It is the time of year when speculation rules the roost. It's the quiet before the storm and there's nothing to really do but guess what might happen. I took a look at the history of eight critical areas of a football season and took a few educated guesses about what the outcome might be in 2007.
NEW LEADERS EVERY YEAR...SO WHO WILL IT BE IN 2007
Only one player has won back to back titles in the following statistical areas over the past four seasons, with Shaun Alexander won the title of most touchdowns scored in a season in 2004 (20) and 2005 (28). But when it came to passing yards, passing touchdowns, rushing yards, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, sacks and interceptions every season there has been a different leader from the year before. Safe to say it is next to impossible for a player to repeat. With that in mind I'm going to take a chance on naming the 'next' player to win each one of those important categories.
It might surprise the average fan to think that four different quarterbacks have led the NFL in passing yards in the last four years. Drew Brees in '06, Carson Palmer in '05, Duante Culpepper in '04 and Peyton Manning in '03as each has averaged 4,378 yards. And since no one has done it twice, a new name is required here so I'll go with Jon Kitna. He is in his second year under Mike Martz, has terrific weapons in Roy Williams, Calvin Johnson and Mike Furrey and they should play from behind just enough to keep on throwing the ball. As for passing touchdowns, Peyton Manning has done it twice in '06 and '04. Tom Brady led the league in '05 and Brett Favre did it in '04. It should take 36 touchdown passes to lead the NFL and I'll say the addition of Randy Moss to an already strong receiver/tight end group will give Brady the nod.
I was surprised to see that LaDanian Tomlinson (2006)has only led the league in rushing once in the past four years. Curtis Martin (2004) and Jamal Lewis (2003) were the other two to join Tomlinson and Alexander. The leader should be someone new and will probably gain 1,860 yards. The title has a good chance of going to Steven Jackson as he shows signs of being a great player.
The leading scorer in the NFL (excluding kickers) is traditionally a running back. Not a wide receiver or tight end. Tomlinson looked unstoppable in 2006 with 31 TDs and could very easily repeat. But since I comited to new faces at every category, I will go with Larry Johnson. The embattled Chiefs running back is looking for a new contract, possibly bigger than LaDanian's, so there's only one way to do that in this business. Hit the 'paydirt' more times than LT.
When it came to receiving yards, I guessed Marvin Harrison won that title at least once but discovered he has never won it in the past four years. The list is, in order, Chad Johnson, Steve Smith, Mushin Muhammad and Tory Holt. The average yardage over the past four seasons to win the title is 1,508 and my pick for 2007 is Roy Williams.
Touchdown receptions was another area I would have sworn Chad Johnson or Tory Holt won at least once in the last four years, but neither player accomplished that goal. Terrell Owens won last season, preceded by a tie in 2005 between Steve Smith and Marvin Harrison. Mushin Muhammad (2004) and Randy Moss (2003) round out the list. The average dictates that 16 trips to the end zone is going to take the crown and this season I'll pick Chad Johnson to be the winner.
Pass rushers are surely getting paid these days and every year there's a new leader on the boards when it comes to dropping the quarterback. Shawn Merriman, Derrick Burgess, Dwight Freeney and Michael Strahan are the last four to be declared the best. The magic number will be 17 and the best in the league will be Julius Peppers who realizes a bigger deal than the Dwight Freeney $72M contract is waiting for him at the quarterback. There's always the possibility that DeMarcus Ware, in the Wade Phillips scheme, could jump up and deliver a Merriman-like performance.
Interceptions is another area of your guess is as good as mine. Over the past two season four different corner backs have boasted the best in the NFL. Assante Samuels, Champ Bailey, Ty Law and Deltha O'Neal have all recorded 10. In the two season prior (2004-03), safeties dominated the interception business when Ed Reed, Brian Russell and Tony Parrish picked off the QB nine times each. This year I think there will be a tie between a corner and a safety with 9 and I like the Jaguars Rasheen Mathis and the Colts Bob Sanders.
Finally, the NFL is one tough place for the best of the best to repeat and this season will be no different.
WHAT ELSE TO EXPECT
It's a shame that Samuels and the Bears linebacker Lance Briggs didn't arrive at the long term deals they wanted before the league deadline this week. That being said I expect both of them to play this season under the franchise tag they were assigned by their respective clubs. They may be late for camp and if they are they will be fined. But the relatively little daily fine is nothing compared to missing any of those 17 game checks they will surrender if they hold out into the season, an estimated $450,000 per week. A threat to hold out for ten weeks will cost each player about $4.5M and then they have to return to play the final six games to get credit for the season.
They need the season credit it order to reach free agency next season. Players take a huge injury risk by sitting out those ten weeks, and will likely never regain that money that is lost. The best thing they can do is come to camp earn the entire $7.79M (Samuels) or $7.2M (Briggs) and hope the team can't afford to franchise tag them next season.