Broken Bones, Market Thugs and Harmony
PORTLAND, ME - After 3 straight division titles and 4 in 5 years, owner Bobby Sansone and the Market Thugs fell on their hardest times since dropping "Beckwith Farm" from their name, losing 9 of their final 10 games last season after starting 3-0. Don't be fooled by the 4-9 record though - the Thugs were just one of 7 teams to crack the 500 point barrier last season and were victims of a league-high 635 points scored against in 2004. With a solid running game in the form of Edgerrin James and Ahman Green along with an emerging WR corps led by Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans, the Thugs could bounce back from their nightmarish '04 and contend for the playoffs immediately in '05.
Although still looking for his first victory in a Thugs uniform, last season's acquisition of Marc Bulger may have been the most important development of the year. Coupled with David Akers' strong leg and rock steady production, Bulger's consistent 2 TDs per game should complement the Thugs' playmakers at the skill positions and together anchor a team that had its ups and downs last year in terms of point production.
Biggest Question Facing Owner Bobby Sansone
Can the Thugs' young receivers produce? Anquan Boldin is healthy again after missing half of the 2004 YFFL season following his surprise YFFL Rookie of the Year campaign and Lee Evans became the focal point of the Bills passing offense late last season, so 2005 could be a breakout season for these two wide outs. The largest determining factor may be whether the pair can get consistent QB play, which is a big question mark with perennial wild card Kurt Warner and first-year starter J.P. Losman slated to be throwing balls their way. With the #4 overall draft pick Sansone also has the option of adding a Braylon Edwards, Troy Williamson or Mike Williams into the mix which would further solidy his stable of rising stars at WR - look for this position to determine whether the Thugs can challenge the Merry Men for a 5th division crown.
Because of their tough luck 2004 season, the Thugs find themselves with the 4th overall pick and better positional balance than any of the other teams picking in the top 5. This allows Sansone to go a number of ways with this pick. The self-proclaimed "RB guru" could have whoever remains from the quartet of Cadillac Williams, Cedric Benson, Ronnie Brown and J.J. Arrington and bolster an aging running attack or continue his influx of youth at the WR position by picking one of the aforementioned wideouts. Whatever path Sansone takes, this rookie will have the envious position of "contributor" and not focal point for this talented club.
Bulger, James, Green, Evans, Boldin, Mili, Akers, #1 Draft Pick
Look for the Thugs to get out to an early start in 2005 as they play the Brothers, Mallards, Poop and Llamas in the first 4 weeks of the year. If they can win these games and then simply play .500 ball the rest of the way, it may be enough to outlast the Buddies and their much tougher schedule for the AFC wild card berth. This year will certainly be a year of transition for the Thugs - after a heavy workload the past few seasons, Ahman Green showed obvious signs of slowing down late last season as the Thugs lost their final 6 games. It will now be up to Edgerrin James and Sansone's crop of young receivers to lead this team. Combined with a steady presence at quarterback and kicker, the Thugs have the tools to rebound from a disappointing 2004 and be a surprise contender.
8-5; 2nd AFC West