Separating fact from fiction in the NFC
We've been waiting seven months for the NFL season to begin, a span of time jam-packed with predictions and speculation -- and now it's time to sort through it all and answer some questions. For instance, will someone please give rookie linebacker Bear Woods a job? Will NFL fans be able to appreciate the greatness of Jimmy Clausen when the Panthers have only one nationally televised game? Below, we'll look at the NFC, and on Wednesday we'll preview the AFC, separating fact from fiction.
Fact: Based on the results of the 2009 season, the following five teams have the weakest strength of schedule for 2010 games: 49ers, Chargers, Seahawks, Rams and Cardinals.
Fiction: The Chargers moved to the NFC West last season.
Fact: The Falcons had the best conversion percentage on fourth downs (70 percent) of any team in the NFC last year.
Fiction: The Falcons hope to exploit this strength and run more fourth-down plays in 2010.
Fact: Reggie Bush is only under contract through 2010, and if he and the Saints can't come to an agreement on his demands, he may peddle his wares somewhere else next season.
Fiction: Several years down the line, the NFL might have to ask the Saints to return their copy of the 2009 Lombardi Trophy.
Fact: Jim Sorgi, the longtime Colts backup who got limited action behind the resilient Peyton Manning, was signed by the Giants to be Eli Manning's backup in 2010, but is now out for the season with injury.
Fiction: Sorgi has asked to remain the Manning family's emergency contact.
Fact: The Eagles' new starting quarterback, Kevin Kolb, is a native Texan who has killed wild boar with a Bowie knife.
Fiction: Philly fans are gonna make him want to suck his thumb at the first sign of adversity.
Fact: Cowboys receiver Roy Williams posted a career high in yards per catch last season (15.7).
Fiction: Dallas fans think that's just great.
Fact: The Lions play only one nationally televised game this season.
Fiction: There are additional reasons -- beyond stodgy tradition -- that the NFL foists the Lions on us every Thanksgiving.
Fact: Players across the league are anxious about the owners' desire to play more regular-season games, citing concerns about added exposure to injuries and increased risk of shortened careers.
Fiction: The owners are sympathetic to their concerns and would never entertain the possibility of using scabs if the current crop of players doesn't bend to their wishes.
Fact: No tight end has ever had double-digit touchdowns in back-to-back seasons.
Fiction: If Vernon Davis of the 49ers becomes the first to accomplish this feat, Mike Singletary will lower his drawers and penguin walk around Candlestick Park.
Fact: Chris "Beanie" Wells and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams are the only skill-position players in the NFL whose nicknames replace their given names in any professional context, i.e., whether they're mentioned in print or on the air.
Fiction: Players with permanent nicknames seem to be less susceptible to injury.
Fact: Cowboys rookie linebacker Sean Lee made such an impression on coach Wade Phillips during training camp that Phillips started calling him "Brooking," in deference to Cowboys starter Keith Brooking.
Fiction: Wade Phillips made such an impression on Jerry Jones in the past few years that the Cowboys' owner has taken to calling him "Bum."
Fact: The Panthers' lone nationally televised game falls during Week 16, a Thursday night game on December 23 in Pittsburgh.
Fiction: It's unfortunate for the Panthers that this is their only spotlight game because Jimmy Clausen rarely loses on national television.
Fact: The Bears have more Vanderbilt players on their team (five) than the rest of the NFC North combined (zero).
Fiction: The rest of the NFC North is eager to copycat the Bears and their Commodore-laden lineup.
Fact: The Vikings travel to Green Bay to play the Packers on Oct. 24, a Sunday night game on NBC.
Fiction: This will definitely be the last time Brett Favre plays a regular-season game at Lambeau Field, so you'd better watch it, tape it and send away for the collector's edition DVD.
Fact: Even with injuries to quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner, Atlanta went 9-7 in 2009 and posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history, leading many prognosticators to pick the Falcons as the favorite to win the NFC South in 2010.
Fiction: Not so fast: The Bucs and Panthers present two major obstacles to the Falcons this season.
Fact: Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman went through the usual growing pains as a rookie last year, but the team is confident the former Kansas State signal-caller is a franchise quarterback who's ready to take the team's passing game to the next level.
Fiction: Anyone who lives outside the Tampa area and can name the Bucs' starting wide receivers.
Fact: Two-time Super Bowl winner Mike Shanahan has an exorbitant 19 coaches on staff this season, including a safeties coach, a tight ends coach and an assistant coach for the special-teams coach.
Fiction: John Elway is one of those coaches and that gives Shanahan his best shot at winning another Super Bowl.
Fact: The Rams can match their win total for 2009 (one) if they can beat any of the following teams in their first five games: Cardinals, Raiders, Redskins, Seahawks or Lions.
Fiction: The Rams have no chance to start the season 5-0.
Fact: San Francisco middle linebacker Patrick Willis led the NFL with 152 tackles last season.
Fiction: The 49ers hope he matches or exceeds that number in 2010 because tackles in no way reflect the ineptitude of your own team's offense.
Fact: One of the last players cut from the Falcons was a rookie linebacker named Bear Woods (seen here) from Troy University, a guy who's probably answered that bear in the woods question a couple of hundred times.
Fiction: Woods spent most of the 1990s and early 2000s reworking the tracks on "Chinese Democracy."
Tomorrow we tour the AFC and separate fact from fiction.
Cam Martin is a contributor to Page 2. He previously worked for the Greenwich (Conn.) Time and The (Stamford, Conn.) Advocate, and has written online for CBS Sports and Comcast SportsNet New England. You can contact him at email@example.com.