Thursday, September 4, 2008

NFL preview: my (probably horrible) picks


It's that time of year again. Time for me to make my NFL picks, throwing out predictions that — more often than not — end up being so far off base, I'm mistaken for a violinist rather than a sports journalist.

Anyway, I still hang on to that ounce of hope that one of these days I'll pick the NFC Wild Card teams correctly. And that, yes, I'll actually get the Super Bowl winner right.

Like any team (even the Lions), hope springs eternal on this first day of the season. I'm working with a clean slate:


AFC East
1. New England Patriots 13-3: Doubt the Pats at your own risk. That's what they want you to do. And then they'll make you look sillier than string. As long as Tom Brady stays healthy, another division title is in the books.

2. New York Jets 8-8: Brett Favre doubles the explosiveness of the offense, and Jerricho Cotchery will be a huge beneficiary of the new quarterback. But the defense will be porous. No return to the playoffs for Brett.

3. Buffalo Bills 7-9: They overachieved with this record a year ago. And I don't seriously expect Trent Edwards to lead them to more wins this season. At least they'll keep the die-hard fans in Buffalo thinking playoffs until December.

4. Miami Dolphins 5-11: No, Chad Pennington won't throw any bombs. But he's one accurate quarterback. And if he can hit Ted Ginn Jr. in the open field with room to run, this offense can have a few bright spots. The defense will miss "Dancing with the Stars" stalwart Jason Taylor.

AFC North
1. Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6: Ben Roethlisberger will continue to develop into one of the league's best QBs, and he's got himself a No. 1 wide receiver in big-play guy Santonio Holmes. The running-back situation is solid. So is the defense.

*2. Cleveland Browns 9-7: Yep, the Browns are headed back to the postseason. A couple of new linemen will do enough to help the defense, and Derek Anderson will prove that he's no one-year wonder. Of course, having Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow helps.

3. Cincinnati Bengals 7-9: I can't pick a team with such a quality QB to finish in the division's cellar. Carson Palmer will have a strong year, with fewer interceptions. And his receivers, including new tight end Ben Utecht, will put up huge numbers. Of course, a running game would be nice. And there's always the question of defense.

4. Baltimore Ravens 5-11: I don't care how mean-looking Ray Lewis is and how fast and sneaky Ed Reed is. If you're starting a rookie Q.B., you're in trouble. That's the Ravens' situation with Joe Flacco.

AFC South
1. Indianapolis Colts 11-5: What a division this will be. I would pick the Colts for more wins, except for the six division games they'll have to play. Anyone who thinks the Colts' time has passed is insane. The offense will be even more explosive with a healthy Marvin Harrison back. And Dwight Freeney's return benefits the defense.

*2. Jacksonville Jaguars 10-6: A schedule that shows zero easy games will make earning a playoff spot difficult. But it'll happen — barely. The big question will be what the wide receivers do to help out the offense. If they have breakout seasons, there will be more holes for Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew.

3. Tennessee Titans 8-8: The defense will remain one of the best in the business. The offense, on the other hand? Well, Vince Young still has a lot of improving to do. And he doesn't have the WRs around him to get it done. I'm not sold on Lendale White as a No. 1 running back.

4. Houston Texans 7-9: The Texans better hope that rookie Steve Slaton is ready for action, because the backfield situation is dire. Ahman Green is ancient and Chris Brown is on injured reserve. I like the WRs, but if defenses key on them — well, they're not Randy Moss. The defense remains weak.

AFC West
1. San Diego Chargers 14-2: An easy schedule, a weak division and a damn good football team adds up to 14-2. This team is already thinking playoffs, and we're a few months away. The story to watch will be the health of Shawne Merriman, who's risking a lot by playing.

2. Denver Broncos 8-8: You never know what you're gonna get from these guys, but Mike Shanahan always has them competitive. That will be the case once again. The young offense should be improved, and the defensive backfield remains star-studded. Of course, Champ Bailey and Dre Bly can't run around covering WRs all day. Pressuring the quarterback — not to mention stopping the run — could be an issue.

3. Oakland Raiders 5-11: Well, you can say this about the Raiders: They'll be unpredictable. Young guns JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden should have people watching in the Bay Area. Besides that, things will remain ugly.

4. Kansas City Chiefs 4-12: Memo to defenses playing the Chiefs: Focus on stopping the run, specifically Larry Johnson. Why? Because no one should be scared of quarterback Brodie Croyle. Glenn Dorsey was a good draft pick, but he won't replace Jared Allen's production.


NFC East
1. Dallas Cowboys 12-4: They play in a tough enough division that four losses is a certainty. But no one can question the immense talent that you can smell while sitting in an El Paso eatery. This team figures to be explosive on both sides of the ball. The key will be not beating itself.

*2. Philadelphia Eagles 9-7: The big question: Will Donovan McNabb actually stay healthy? I'm banking on yes. The second big question: Will Brian Westbrook ever sit out because of an injury? I'm also banking on yes. He'll miss a few games, which will almost cost the Eagles a playoff spot. But not quite.

3. New York Giants 8-8: There will be no sneaking into the playoffs this time around. Losing Osi Umenyiora was a killer, and the defense won't be as scary up front. The offense will be explosive, but still mistake-prone. And Plaxico Burress will be constantly harrassed by defenses, since there are no other dangerous pass-catchers.

4. Washington Redskins 7-9: Don't count out the Redskins. They'll be in the playoff race until December. Jason Campbell continues to progress at QB, and Clinton Portis will have a big season running the ball. That still won't be enough, however, in this brutal division.

NFC North
1. Minnesota Vikings 10-6: I'm not buying the Vikings as a team to get to the Super Bowl. No, not this year. But they're good enough to win this division. Of course, Adrian Peterson could get hurt and completely ruin this prognostication. That's the fragility of running backs. The continued development of will be key.

*2. Green Bay Packers 9-7: No, the Packers won't be as good without Favre. But Aaron Rodgers will do enough to get them into the playoffs. And that, really, is all Packers faithful can hope for. He'll be helped by some of the best YAC WRs, led by Greg Jennings.

3. Detroit Lions 6-10: Oh, the tricky Lions. I've learned to never expect great things out of this team, so don't expect me to ever pick them to make the playoffs — until they actually do. It'll be interesting to see if the pushed-around offensive line can actually open some holes for rookie Kevin Smith.

4. Chicago Bears 6-10: The defense will dictate the Bears' win total, because the offensive is going to be mediocre at best. If the "D" can get back to its 2006 form, the team could do some things. If it plays like it did a year ago, expect an abysmal season. My question: Will safety Mike Brown finally say healthy?

NFC South
1. New Orleans Saints 10-6: This team is simply too sexy not to pick to make the playoffs. The offense has all the skill players, led by underrated quarterback Drew Brees. Players must, however, cut down on dumb turnovers. We'll have to wait and see if the defense is improved.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7: The defense will once again be very solid, but the offense looks, well, really old. The thought of Jeff Garcia throwing to Joey Galloway makes my skin wrinkle. At least running back Earnest Graham is younger than 30. The team will need his energetic running to move the ball.

3. Carolina Panthers 8-8: Losing Steve Smith for the opening two games — yep, he punched a teammate — doesn't bode well for a team playing in a tough division. The good news: Jake Delhomme says he's playing pain-free for the first time in a few years. The bad news: Julius Peppers might not be the player he used to be.

4. Atlanta Falcons 3-13: I'll give them home wins over the Chiefs, the Bears and the Rams. Otherwise, it's going to be another morbid year for the franchise. Of course, the Falcons are in full rebuilding mode, so wins and losses won't exactly be the bottom line. But I wouldn't want to be a fan in the stands this season.

NFC West
1. Seattle Seahawks 9-7: I love how Seattle takes advantage of its terrible division every season, just barely winning enough games to take first place. There will be no modification to the story this season. It will be interesting to watch the running-backs-by-committee show, but will keep the offense running. The defense is just so-so.

2. Arizona Cardinals 8-8: With a dangerous offense, they'll make a run at the Seahawks. But, as usual, they'll fall just short. Both sides of the ball will benefit from the continuity of just about everyone coming back, which should help with chemistry. But ultimately, there will be a couple close losses and the same record as a year ago.

3. St. Louis Rams 6-10: With Steven Jackson healthy and happy, the offense will be much improved and much scarier than the 2007 version. The WRs, however, don't scare anyone. Rams fans are hoping rookie Chris Long makes an immediate impact for an otherwise similar-to-2007 — and sorry — defense.

4. San Francisco 49ers 4-12: So the coaching staff has given up on QB Alex Smith, meaning the ball will be in the hands of J.T. O'Sullivan. Hmmm. Doesn't sound appealing to me. The one bright spot will be watching linebacker Patrick Willis tackle everyone around him. He's an absolute beast.

*Wild-Card team.


Wild-Card Round
AFC: No. 3 Indianapolis def. No. 6 Cleveland; No. 5 Jacksonville def. No. 4 Pittsburgh.
NFC: No. 6 Philadelphia def. No. 3 Minnesota; No. 4 Seattle def. No. 5 Green Bay.

Divisional Round
AFC: No. 1 San Diego def. No. 5 Jacksonville; No. 3 Indianapolis def. No. 2 New England.
NFC: No. 1 Dallas def. No. 6 Philadelphia; No. 2 New Orleans def. No. 4 Seattle.

Conference Championships
AFC: San Diego 23, Indianapolis 17: Rough day for Peyton Manning against stellar San Diego defense. No six INTs this time, but far from pretty.
NFC: Dallas 34, New Orleans 24: Back-and-forth offensive battle goes to the Cowboys, who ride the dreadlocks of Marion Barber back to the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl XLIII
Dallas 28, San Diego 20: In turnover-plagued game, Cowboys make fewer mistakes and capitalize on Chargers' errors. The MVP: How about sweet redemption for Tony Romo, who hasn't exactly enjoyed tranquil exits from the playoffs his first two seasons as the starter in "Big D"?


Sportsattitude said...

I think we agreed on a lot of the teams and of course...after we both pick the Vikings to do well they come up short against the Pack. Fully expected them to win that game and it's a marathon, not a sprint...but was surprised they didn't come out of Green Bay with a "W"...and after seeing the Bears against Indy...I don't know what to think...and then there's the whole Tom Brady deal...not to mention the other injuries. Injuries are such a huge part of the game, predictions can be skewed in a heartbeat. Hope springs eternal after Week One for most teams...Lions...ummmmm...

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