As the 2012 season approaches optimism is in the air no matter what team you are pulling for, heck even the Dolphins said they should win the AFC this year! So as we look forward to this season, I am going to share a short list of players that will be better in 2012.
We will start off with the Quarterbacks!
- Sam Bradford, St Louis Rams - After the season that Cam Newton had last year, we can quickly forget just how special Sam Bradford was as a rookie in 2010. Last year was a different story for Bradford and the Rams though. Spagnuola was already on the hot seat going into the season last year, so they brought in Josh McDaniels to help spark the offense and it just didn't work. Between the injuries to the team and the transition to the new system, the offense was out of sync all year. To compound matters, Bradford got pounded and seemed to lose his confidence. This year Bradford is healthy and the Rams have new direction under Jeff Fisher. We can expect the Rams will get back to a more conventional offense, which should help their running game. Ultimately forcing the defenses to respect the whole field. I am still not certain that the Rams have given Sam a legitimate number one receiver yet, but with Salas, Pettis, Quick, Givens and Alexander you have a solid group of young and healthy receivers that can contribute. If Amendola and Smith can show that their injuries are behind them, they too could be big time difference makers in that group. Add to the mix rookie running back Isaiah Pead out of Cincinnati and you could be looking at a wide assortment of weapons. They still need one of those receivers to emerge as a go to guy and the offensive line needs to play better, but until that happens they will struggle. I still feel Bradford shows progress this year. Expect around 3,500 yards and 22 touchdowns.
- Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears - Cutler is such a polarizing figure because his personality doesn't seem to fit the mold. People will also look at the Bears struggles and use it as an opportunity to bash Cutler, but it isn't warranted. Cutler has spent three miserable years in the place where receivers go to die. Yet all he has done is throw for 225 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game. Not bad for a guy that has almost zero help outside of Matt Forte. This year the Bears have added Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to their receiving core and I believe it will pay immediate dividends. Even if Marshall has a slow start or a down year, he will still be a massive upgrade. Last year in Miami he had his worst season since his rookie year, and he still pulled in 81 grabs for 1,214 yards, 6 TDs and 53 first downs. That is more than double what Chicago's best receiver posted in 2010. Additionally this should allow new offensive coordinator Mike Tice to use Devin Hester in a more natural role in the offense, moving him around the formations and putting him in the slot where he can become a match-up nightmare. Cutler will play well, and put up numbers that will remind people how stupid it was for Denver to trade him. Look for around 4,000 yards and 25+ touchdowns this season.
- Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles - Vick threw for more yards, was sacked less, and ran for more yards per carry last year than he did during his special 2010 season, but it wasn't enough. You can't place all the blame on Vick because that team under-performed in so many areas last year, especially on offense. Jason Peters injury is terrible, but if they can find someone that can handle playing LT then this offense becomes elite. Fortunately the LT is not the premium that it is for most teams, since Vick is a lefty. This offense returns stud running back LeSean McCoy who should only build upon what he did last year, and they should have a healthy pair of receivers this year (minus the off-the-field drama). I still don't expect Vick to play a full 16 game season, but if he plays 12 or 13 games again he should put up 300 total yards and almost 2 touchdowns per game. If that holds true Vick could easily have 3,600+ all purpose yards and 24 touchdowns.
- Matt Schaub, Houston Texans - Schaub only gets on this list because of injury, but I also feel that he is still very underrated. When the Texans traded with the Falcons to get him in 2007, I thought it was a hasty and bad move for an unproven backup. I was wrong. When healthy Matt has done very well in Gary Kubiak's system. Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter both appear healthy right now, and if Mike Sims-Walker does indeed make the team, he could add a dangerous element to their passing attack if he can return to form. The only thing other than injury that can holdback Schaub is their right tackle. As long as they find a suitable replacement to fill the void at RT left by Eric Winston, then I trust Schaub to have 3,800+ yards with 25+ touchdowns and a 90+ passer rating.
- Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Bucs - It is funny how quickly things change in the NFL. Josh Freeman entered the league in 2009 as a talented but raw prospect. In many corners people felt Tampa Bay moving up two spots to select Freeman at 17 was a bit of a reach. But Raheem Morris who knew Josh from his time at Kansas State loved the kid. His first year was rough as are most rookie seasons. The Bucs, however, surprised many in 2010 and Freeman put up impressive numbers as a sophomore. Last year though, was largely a disappointment. Enter Greg Schiano. He has come in and aggressively moved to acquire talent, landing two of the top free agents in Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson as well as Dallas Clark. Then they moved up to draft Doug Martin to bring more versatility to their backfield. Suddenly this Bucs offense has a lot of weapons. Now I expect this to still be a run first team, but Freeman should be able to put up another 3,500 yard season. Additionally he should easily have a better TD to Int ratio, especially if Mike Williams learns out to catch the ball again. Something like 24 TDs to 13 picks doesn't seem unrealistic. I think the Bucs only win 7 or 8 games, but Freeman's play is improved.
- Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs - Chiefs fans have been clamoring for a new quarterback, and I don't think that will change this year either. What I do expect though, is for Matt to rebound from a forgettable 2011 season. Cassel is healthy and the good news is that Moeaki and Charles should be fully recovered as well. Add to that, the fact that Breaston and Baldwin are entering their second year with the team. They are also experiencing their first full off season as Chiefs. Additionally they have added Peyton Hillis and Kevin Boss to help resurrect the 31st ranked scoring offense in the league. I expect Cassel to produce in the range of 3,400 yards and 25 touchdowns and a passer rating in the high 80s low 90s. He won't be leading the league in MVP votes, but the Chiefs could certainly do worse.