No, not that one. Sorry. I meant first pick in the draft next year. (Suck on that, Fireman Ed.)
Last season, I was able to correctly predict 9 of the 12 playoff teams (5 out of 6 in the AFC… damn you Buffalo!) with my highly unscientific method of looking at each matchup for the entire season and predicting a winner based upon my current impression of the teams, then counting the wins. So, absent any better ideas, I guess I’ll be sticking with that.
You know, projecting the outcome of a football season is like trying to predict the weather in Nova Scotia. With both, there are myriad factors to consider. A meteorologist relies on what has happened in the past, throws in a bit of what’s expected for a particular month, season, or geographic location, and looks at atmospheric conditions (plus a generous helping of hope) before making a very scientific determination of what weather we can expect.
Then a freak hailstorm in the middle of a July heat wave destroys your garden and wrecks your siding.
Or, to put it another way, count on something unforeseen taking all your expectations and pummelling them into mush.
(BTW, Meteorology is a bogus science, right up there with astrology and phrenology, am I right? Meteorologists are more like bookmakers. I mean, what does “a 30% chance of rainfall” mean, anyway? If I bet the rain, do I get better odds? Bah! It either rains or it doesn’t.)
There’s a game tonight, and I’m pretty excited. It’s a rematch of one of last season’s AFC divisional playoff games. I’ll be giving my pick at the end of this column, but let me tease you a bit with this: only one of these teams will make it to the postseason this year.
So, welcome aboard (welcome back to some of you). I hope you enjoy the column. Some guys make picks like they’re reading the bumps on Troy Aikman’s head, or doing star charts for all of Antonio Cromartie’s kids (like anyone’s got that kind of time). Me, I just watch the games, so keep coming back each week for the Best Picks Column in the World, and I won’t steer you wrong.
First surprise. I was expecting Dallas to prevail here, but when I finished counting the wins, they were tied with the Giants, with New York prevailing based on common opposition. I don’t expect either team to be great. Dallas will benefit from having an offence with talent at the skill positions and by having a healthy LB Sean Lee playing in a more simplified, Rob Ryan-free defence. The Giants will have a productive passing game, and their defence will improve provided Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck remain healthy. The Eagles (a team I picked to win this division the past two seasons) will be exciting, with the implementation of Chip Kelly’s (henceforth, “Chipmouse;” anyone care to guess why?) up-tempo offence, but my days of betting on Michael Vick are over. Philly will fizzle. As for Washington, the insanely-talented RGIII took the league by storm last season, then got hurt due to the misguided neanderthalism of past-his-prime coach Mike Shanahan. A repeat of last season’s playoff appearance is too much to ask of a second-year QB whose skill will be surprising to no one, and who may now have a bum wheel.
The Packers were the class of this division last season, despite having a lot of trouble with injuries. They have a deep and talented defence, an offence led by the best QB in the league, and a couple of talented rookie RBs, any improvement in the injury department should result in Green Bay winning this division comfortably. Provided that Chicago can protect Jay Cutler, he has the talent and the complimentary players for the Bears to be able to match scores with most teams. Their defence, may actually improve with the retirement of Brian Urlacher, who had become a bit of a liability on the field. The Lions will be better on offence as the addition of Reggie Bush will take some of the focus off Calvin Johnson. On defence, Detroit is still one-dimensional, with a solid front four, but a lack of talent and depth in its LB and DB corps. The Lions are probably talented enough to challenge for a playoff spot, but lack discipline and too often make stupid, unprofessional mistakes. The blame for this can be placed at the feet of the coaching staff, especially Head Coach Jim Schwartz and Defensive Coordinator Gunther Cunningham, neither of whom are willing to hold players accountable or to lead by setting a good example. The Vikings rode a historically productive season by Adrian Peterson to a surprise playoff berth last season. NFL defences will not allow Peterson to repeat his phenomenal performance, leaving QB Christian Ponder to lead the team to points. In this division, it’s a long way to the top.
Despite the rumblings about an Atlanta tumble, I have no trouble installing them as favourites in this division. Matt Ryan to Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzales should be just as potent as it was last season, and the addition of versatile RB Steven Jackson is definitely an upgrade over Michael Turner. Any of the other three teams in this division could make the playoffs, but present too many unanswered questions for me to get solidly behind any of them. A return to form of new Buc Darrelle Revis automatically makes the defence a force to be reckoned with. Any measure of offensive consistency would vault this team into playoff contention. The Saints will benefit from the return of coach Sean Payton, and Drew Brees is still Drew Brees, but they were a bad team on defence last year, and I don’t trust new Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan to be able to improve the unit much. The Panthers have enough talent around Cam Newton to make a potent offence, and a defence led by budding superstar and unstoppable tackling cyborg Luke Kuechly. However, poor coaching has stifled Newton’s and the rest of the team’s potential.
A lot of experts are calling this one for Seattle, and I was leaning that way. The numbers gave the division to San Fran, in the squeakiest of squeakers. Although I have concerns about the 49ers’ lack of depth at wideout, their defence will still be murderous. Also, San Fran benefits from hosting the Texans and Falcons, while Seattle must play the same teams on the road. Seattle will be tough on both sides of the ball, and could easily take the division should the ‘niners falter. Carson Palmer is a serious upgrade at QB for Arizona, which should make Larry Fitzgerald happy. Unfortunately, Palmer should qualify for danger pay for playing behind the Cards’ horrible offensive line. Short of a trade, Fitzgerald should spend another season as the league’s most irrelevant superstar. Rams QB Sam Bradford is a bust. That should finally be apparent to everyone after St. Louis drafts in the top five next year.
NFC Wild Cards: Bears, Seahawks
For Pats fans, here’s the bad news: players who totalled 338 receptions, 3984 receiving yards, and 29 TDs last season are either playing elsewhere, currently injured, or, you know, that other thing that happened. There’s lots of good news. First, the guy who threw those passes will still be behind center, and he will definitely have something to prove. Second, the Pats are deep and talented at RB. Third, this should be the best defence New England has fielded in years. And perhaps best of all, Belichick, Brady, and the gang will have lots of time to work out the kinks, because there are no serious contenders to challenge them in the division. Did you ever know a guy who had a super-expensive, state-of-the-art car stereo, but he put it in a really crappy car? We all made fun of that guy, right? Prized free-agent WR Mike Wallace is the quadrophonic Blaupunkt in this scenario. The Miami offence is the ‘84 Fiero. Miami fans would prefer an ’84 Marino, but that model was discontinued. Hard to know what’s going on in Buffalo. Due to preseason injuries, they will have an either a highly drafted but untested rookie, or an undrafted rookie starting on opening day. Meanwhile, they screw around with one of their best players, S Jarius Byrd, who now is gimpy and may not play. The Jets are horrible. Their choices at QB are a nightmare. It’s hard to see anything good about this team. Rest easy, Pats fans. At least until the playoffs.
Now is the time, Bengals. The defence is talented and deep. The team wisely signed cornerstone DT Geno Atkins to a long-term deal. They are improved at RB over last season. They have a game-changer at WR in the phenomenally talented AJ Green, as well as plenty of talent at the other receiver positions. Now QB Andy Dalton has to step up and take them to the next level. Barring injuries, it’s really all up to Dalton. No pressure. The Super Bowl champs got hot at the right time last season. They took the shackles off Joe Flacco and let him throw it deep, and the rest of the team stepped up and played out of their mind. A few breaks here and there, and they were golden. This season, Baltimore’s offence could struggle. Anquan Boldin is gone, and Dennis Pitta is injured. I don’t know how the Ravens will adjust to these losses. Also, despite their age, departed vets Ray Lewis and Ed Reed provided tremendous leadership. Same old Steelers (and I do mean old). Ben Roethlisberger makes the offence go, as does S Troy Polamalu the defence. Both are an injury waiting to happen. The Steelers will struggle. Defence and a decent running game should make Cleveland competitive, but they still need a QB. They’re heading in the right direction, but are still a couple of years away.
The Texans are another team that has to strike while the iron is hot. They have a well-coached, top defence, led by the otherworldly JJ Watt. Also, the offence is good enough to take them deep into the playoffs, provided the key players on the offensive line stay healthy and keep the running game humming along. QB Matt Schaub has to show that he can win. He has the tools around him. Indy QB Andrew Luck was a revelation last year, elevating the Colts. He should continue to play well, and the Colts will be in the playoff hunt again. Does Titans QB Jake Locker have what it takes? A healthy Kenny Britt and a deep running attack should clear things up. I’m not sold on Locker, or the Tennessee defence. The Jags are bad. They have nowhere to go but up. Maurice Jones-Drew will have a chance to shut his yap and get on the field to see if he can elevate his team out of the division cellar. I hope he doesn’t get hurt; some players can be real assholes when another player gets injured.
Improvements in the receiving corps should be enough to sustain Denver through some early instability on defence, as the team recovers from the loss (due to front-office idiocy) of Elvis Dumerville and Von Miller (suspension), as well as some injuries to other key players. Forget about a deep playoff run, however. The defence won’t be anywhere near as good as it was the past two seasons, and even if the Broncs reach the Super Bowl, it’ll be played in cold weather, so Peyton Manning will stink. Hold on to your hats; here come the Chiefs. New QB Alex Smith steps into a great situation, coached by the world’s smartest walrus Andy Reid, and surrounded by talent at receiver and a punishing running game. There’s more talent on defence too. Watch out for KC. Poor Phillip Rivers continues his decline, with less and less talent around him. As for the Raiders, their best player, RB Darren McFadden, can’t stay healthy. Carrying an entire offence wears a guy down.
AFC Wild Cards: Colts, Chiefs
Now for tonight’s game:
Ravens at Broncos
This game is almost as much about who isn’t playing as who is. No Bolden, Pitta, Lewis, Reed. No Miller, Bailey. There are also the new additions. Dumerville is a Raven now. The Broncos added WR Wes Welker and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. History doesn’t mean a lot here, either. Denver should have beaten Baltimore back in January. Unfortunately, the Ravens hit some big plays, and Old Man Peyton and his bum neck hit the wall in the mile-high cold. It’s September, though, Manning will be fine, and the Broncos will win because their offence will move the ball well, and the Ravens offence won’t be able to answer. Winner: Broncos
Enjoy the game. Enjoy the season. Keep coming back. Tell your friends. And, most importantly, the Jets suck.