Football’s back. If half of your office shows up hungover tomorrow don’t judge them. The return of the NFL is a reason to celebrate. This season almost feels like senior year of high school or college, with the reality of a lockout looming in the background. But like any good college senior, let’s worry about the future when we get there.
The present is filled with excitement. A few defensive players have been getting a lot of the non-Favre headlines – Albert Haynesworth and Darrelle Revis – but this is going to be a big year for offense. To name a few teams, Green Bay, Houston, New England, Dallas, New Orleans, Indy, Denver, Pittsburgh (with and without Ben) and San Diego could put up a lot of points this year. Other run first teams like Miami, Baltimore, Atlanta, and San Francisco should be more exciting than your typical run first squads. Tennessee will have one of the more creative offenses in recent history and even losing teams in Detroit and Kansas City will have exciting players.
Whoever wins this season will be the team that can hold down some of these explosive teams while putting up points on their own.
1. NY Giants (11-5) – Nobody’s talking about the Giants this year and I don’t know why. Sure they’re not a flashy team, but they just solidified their secondary with the acquisition of Antrel Rolle at safety. The rest of their defense was plagued by injuries and should be much better. On offense, Eli Manning is surrounded by a ton of exciting young receivers and is protected by one of the best o-lines in football. Don’t believe the hype; believe in the G-Men this year.
2. Dallas (9-7) – One of the teams people have been talking about in this division is the Dallas Cowboys. Before the season, I had them penciled in for the Super Bowl. Then the preseason happened. Dez Bryant kicked things off by refusing to be lightly hazed by Roy Williams and promptly getting hurt right after the controversy died down. Meanwhile, they can’t protect Tony Romo and have some big question marks on defense. Dallas definitely looks a lot better on paper than they do on the field.
3. Philadelphia (8-8) – I’m sure I’m going to regret this later, but I’m not a believer in Kolb. Besides Kevin, the Eagles may take a step back on the o-line and on the defensive side of the football. It seems like every year you expect this team to backslide and they end up winning the division. Maybe this is another one of those years but I don’t see it from here.
4. Washington (6-10) – Yikes. This team is still a mess. They can’t protect an aging McNabb. Shanahan is forcing a 3-4 on a team that lacks the personnel and he’s handled the Haynesworth situation terribly. Their receivers and linebackers suck. Don’t expect much out of this team this year.
1. Green Bay (13-3) – Take a look at their schedule. They could have 8 or 9 wins before their Week 10 bye. I’m a believer in this squad, from Aaron Rodgers having a MVP season behind an improved o-line to their defense bouncing back after allowing 158 points to the Cardinals in the playoffs. They have the ability to put up points on both sides of the ball and will be an impressive team this year.
2. Minnesota (8-8) – I’m not feeling these guys this year. Favre is a year older and they have potential chemistry issues with the Favre/Childress beef always hanging over the team. Their schedule isn’t as easy as it was last year too. All things considered, they’ll probably feel like they would’ve been better off with out the Favre drama/swindle this season.
3. Detroit (5-11) – They’re a young team headed in the right direction. Stafford, Megatron and Best form a nice young nucleus on offense and I think Ndamukong Suh will be one of the best players in the league within the next three years. They’ll lose a lot, but they’re not trash anymore.
4. Chicago (4-12) – This is a team that’s going to be trash. Martz and Cutler seems like a disaster to me. One of the worst decision making QB’s with a coach that likes to chuck it. He could be the first player in league history with 30 TDs and 30 INTs.
1. New Orleans (12-4) – The Saints are still really, really good. It’s hard as hell to repeat in this league, but they have one of the best chances to do so in years. Look for them to stick to the script; plenty of points on offense, aggressive as hell on defense.
2. Atlanta (10-6) – They took a slight step back last year due to injuries and growing pains. This year, they should be back. Turner’s healthy, Ryan is poised to take a leap and the defense should be better. Watch out for these guys this year.
3. Carolina (7-9) – I’m not sure what to think about the Panthers. John Fox could be done after this. In a year of offense, this team will be one of the one’s that stick out like a sore thumb.
4. Tampa Bay (3-13) – They might as well break out the Creamsicle uniforms for this season.
1. San Francisco (12-4) – I’m really high on this team. They’ll have a top 5 defense and a ball control offense with the ability to make a big play here and there. Plus the rest of their division is trash. This team played very well down the stretch and they seem to respond well to coach Mike Singletary. This is their year to make the leap. If they don’t take advantage of this opportunity they might as well blow the whole thing up.
2. Arizona (6-10) – This season will feel like a hangover for Cardinals fans. If the year of the Super Bowl was the party, last year was the after party. This is the morning after. I hope the previous two years were worth it because this one will be a dreadful year in the desert.
3. Seattle (5-11) – If my memory serves me correct, Pete Carroll sucked in the NFL. I’m not sure how a decade of having a tremendous talent advantage over the majority of your opponents will help him be a better NFL coach. In addition to having a bad track record, his team is awful. Five wins from this team might be too much.
4. St. Louis Rams (3-13) – Another “cover your eyes” bad team.
SF over Dallas
NYG over Atlanta
Green Bay over NYG
New Orleans over San Fran
Green Bay over New Orleans
1. Miami (11-5) – Why nobody is talking about the Dolphins is confusing to me. They, not the Jets, have the young QB that’s ready to make some headlines in Chad Henne. They gave him a big play weapon that can catch – Brandon Marshall – and they have a solid offensive line. On defense, Miami has extremely underrated Karlos Dansby in the middle now, and young corners Sean Smith and Vontae Davis will be much better in their 2nd seasons. Most people think of them as the wildcat team, but they’re bringing much more than a gimmick to the table this year.
2. New England (9-7) – They need to spend money and stop trading all their draft picks every year. This team is plagued by a lack of depth, especially on defense, and the head coach’s ego. Belicheck is calling the show on both sides of the ball, which is a horrible idea.
3. NY Jets (8-8) – Hard Knocks has everyone riding them, but I don’t see it. First, it’s clear the Revis holdout was just made for TV drama Mark Sanchez isn’t good. He doesn’t suck, but he’s not good by any stretch of the imagination. Second, they have a coach who loves the hype. He’s fanning the flames of disaster with every brash comment and challenge he dishes. Or maybe I’m just a hater.
4. Buffalo (4-12) – I have no idea how they’ll win four games this year. It just seems like a good number.
1. Baltimore (12-4) – This is the team with hype that I like. I really like Flacco to show and prove this year. I love Ray Rice. I love the additions of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Anquan Boldin, and CB Josh Wilson too. Their only concerns are depth. Key injuries could be fatal for this squad, especially with Ed Reed out for at least the first six weeks of the season. If they hold it together, they should be a tough squad.
2. Cincinnati (11-5) – I’ve done a 180 on this team in the past 5 or 6 weeks. I still don’t think they’ll win the division, but they shouldn’t be too far behind Baltimore. T.O. is still T.O., which is a problem for the rest of the league. If Carson can live up to his reputation, honestly he’s been overrated in the past, this team can make a run. Also, don’t sleep on their young corners Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph.
3. Pittsburgh (10-6) – If they ended up winning the division, I wouldn’t be surprised. Dennis Dixon will hold it down until Big Ben gets back, then they’ll be a tough, tough squad. Last year was a typical post-Super Bowl season where they took their foot off the gas. Coach Mike Tomlin probably still has a nasty taste in his mouth after that year and he won’t let them forget that they’re technically not a playoff team right now. They’ll be hungry and dangerous.
4. Cleveland (2-14) – They could make a run at Detroit’s “record season.” The Sports Gods hate Cleveland.
1. Indianapolis (12-4) – At some point, they have to start falling off. Until they do it, I’m going to always pencil them in for 12 wins.
2. Tennessee (9-7) – I’m a huge Vince Young fan and I loved the way they played down the stretch last year. Plus I have Chris Johnson, they better be good this year or I’m screwed.
3. Houston (8-8) – If the NFL had a purgatory they’d be in it. Good enough to win a lot of games, not good enough to win enough games to make the playoffs. At least not in the AFC South. In the NFC or AFC West, they’d win the division.
4. Jacksonville (7-9) – Boring team, boring players (except MJD), boring uniforms, boring games. If I was from Jacksonville, I wouldn’t go to the games either.
1. San Diego (11-5) – They’re only here because the rest of their division sucks. They’re the Patriots West in the sense that they don’t pay their players, with few exceptions. This is a bad way to operate and it’s never good to screw your starting LT and best WR in the same offseason. However, unlike the Patriots, they haven’t won 3 rings in the past 10 years. Maybe the GM should bring home some hardware before he starts being a jackass.
2. Denver (8-8) – I love them on offense. Defense, not so much. I’m not sure how long Josh McDaniels is going to last out there, but he might end up on the hot seat after this season.
3. Oakland (5-11) – Why do people like this team so much? Last I checked, they still couldn’t protect the QB and their WR’s suck. The defense is good, but not great, but you have to score to win. I think Jason Campbell is a good guy and he’s a really good backup quarterback that can win with a playoff caliber team. He’s not a franchise QB that will carry your team on his shoulders and last season he showed he’s not effective behind bad o-lines with crappy receivers.
4. Kansas City (5-11) – This is another crappy team with exciting players. Jamaal Charles is the poor man’s Chris Johnson and I’m interested to see what they do with Dexter McCluster on offense. I think Javier Arenas will be the next great Chiefs return man and Eric Berry is a problem on defense. This 5-11 Kansas City team will be a lot more exciting than a borderline .500 Jacksonville Jaguars squad.
Wild Card Round
Pit over Miami
Cincy over San Diego
Pit over Indy
Cincy over Baltimore
Cincy over Pittsburgh
MVP – Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
O-Player of the Year – Matt Schaub, QB, Houston TexansGreen Bay Packers
D-Player of the Year – Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Jahvid Best, RB, Detroit Lions
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs
Green Bay Packers over Cincinnati Bengals
In the NFC, I expect Green Bay to just be too potent for teams. They actually remind me a lot of the 2009 Saints. If they can get past New Orleans, they could be celebrating in Green Bay this February. I like the Bengals because they can execute and defend the run and the pass, and they’re solid on special teams. The AFC North is one of the toughest divisions in football, so they’ll be battle tested. I’m taking the Packers over the Bengals off the strength of Aaron Rodgers having a monster year. Let the games begin.