, it's a new year of possibilities for the Chickens, who begin their first season under the guidance of general manager Nick Wood. There's no denying the star power of this team, with arguably the best RB, WR and TE in the league manning key positions. However, much like previous years, it will be the quarterback position that determines how great this team will be. Wood will have a choice between Donovan McNabb, Philip Rivers and Vince Young each week and there's sure to be plenty of second-guessing. Does he choose one as the starter or play match-ups every week? With quality production out of that position, the Chickens will challenge for the elusive Super Bowl title they need to cement their legacy.
Projected Record: 10-3
Mexican Humping Beans
Thanks to coming-out parties for Braylon Edwards and Dallas Clark, the 2007 Beans captured their first division title since 2003 and came within 10 points of a trip to Super Bowl XV. Much like the Chickens, quarterback play will determine how far the Beans go in 2008. Jay Cutler enters his second full-season as starter after an up-and-down year that saw him toss 4 touchdowns in the Wild Card game, but also post 6 points or less in 7 of his 11 starts. If Cutler can up his production to 2 TDs a game, the rock solid supporting cast of Edwards, Clark, Clinton Portis and Plaxico Burress should guarantee another trip to the playoffs for the Beans and possibly another division title.
Projected Record: 8-5
After a 4-9 debut, the "Peyton Manning effect" has been on full display for the Huskers during the last two seasons with records of 6-6-1 and 7-6. Manning finds himself as the center of a franchise surrounded by role players once again this season. The Huskers are comprised of an interesting mix of young and old (veterans Edgerrin James, Tony Gonzalez and Derrick Mason will likely join youngsters Selvin Young, Brandon Jacobs and Brandon Marshall in the line-up) and how this mixture congeals will dictate the success of the Huskers this season. Look for the veterans to feel young every once in awhile, the youngsters to play like veterans every once awhile and Manning to be Manning, which means another 7-6 season.
Projected Record: 7-6
The Brothers thought they had the steal of the 2007 draft when they selected Adrian Peterson in the 4th round. Unfortunately, it was the other Adrian Peterson. This year's draft will surely generate a little more excitement as the Brothers hold the 1st overall selection and are ready to put a nightmarish season behind them. However, it won't be easy. Cedric Benson was released, Cadillac Williams is hurt and Deuce McAllister has looked like a shell of his former self, leaving the backfield in total disarray, Carson Palmer may be without one of his top weapons in Chad Johnson in both body and spirit, and Steve Smith is suspended for 2 weeks after a training camp altercation. Even with the top pick, it's shaping up to be another long year for the Brothers.
Projected Record: 4-9
LaDainian Tomlinson, Chickens
When a "down season" results in leading your position in scoring, you know you're a special player. Tomlinson scored 110 fewer points than his previous season and was still the top RB, truly a testament to his dominance. If uneven quarterback play leads the Chickens into rough waters, LT2 will be the rudder that keeps them on course. In a two-back league, he's the man in San Diego.
Jamal Lewis, Chickens
Would you ever trade for Jamal Lewis? Of course not. But as a third running back, you could do much worse than J-Lew. Lewis posted 38 points last season, but could have garnered 78 (which would have been good for 6th among running backs) if he was an every week starter. Lewis has big-game potential, having topped 20 points three times in his career and a clear role as the feature back of a potent Browns offense.
Steve Smith, Brothers
After a breakthrough 100 point season in 2005, Smith's production has dropped off the past two seasons, culminating in a 4 point performance over the final last 6 weeks of last season in which he was unable to crack 20 yards receiving 3 times. After a training camp scuffle with a teammate, Smith will miss the first two games of the season with a suspension.
Tony Scheffler, Brothers
In a division dominated by big-name tight ends like Gates, Gonzalez, Clark and Whitten, Tony Scheffler could fly under the radar and thrive in the West Coast offense of the Broncos. Look for Scheffler to act as Cutler's safety valve while picking up tough yards and quite a few TDs in the red zone.