Tuesday, September 7, 2010
I like to think that when Andy Williams sang the opening line of his Christmas classic, that he was really thinking about the start of the NFL season. In my mind, and I think in Andy's as well, it really is "the most wonderful time of the year." So, buoyed by the excitement and enthusiasm of a new season, let's run through each division en route to my highly anticipated and sure to be much-talked-about Super Bowl pick.
I struggled with one thing: the fact that we have 40%-50% turnover each year among playoff teams. I could only come up with 3 new playoff teams for this season--a turnover of just 25%. I just couldn't talk myself into 3 more new playoff teams, but I'm afraid history tells us it will likely happen.
San Diego (11-5)
Kansas City (6-10)
The Chargers are very clearly the class of this otherwise weak division. Has their window started to close a bit? Maybe. But they still have a great QB in Rivers, and should easily take the division. The Dumervil injury will really hurt Denver--I think the best they can do is equal last year's 8-8. Oakland and KC have a long way to go. Campbell is not the answer for the Raiders, just as he wasn't the answer for the Redskins.
The Colts are an easy pick here. They are a machine: the most consistent team in the NFL, and will make the playoffs for the 10th straight season (the current longest streak in the league). Houston might be a very good team, but no team has a more difficult schedule. I don't like the Titans as long as Vince Young is their QB--he's too unstable to make them a solid pick. The Jags will not make the playoffs, and will not sell out a game all season.
Pittsburgh (9-7, wild card)
The Ravens went 9-7 with a brutal schedule last year, and I think they're poised to go at least one game better with a slightly easier slate this season--Boldin will help a sometimes stale offense. If the Steelers can go 2-2 during Big Ben's suspension, they can get to nine wins. The Bengals will be fun to watch, but in the end I'm not sure they're a playoff team. Eric Mangini has felt from day one of the Holmgren era that he's not long for the Browns world, and he'll be proven correct when he's fired at the end of the year, if not sooner.
New England (11-5)
New York Jets (10-6, wild card)
I like the Jets, but it seems a lot of people have them rated too highly. Sanchez was terrific last season, but let's see him do it again before we stick them in the Super Bowl. I think Belichick will sell his soul to the devil to shut Rex Ryan up. This should be the most entertaining divisional race in the AFC because of that--the old guard Pats trying to hold off the upstart Jets. What about Miami? Was that 11-5 season two years ago a fluke? I think it may have been, and last year's 7-9 is probably a more accurate picture of this team. The season will be so long for Chan Gailey in Buffalo that he may just paint the dog's toenails red and move to Alabam'.
San Francisco (9-7)
St. Louis (3-13)
This is the most boring division in football, hands down. Give me a boring 49ers team to edge out a now-boring Cards team. Anderson instead of Warner will cost the Cards a few wins. Carroll will work some magic with the boring Seahawks--just some. Sam Bradford will be really good eventually for the boring Rams, but will have a very long season in '10.
New Orleans (11-5)
Atlanta (10-6, wild card)
Tampa Bay (4-12)
The Saints will be good-to-great again, but it's been 13 years since we had a repeat champion in the NFC. They are building something nice in Atlanta, they just need a little more defense to be really scary. Is Matt Moore the answer in Carolina? Is Josh Freeman the answer in Tampa? I can't say yes to either.
Green Bay (12-4)
Minnesota (9-7, wild card)
The Pack's offense is downright frightening, and on defense Dom Capers has made a difference (they led the NFL in run defense in '09--the first time in franchise history they had done that). They are a bit of chic pick this year, but I'm falling into the trap--the 10th easiest schedule this season helps. Plus, I think the Vikes fall back a bit: the Rice injury is huge, no more Chester Taylor, Percy Harvin's migraine headaches, and another year of age on Brett Favre. Can Martz fix Cutler in Chicago? As a former Cutler fan, I'm now very skeptical. Detroit still sucks--they are 3-37 in their last 40 games!
New York Giants (9-7)
Dallas is the clear favorite. However, since the day it came out, I have feared their schedule. It's the 3rd most difficult in the NFL. I actually think the Cowboys could be better than they were last year, but have a worse record--which will cost them home field in the playoffs. I think NY again misses the playoffs. The Giants have not been the same since Burress shot himself in the leg, and since Spagnuolo left their defense--plus, Jacobs seems to be wearing down a little bit from all of the contact. I still think Eli is terrific, but I don't love his cast. I don't trust Kolb in Philly. The Redskins have a long way to go. Check the history of Super Bowl winning coaches when they try it again at another stop--it's awful. I think Shanahan will struggle to build something in Washington, unless an Elway (not an old McNabb) lands in his lap.
Pats over Steelers
Jets over Ravens
Colts over Jets
Pats over Chargers
AFC Championship: Colts over Pats
Vikings over 49ers
Cowboys over Falcons (Dallas wins a first-round home game, just like last season)
Packers over Vikings
Cowboys over Saints (Dallas beat NO in the dome last season, and will do it again)
NFC Championship: Packers over Cowboys (the tough schedule costs Dallas home field, and winning at Lambeau in January is too much to ask)
Super Bowl XLV
Colts over Packers (Manning doesn't throw a costly 4th quarter pick this time, and gets his second title)
Work stoppage. So, enjoy this season.