The Schein Nine  

 

Denver Broncos are not elite; Baltimore Ravens' defense is back

"They are who we thought they were!"

Former head coach Dennis Green famously uttered those words after his Arizona Cardinals blew a 20-point lead and suffered a disheartening loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.

I hear that, Dennis.

I don't overreact to what I see in August, but when you have a notion early in the summer and it crystallizes in the preseason, you begin forming convictions about the fall. This is the case with the nine topics below -- my prior assumptions are coming to fruition.

It's a Schein Nine with an ode to Dennis Green: They are who we thought they were!

1) No Supe for you, Denver!

I expressed doubts about Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos in a column back in May. I further questioned the squad on "NFL AM." Broncos fans branded me a hater. I choose to think of myself as a realist.

And this was before all of the injuries and off-field issues. Now I'm even more convinced: Denver is not a Super Bowl team.

Von Miller has been suspended for the first six games of the season. This is the same Von Miller I listed near the top of my Schein Nine about the most indispensable defensive players. He's an elite pass rusher. And don't forget: Denver's also missing Elvis Dumervil after the fax fiasco that shockingly made him a free agent (and eventually sent him to the Baltimore Ravens).

Meanwhile, Champ Bailey suffered a serious foot sprain in Saturday night's preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks. Colleague Ian Rapoport hears the recovery process could take several weeks. That's a huge injury, factoring in Bailey's play and leadership, plus the overall lack of depth in the defensive backfield. With the aforementioned pass-rushing questions, this is very concerning.

Then there's Stewart Bradley, who appeared to be en route to nabbing a starting linebacker position. Now he needs surgery.

The Broncos open up the NFL season with Joe Flacco and the Ravens. Remember what happened the last time these teams met in Denver? Then they visit the New York Giants for the latest version of the Manning Bowl.

Miller's already a no-go for both games, but what if the Broncos have to play those two teams without Bailey, as well?

On the offensive side of the ball, Wes Welker also suffered a sprain (ankle) against Seattle. While it's not as serious as Bailey's sprain -- Welker is expected to be fine by the opener -- any time missed in developing a rapport with the meticulous Manning cannot be overlooked.

Looking around the AFC West, the Kansas City Chiefs will be much better than they were last year; I see a legit nine-win threat there. And the San Diego Chargers don't have Norv Turner anymore -- that's a positive.

Don't get me wrong, I still think Denver wins the division. But the Broncos are closer to being a 10-win team than a juggernaut. I don't view them as a powerhouse in the AFC, let alone the NFL.

2) The defense is back in Baltimore

The Baltimore Ravens have some questions on offense -- the Dennis Pitta injury looms large -- but this defense will return to dominance.

Terrell Suggs is healthy and primed to contend for another Defensive Player of the Year award. Dumervil looks great -- the perfect pass-rushing complement to Suggs. And veteran addition Daryl Smith looks capable at the all-important Mike linebacker spot. Not to mention, two highly regarded draft picks (safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown) might be starting the year as backups -- a testament to Baltimore's defensive depth.

I'll say it again: The Ravens will win the AFC North. No Ray Lewis? No Ed Reed? No problem. Baltimore will field a better defense in 2013 than it did last season -- a season that ended in Super Bowl triumph.

3) Philadelphia will exceed expectations

In the Philadelphia Eagles' second preseason tilt last Thursday, the defense looked improved, LeSean McCoy looked spry and Michael Vick once again looked like Chip Kelly's guy. No wonder Kelly named Vick his starting quarterback Tuesday morning.

Bottom line: The Eagles are going to be better than you think. I'm all in on Kelly and will continue screaming my belief in the NFL newbie from the mountaintop.

Could Philly prove to be the best of an average bunch in the NFC East and shock the NFL world?

4) The Packers remain elite

The Green Bay Packers' defense looks improved. The run game is improved. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in football.

Some folks seem to be overlooking the Packers due to injuries and attrition, but Green Bay will start the season as one of the four best teams in the NFL.

5) Detroit's still the NFC North's worst team

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I'm not buying the Detroit Lions. Won't do it. Can't do it.

I loved the Reggie Bush signing. But I still have questions about the offensive line, Matthew Stafford's touchdown-to-interception ratio and the back end of the defense.

And no matter how you slice it, Green Bay, Chicago and Minnesota are better.

6) Chicago hope

Did you see rookie guard Kyle Long dominate again? He's a major upgrade on the Chicago Bears' offensive line.

Jay Cutler will have the time, weapons, run game and coaching (with new head man Marc Trestman). He's out of excuses.

7) Beware Arizona

I penned the "Arizona Cardinals can shock the world" column very, very early in the offseason. Pay close attention.

Carson Palmer looks even better than I expected. Larry Fitzgerald is going to have a monster year, while Michael Floyd is blossoming into a player.

The Cardinals and St. Louis Rams could win the NFC East if they played in that division.

8) Brownie points! Cleveland has some offensive oomph

The Cleveland Browns ranked 25th in total offense last season, but I see some promise for this unit in 2013.

First of all, Trent Richardson is due for a monster sophomore season. He headlined my list of breakout candidates in May and looked effective in his preseason debut last Thursday, particularly on this 17-yard scamper.

Secondly, Norv Turner's presence as offensive coordinator clearly benefits second-year signal-caller Brandon Weeden. Norv isn't much of a head coach, but he's a fantastic play caller and accomplished QB guru. His vertical attack plays to Weeden's strengths, as evidenced by the quarterback's stellar performance so far in the preseason. In a surprise to absolutely no one, the Browns officially named Weeden the team's Week 1 starter on Tuesday.

9) Jacksonville reeled in a big Fisch

Don't forget about Maurice Jones-Drew. He remains elite despite missing most of last season for the Jacksonville Jaguars. I talked to MJD on SiriusXM Radio last month, and he made two guarantees: 1) He would be in great health and primed for a huge year; and 2) new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch would be the best thing to happen to him and Blaine Gabbert in years.

It was great to see Jones-Drew back on an NFL field -- and showing some wiggle -- in Saturday night's game against the New York Jets.

The eighth-year back is going to catch a lot of passes in Fisch's offense, which is very similar to a system Jones-Drew starred in at UCLA.

In a contract year, MJD will be one of the best running backs in the league.

I'm not a Gabbert guy, but I feel compelled to mention how much Jones-Drew likes him; the running back thinks his quarterback will live up to his potential under Fisch.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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