The survey of preseason annuals continues with Pro Football Weekly's Preview. This has been my favorite over time because it is the most analytical and talent-based magazine. Joel Buchsbaum, who wrote PFW's respected draft books, began a system of rating pro talent; every annual would list the top 50 players regardless of position and then rate the top 25 by position.
Buchsbaum died recently, but the PFW staff has continued his ranking system with the duties spread out among several reviewers. The magazine also has week-by-week statistics for every player by position from 2004, which provides the raw data to let you conduct your own analyses. Since the whole point of blogging football is stepping outside the spoon-fed world of sports media, this magazine is, in my opinion, the most user-friendly for the self-thinking fan. PFW is based in Chicago, and like the Street and Smith annual rated last week, uses local staff to compile team reports, with off-the-record input from league scouts.
The Cowboys get mixed reviews here as well. Dallas is forecast as the second place team in the NFC East, though the team's many offseason moves only earn it a 7-9 prediction from this group of mediots. The primary reason for the small step forwards is the magazine's incredible underrating of the Cowboys' young skill position stars, particularly Jason Witten and Julius Jones, a topic I'll address later this week.
The analysts are even more conservative than S&S in their forecasts, picking 10 of the 12 playoff teams from 2004 to repeat. In the AFC, all four '04 division winners repeat, with the Jets returning as a wild card team. The only change forecast has Jacksonville replacing Denver as the final wild-card entry. In the NFC, Philly, Atlanta and Seattle repeat as division champs. Minnesota moves to the top of the North, while the Rams repeat as a wild card entry. The only change here has Carolina replacing Green Bay on the playoff card. PFW joins a growing chorus in picking the Eagles to defeat the Colts in Super Bowl 40.
Here are some interesting items from the annual:
The upgrade in talent this offseason does not mesh with the magazine's prediction that Dallas' record will only improve one game. The Cowboys are much stronger on offense, according to their metrics, yet Dallas is seemingly held in place by Bledsoe. I'm ambivalent about him myself, but I don't see how he could be a regression from Vinnie Testaverde and he's certainly an upgrade over Quincy Carter and his happy-meal game plans from 2003. The editors wisely shy away from trying to predict rookie performances, yet it's hard to imagine that someone won't emerge from this group to further help the cause.