As the beginning of the season fast approaches, every sports columnist has to do a picks article. These guys are serious. They read scouting reports, watch all of the preseason games, and even visit the teams in training camp, among other things. Not me. I read a fair bit, try to follow some of the major transactions, and I have watched a very small amount of preseason football. I’m just an average football fan. But you know what? I bet I do just as well or better than some of the big guys. Hell, I’ve seen some of the so-called professionals make some pretty terrible predictions. It happens every year. That’s the nature of the game, though. These guys spend so much time trying to get their predictions down to some kind of science, but everything goes out the window because there are things that always happen that are just unpredictable.
Want me to tell you what’s going to happen in the NFL this year? Let me gaze into my crystal ball. I see that an important player or players will suffer an injury and miss some playing time. I see that an important free-agent signee will turn out to be an absolute bust. I see a can’t-miss rookie prospect who fails to live up to expectations. I see a player who everyone thought was washed-up experiencing a comeback. I see an unheralded player coming out of nowhere to have a breakthrough year. Am I psychic? No. This stuff happens every year.
So, why bother? For fun, that’s why.
I’m going to keep it pretty simple. I’ll do one division at a time. I’ll pick the order in which the teams will finish, followed by an explanation as to why I made my picks. I’ll also pick which teams I think will qualify for the wild-card playoff spots for each conference. I am not going to try to predict exact win-loss records; they’re overrated, and I’d probably get the math screwed up anyway.
Feel free to give me some feedback on my picks. Tell me what you thought I got right. Tell me I’m full of shit. Tell me YOUR picks. Whatever you do, enjoy. I know I’m going to.
The Philadelphia organization is pinning its hopes to Michael Vick. Big mistake. They should have kept Kevin Kolb. Vick is explosive, a real game-changer. He is not now, nor has he ever been, reliable. He is not a great passer. The ironic thing about him is what makes him so valuable, his speed and athleticism, is the same thing that guarantees that he gets hurt every year. So, why pick the Eagles? Their defence will be enough to win this weak division, no matter what the offence does. Their secondary, featuring newly acquired Nasty Arugula (damn AutoCorrect), as well as their pass rush, will make it difficult for teams to pass against the Eagles.
As for the rest of the division, well, I don’t see a lot of hope. A lot of people are predicting that the Cowboys will have a terrible year, but I think that they will be able to do enough on offence to beat the Giants for second place. The Giants are in for a long year, what with all of the injuries they’ve had recently. I still don’t think the Eli Manning is an upper-echelon QB because he isn’t accurate enough and throws too many INTs, but the Giants will still finish ahead of the horrible ‘Skins. Washington had the difficult task of choosing between Rex Grossman and John Beck as their starting QB; that, to me, sums up what kind of year it will be for them.
The Packers are the class of this division, and should win easily. The offence will score a ton of points, and their defence is solid. After Green Bay, things get a bit tricky. Detroit seems to be the trendy pick this year, with many predicting a second-place finish as well as a playoff spot. I don’t see it. I still haven’t seen enough from Lions’ QB Matt Stafford to call Detroit a playoff team. Also, even though they have a lot of talent in their defensive front, their best player, Ndamukong Suh, is one or two more body-slams away from getting suspended. Also, I think their secondary is suspect. Chicago should still be good enough to stay ahead of the Lions. Their defence will keep them in games, and they have just enough talent on offence, provided Jay Cutler doesn’t break a nail and retire in the middle of a game. And what’s with everyone writing off the Vikings? They still have Adrian Peterson, plus Donovan McNabb, so they should be able to score often enough to be in a lot of games. If either Detroit or Chicago falters at all, I would not be surprised to see the Vikes move up. It depends on how much McNabb has left.
The biggest improvement the Saints made in the offseason was getting rid of Reggie Bush. The offence, already potent, will be much more focused without him. The Saints are well-coached, are stacked at QB and WR, and have a solid defence. The Falcons broke out last year with 13 wins, then got destroyed in the playoffs, at home, by Green Bay. They will be good again this year, but not 13-wins good. Their offence could stumble, what with Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner being a year older, and their defence is good, but not great. Tampa Bay is a young team with a promising QB in Josh Freeman, but they beat a lot of bad teams last year, but mostly got beaten by the good ones. The Bucs have a bright future, but it’s not their time yet. Carolina will suck. They lost key players in the offseason, made no significant improvements, and have a rookie, Cam Newton, starting at QB. They are serious contenders for the top pick in next year’s draft. It’s hard to imagine a worse team.
This will be the worst division in the league again this year, but some team will win it and most likely end up hosting a playoff game against a team with a better record. (Best illustration of my point about records meaning nothing: the Seahawks finishing 7-9 last year, then beating the 11-5 Saints in the playoffs.) Everyone seems to be handing this one to the Rams. A lot of the same people are picking the Cards to finish in 3rd or even 4th place. Those people are seriously undervaluing the acquisition of Kevin Kolb. No matter what you say about his lack of experience, he is a major upgrade over Arizona’s QBs from last season. The proof: Larry Fitzgerald just signed a long-term contract extension. Fitzgerald was miserable last year, but even with the crappy QBs that started for the Cards, he still put up numbers that most WRs would consider a career year. I envision a much more potent Cards offence this year, with Fitzgerald taking over games at times, or teams overcompensating in matching up with him, thereby opening up more options for Kolb in the passing game, as well as creating holes for the running attack. The Rams have a good young QB in Sam Bradford, but he has a ways to go before he proves he’s a winner. I think that the Rams are thin in their receiving corps, and Steven Jackson, though talented and tough, has a lot of miles on him, and might not have enough in the tank to carry too heavy a load on offence. Despite some favourable forecasts, I don’t think the Seahawks have a shot. Tavaris Jackson is not good enough to lead this team to first place. Seattle will struggle to score enough points to be competitive. As for the 49ers, I don’t know what to say. They fired coach Mike Singletary, which should improve their fortunes, but I honestly don’t know how good they will be. Perhaps QB Alex Smith will flourish under new coach Jim Harbaugh. As for their defence, they have the best LB in football, Patrick Willis, so there’s that, I guess. I wouldn’t be surprised if San Fran won 3 games all season, nor would I be surprised if they ended up 3rd or even 2nd in the division. They’re a real question mark for me.
To finish up with the NFC, the Falcons will make the playoffs easily as a wild-card, and squeaking in with the final playoff spot will be... the Cowboys. This, or course, will lead to one of my favourite things about the NFL... watching the Cowboys lose in the playoffs.
All right, on to the AFC:
The Pats will score lots of points, there’s little doubt. The question is whether their defence will be any good. I think they will be as good as they need to be. How well they develop throughout the year will determine whether the Pats will end their playoff drought. At any rate, they will win enough games to win this division, and Tom Brady will continue to be an absolute dreamboat. As for the Jets, I think they’ve peaked already. Their best chance was last year, but Darrelle Revis selfishly held out for a better contract, which kept him out of training camp, which I believe led to his getting injured. Their defence is a year older now, and will decline. Sure, they’ll still be good, but not good enough to carry the Jets to a 3rd consecutive AFC Championship Game. QB Mark Sanchez is not good enough to carry the team, and their running game will not be able to pick up the slack. LaDainian Tomlinson had a good year last year, but I expect a steep drop-off in his production this year. As for the Dolphins, well, an offence led by Chad Henne and Reggie Bush doesn’t give me a lot of hope. How bad is Henne? I actually got excited when rumours circulated early in training camp that the Dolphins were trying to swing a deal for Kyle Orton. Miami’s defence will be the only thing that will keep them out of last place. As for the Bills, I’ve heard that they’ve made some improvements, but I don’t expect much. All I can think to say about them is that they lost Lee Evans, and any defence in which Shawne Merriman figures prominently is in for a disappointing year.
This is Baltimore’s year. The defence is still one of the top units in the league, and the offence made some key improvements in the offseason. Having Lee Evans and Anquan Boldin line up at WR will really open things up for Joe Flacco and for the running game. I predict first place, and a deep playoff run for the Ravens this year. The Steelers will not be able to keep pace. Their running game will not be good, and good defences will be able to shut down their pass-heavy offence. Key players James Harrison and Troy Polamalu are a year older and coming off injuries. Expect one or both of them to miss time this year. Pittsburgh’s best hope to win the division is if the league starts awarding bonus points for dirty hits. I can’t say too much about the Browns. Their best player is Josh Cribbs. Has a team ever done well when its best player plays on special teams? As for their key offensive player, Peyton Hillis, I expect him to tear his ACL, rupture his patellar tendon, sever his Achilles, and have his left arm torn off when he is attacked by a polar bear during a visit to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (But hey, congratulations on landing that “Madden” cover). Cincinnati should be competitive. They will still have depth at the WR position, provided that veteran Chad Ocho... what? He’s gone? Owens too? Oh. Well, now that the distraction of having two prima-donna WRs has been eliminated, QB Carson Palm... really? Where’d he go? Oh. Ummm... <ahem>... Cincinnati’s defence should be able to keep them competitive. Their secondary, led by former first-round pick Jonathan Jose... oh come on! Really? <sigh> So, good luck with that number one draft choice next year, Bengals. I hope you get a good player. (Sorry, for getting your hopes up, Carolina.)
I thought it was going to be difficult to pick a winner here, but Peyton Manning’s neck helped me significantly. This division is Houston’s for the taking, now. The Texans needed to improve on defence, especially against the pass. All throughout the offseason, I heard that the one move that the Texans HAD to make was acquiring free-agent CB Natty Awesomemon (damn Jamaican AutoCorrect). Instead, they picked up Jonathan Joseph, which is still a major upgrade for them. I’ll be interested to see how the defence improves under new coordinator Wade Phillips, who was a terrible head coach, but whose defences always do well. I’m excited to see the results of Phillips’s attempt to convert Mario Williams from DE to OLB. Williams is a talented, athletic player; if Phillips can turn him into Houston’s own DeMarcus Ware, then the Texans’ defence could be scary-good.
What of the Colts? They should be still good enough for 2nd place, but they can’t hope to win without Manning. Colts’ fans must be going nuts right now. Every day, the news seems to get worse. Missing the first game... missing several games... another surgery... missing the whole season: Nobody knows what the hell’s going on with him. If he misses a significant amount of time, I wouldn’t even be surprised to see the Titans sneak into 2nd place. Depending, of course, on how bad the Titans are this year. It will be interesting to see how well they perform with all the changes from last year. Gone is Jeff Fisher, who was with the franchise since the Earl Campbell days. Hopefully, their young, talented offence will come to life, with the departure of QB Kerry Collins, and under the guidance of the much-younger Matt Hasselbeck. As for the Jags, when I started writing this preview, David Garrard was still the starting QB for the Jags. Now he’s unemployed, and Luke McCown is the starter. Poor Maurice Jones-Drew is in for a rough year. Fortunately for Jacksonville, no one’s watching.
The Chargers have loads of talent on offence, and will score a lot of points. That should be enough to win this division. It’s amazing that they didn’t win last year. The Chargers were extremely unlucky last year. That couldn’t possibly happen again, could it? The Chiefs should be better than they are. This is the year that Matt Cassel has to step up. The running game is solid. There should be opportunities for the passing game to excel. If it fails to do so, Cassel’s days in KC could be numbered. I’ve heard a lot of rumblings about the Raiders making some serious noise this year. One national columnist even picked them to go 11-5 and win the division. I can’t see it. The Raiders overachieved last year, playing hard for popular head coach Tom Cable, but 137-year-old owner Al Davis fired Cable. Also, the Raiders lost their best player, CB Nnamdi Asomugha (Nailed it! In your face, AutoCorrect!). Not having a shut-down corner who can cut the field in half will be a huge detriment to the defence. The Raiders went 6-0 in their division last year. That won’t happen again. I haven’t heard much positive talk about of Denver in the offseason. Most reports seem to indicate that they are terrible. All I know is that they have a decent QB and decent receivers. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
The Jets and the Steelers will take the wild-card spots, setting up some great playoff matchups; Steelers-Ravens, Ravens-Pats, Pats-Steelers, or Jets-Pats would all be classics. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. I have a long time before I need to worry about playoff picks. I’ve waited too long for the start of the season; there’s no sense wishing it away.
Well, that’s it. My first-ever NFL Preview. Feedback is welcome. Thanks for reading.