Is It Sports? 2005 NFL Preview

Originally posted on “Is It Sports?” by all of us. We have another massive, triple season preview, this time for the NFL. Go take a look and see how right or wrong we were. Ryan is in Black, Steve is in Red, Kevin is in Blue.

Ryan’s Picks

Well, to be fair, we all love football, and we did a massive 9000 word preview for baseball, so why not try to top that for football? Truth be told, Steve is the football expert. All I know is what I read, and a couple basic instincts that I have. So, really, if you want insight, read what Steve has to say. If you want to feel intelligent, well, this is what you need to read.

NFC EAST
Philadelphia Eagles – Let’s see what they have going for them. They have a sexy defense that’s going to keep them in half the games they play this season. They can rely on Brian Westbrook for maybe 75 yards rushing a game, and they have one of the best quarterbacks and leaders in the league in Donovan McNabb. So what’s the problem? Oh that’s right. They have a cancerous wide receiver and nobody else to catch the ball. Greg Lewis is their number two receiver right now, with Todd Pinkston out. This would be catastrophic if it weren’t for two things.

First, none of the other three teams in the division have anything to offer. The Eagles will still get to the playoffs, and could perhaps get a first round bye. Second, I’ve learned my lesson. Locker room cancers seem to invigorate teams, like A.J. Pierzynski does in Chicago. The Eagles will be fine, but don’t expect great things from them.

New York Giants – Perhaps it’s a personal bias that makes me think the Giants are going to do this well this year. Every year, the Vikings play them, get blown out, and then their season turns, and its all over in Minnesota. But I also have other motives. Call it the marketability rule. I contend that the NFL goes out of its way to get mediocre teams with good stories into the playoffs. Am I crazy? Probably.

But let’s explore this team a little. They have Eli Manning, the NFL’s chosen one at quarterback, throwing to Plaxico and Amani, with Tiki coming out of the backfield. I believe that is the greatest set of names in the league, but I could be wrong. Also, they have media darling, Jeremy Shockey at tight end. The linebackers and DL don’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of the opponents, but they have a couple of nice corners. I find that I’m more comfortable picking them to finish second than the …

Dallas Cowboys – Bill Parcels finally has his guys in Dallas. Does he know they all peaked several years ago? Drew Bledsoe? Keyshawn? This offense, sadly, is still younger than the one he ran last year. Julius Jones scares me. I have no idea what people see in him, and that’s the type of guy that destroys teams I like. Even so, I’m not pinning my hopes on an unknown quantity.

The defense has a few sizeable holes. Dat Nguyen handles his own, and people are impressed by Demarcus Ware, the rookie from Troy (they loved the tape of him fending off the Greeks). That said, they have zero talent anywhere else in the defense. Jacques Reeves is not an answer, Tuna!

Washington Redskins – The good players on Washington can be limited to guys who went to Miami. Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, and Sean Taylor. That must have really pissed Spurrier off.

The good news is, they can spend their time finding a nickname that isn’t a racial slur, because they sure as hell won’t use that time to win games.

NFC NORTH
Minnesota Vikings – I know what happened the last time I did this, picked my home team to win a division. Well, this time, I only half heartedly believe it’s possible, so if they fall apart, it won’t hurt as bad. Since I only half heartedly believe that they will take the division down, let me start with their biggest problems. First, I believe in the two running back theory. You only get by if you have a solid back up running back in case the #1 guy goes down, or best case, needs a breather. The Vikings have 0 running backs. Onterrio Smith is suspended, Mewelde Moore is battling injury and Michael Bennett flat out sucks. That leaves us with (drum roll) Ciatrick Faison, rookie from Florida! Second, Nate Burleson is expected to carry the receiving load, which is fine, given his history of being a number one wide out… AT NEVADA!

But let’s focus on the positive. First, they have a talented quarterback in Culpepper, who can finally be a leader. They have a very good defense, which kind of popped up out of nowhere. Too bad they still intend to star E.J. Henderson, but I guess I can be ok with that, since they have Sam Cowart and Napoleon Harris at the other two linebackers. Fred Smoot and Antoine Winfield may be the best corner combo in the league. Against Detroit, that will come in handy. I think the Vikes will be ok.

Detroit Lions – All right, I’ve decided it was about time for me to jump out on a limb. The Lions are an up and coming team, albeit with an unproven quarterback. But this year, they have a guy in Jeff Garcia [edit: not anymore] as a back up who understands Steve Mariucci’s system, and with a talented receiving corps, one of those two quarterbacks should be able to do something. Not to mention the fact that they have a middle linebacker in Teddy Lehman that I really think highly of, and he isn’t even starting.

Of course, they do have a maniac GM, but as I’ve learned, maniacs don’t always cause problems for sports franchises. The bigger problem is that they are utterly, utterly devoid of a secondary. That, of course, and the fact that they play in Detroit.

Green Bay Packers – It’s hard to count Brett Favre out of any season, especially after he has experienced a personal tragedy, which he very recently did with hurricane Katrina destroying his boyhood home. That, above any other reason, is why I’m not counting the Packers out of even the division title, even though I’ve never been impressed by Ahman Green or Javon Walker on offense, and the Pack’s best safety, Darren Sharper, is now wearing purple.

Nonetheless, Brett Favre, if he stays injury free, could carry this team on his back all the way to the playoffs, and if they make it there, there isn’t a team I would rather not face.

Chicago Bears – The Bears could possibly hold their opponents to three or four rushing touchdowns all season. Unfortunately, their abysmal offense will score maybe three or four touchdowns all season. Kyle Orton isn’t an acceptable solution at QB!

NFC SOUTH
Atlanta Falcons – Atlanta passes two of my most stringent tests for success in the NFL. First, they have a marketable superstar at quarterback with Mike Vick. Second, they have almost zero drop off between their number one and two running backs in Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett. Lastly, they have a fairly formidable defense, with guys like Patrick Kerney, who has always scared me.

Despite the fact that they have Dez White as one of their top two receivers, and that Vick is yet to dazzle with his arm, I’m inclined to say that the Falcons may be the class of the NFC, as left handed a compliment as you can get.

New Orleans Saints – Last year was the last year the Saints played in New Orleans. I think that’s a statement that most knowledgeable of the situation can agree on. Though they don’t have a new ho
me yet, with the damage Katrina wrought on the Superdome and the rest of New Orleans, the Saints will be required to find another home. They insist on playing in the state of Louisiana, which I don’t think anyone can argue against. That means the most likely scenario puts the Saints in Baton Rouge for the season.

As tragic as this catastrophe was, it may end up helping the Saints this season. They have new tangible and intangible advantages. The tangible advantages lie with the Saints, a team built for grass, moving to the outdoor Tiger Stadium. They were a meager .500 at home under Jim Haslett, but well over on the road. In short, they floundered on turf inside the Superdome. Of course, the intangible benefits shouldn’t be hard to see for anyone. The Saints have a destitute city to fight for, on and off the field.

Carolina Panthers – Sports Illustrated has the Panthers in the Super Bowl. My copy of Madden 2006 has the Panthers in the Super Bowl. All this hype leads me to one resounding question. Why? Is it the running game? Deshaun Foster and archaic Stephen Davis are the one and two backs, and neither of them led the team last year. Davis is withering to dust, Foster will get hurt again and they will have to turn to Nick Goings once more. Their passing game? Jake Delhomme, last I checked, is still at quarterback, despite the fact that he got Trent Dilfered to the Super Bowl a couple years ago. Sure he found a receiver last year after Steve Smith went down. But now Mushin Muhammed is wistfully watching Kyle Orton throw incomplete passes in Chicago. But Steve Smith is back, after a broken leg, and they have Keary Colbert as the two receiver. That is one big unknown quantity.

Perhaps though, it is their defense that people have fallen in love with. They have, assuming health (which is a big assumption), the best defensive line in the nation. Their linebackers and secondary are passable. The fact remains, however, that I spent a lot more time on their problems than I did their assets.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Remember when these guys won the Super Bowl? I know Steve does. Well, time has passed, players went from veteran to old, from Tampa to the rest of the league, and now, they find themselves a shell of what they once were. Instead of a formidable D-line, they have Chris Hovan. Instead of John Lynch, they have Jermaine Phillips.

Now, the Bucs aren’t bad, necessarily, they have Mark Clayton at wideout, good linebackers and Ronde Barber. That, however, isn’t close to enough to keep them in contention in this, the best division in the NFC.

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals – I don’t think very highly of this division. I think it’s possible that the NFC west and the NL west will send teams to the playoffs with a sub .500 record. Well, I hemmed and I hawed over who would be the champion of this division, either Seattle or St. Louis. But the last impression I had of them was their playoff game. The only thing I really know about the Cardinals is that they are, well, the Cardinals. Having not seen them play for a while shouldn’t condemn them, should it?

So I did some digging. They have Denny Green as their head coach, who I can tell you right now does an excellent job building offenses. He has a great eye for talent, and, lo and behold, he has Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Bolden at receiver, and he selected J.J. Arrington to run the ball. With a veteran leader, I don’t think it matters how young your skill players are as long as they are talented. Despite the abject lack of linebackers, I suspect the Cardinals will make some noise in the NFC west this year, for no other reason than they are going to default into the division championship.

Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks have Shawn Alexander, which is great for them. They also recently signed Peter Warrick, who is a major improvement at wide receiver, for better or worse. With Grant Wistrom, Jamie Sharper and Marcus Trufant, they have a capable player at every level of their defense. This should be enough to win 2nd place in their division.

Of course, they have a multitude of problems. For one, they have an overhyped, undertalented quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck, and as I have mentioned, an even poorer wide receiver corps. Aside from the three players I mentioned, their defense is scary only to Mike Holmgren. But like I said, they can still secure second place in this weak division.

St. Louis Rams – Mike Martz continues to drive this team into the ground. While yes, they do have about 7 talented receivers, they also have a quarterback who only Mike Martz and Mrs. Bulger think is any good. My dad really likes Stephen Jackson, but that should tell you absolutely nothing. Their defense is still pretty bad. I really don’t know what else to say about these guys. They’ll win a couple games by 30, but then if Bulger is a little off, they will lose really ugly.

San Francisco 49ers – Just think, ten years ago. Would you have ever thought there was a time when Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis would ALL be picked to finish ahead of the Niners?

AFC EAST
New York Jets – Hear that? That’s me stepping out on a limb. The fact is, if the New England Patriots are going to be overthrown, it’s going to have to be from within their division. Herm Edwards has seen the Pats twice a year for four years. He has Chad Pennington, who, like it or not, is big game proven, and now has Lavernanues Coles, who was one of his favorite receivers, and is really not different from Santana Moss at all.

The biggest detraction is Ted Cottrell (defensive coordinator) and Sam Cowart (LB), who both went to Minnesota (yes!), but they still have Jonathan Vilma, an up and coming MLB who has impressed me thus far anchoring the defense. Not only that, the Jets had the stones to pick a kicker with their first pick. That tells me they’re confident, I guess.

New England Patriots – The Patriots are good. They have the exceptional head coach, Bill Belichek, and some of the best chemistry in the league. There isn’t an overwhelming hole on the team, yet Adam Vinatieri is the only player that you look at as being one of the best in the league. The loss of the coordinators will hurt, no doubt, but they will still remain in every game this year.

The Patriots have spent the past couple seasons playing very close games and nosing out their opponents. Without the heart and soul of their defense, Tedy Bruschi, and without Romeo Crennel or Charlie Weis, it’s going to be hard for the Patriots to uniformly win all of those games, and their record will show it.

Miami Dolphins – No really, you should read Steve’s part of this if you want an expert opinion. But hear me out. Without too much change, aside from Ricky Williams going AWOL, the Dolphins dropped off dramatically. Now, they added a running game again, with Ronnie Brown and the much heralded return of Ricky “Bluntmonger” Williams. Also, they imported Scott Linehan and Gus Frerotte from Minnesota to help with the passing game.

Their defense is getting up there in years, but they remain pretty talented. The Fins never really got blown out, aside from an ill fated trip to the Meadowlands, and I think they may be able to pull out a couple more wins this year. So there you have it Miami, if you want to cheer for your boys, go nuts.

Buffalo Bills – Two letters. J.P. This team is sunk before they even get going. They only have two players that I would call really good, in Willis McGahee and Takeo Spikes. They
have an adequate secondary, which is good, because they will need to tackle the opposing halfback when they are twelve yards downfield. Long year ahead in this corner of football oblivion.

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens – Someone in the AFC had to be the worst division, and, in my humble opinion, the North is it, and that is definitely saying something for the AFC. The Ravens, who will be the winners of this division, will rely heavily on a big play defense. Most teams go through cycles of good and bad offense and defense, but the Ravens have been stuck on good defense and terrible offense for quite some time. The Ravens defense will potentially score more points than the offense. I think Ed Reed scored 19 touchdowns in the four minutes of Ravens football I saw last year. Not to mention, they have “Sackmaster” Terrell Suggs on the line and accused (but never tried!) murderer Ray Lewis at MLB.

Speaking of troublemakers, a freshly released Jamal Lewis will be the center of the Ravens offense. Now, if prison hasn’t sapped some of his energy (which it probably has), the Ravens may get a decent season out of him. The even bigger concern is at quarterback. Kyle Boller never developed, and his only real receiver is Todd Heap, the tight end. What is more amazing? That Tony Dungy is coaching an offensive powerhouse, or that Brian Billick is coaching an offensive tragedy?

Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals are always an old favorite of mine, ever since the Ickey Shuffle. But things changed all the time in Cincy, and everyone always said that the freshest batch of talent was the new wave to get them out of the doldrums. But nobody ever peaked at the same time. Boomer Esiason left, and there were two receivers in Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott with nobody to throw them the ball. Then the left and Corey Dillon came along, but there weren’t receivers or a defense. Then they had Takeo Spikes and a decent defense, but no coach.

It’s finally coming together, both talent and consistency. The main players are the same as last year, with Carson Palmer throwing, Rudi Johnson running, Chad Johnson & T.J. Somethingorother catching, and Marvin Lewis coaching. Aside from their defense, which I expect to shape up with the help of Lewis, they are a solid, if not great team, which is a very strange thing to say of the Bengals.

Pittsburgh Steelers – So the Steelers went 15-1 last year. Blah blah blah. Now, Ben Roethlisberger went 13-0 last year, but that was with Plaxico Burress and a Hines Ward that was in training camp for the whole time. Not only that, they had Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis splitting time at running back, and a defense that was both deep and tenacious. But now people have the Steelers figured out.

The first step is to overload the line and stop Staley so Bettis can’t add his one yard touchdown at the end of the play. Don’t worry so much about the pass, because statistically, with two above average receivers, Big Ben wasn’t that good a quarterback. Don’t worry about the defense either, because what does it matter if you only score 10 points? The Steelers won’t end up scoring that much.

Cleveland Browns – Remember in like, first grade, the Brownies? Now imagine them playing football. Yeah, expect Cleveland to play like a bunch of little girls too.

AFC SOUTH
Indianapolis Colts – The Colts are really good. Peyton Manning throws the ball well. They have virtually know flaws on offense. Their defense has improved dramatically with the growth of Dwight Freeney and signing of Corey Simon. They will win practically every interdivisional game and coast into the playoffs. I hesitate to pick them to win the Super Bowl however, because of the coach.

It’s something that I like to call the Dan Reeves principle. Tony Dungy can’t seem to get teams over the hump. The Vikings flamed out in Minnesota while he was the defensive coordinator in the NFC championship game. The Bucs did the same while he was in Tampa, and the Colts can’t seem to get past the Patriots. Perhaps, though, this is the year that Tony Dungy changed from Dan Reeves to Roy William and finally breaks through.

Houston Texans – I think this is the year Houston finally rids itself of that dreaded “expansion” tag and makes a name for itself. They have the talent on offense to be competitive, particularly with wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Domanick Davis, whom Steve picked second (right behind Randy Moss). They also have a young and talented defense that should be fun to watch.

They have two big hurdles to climb. One of them, quite obviously, lies in Indianapolis, and the other one lies in front of David Carr. The Texans, since their inception, still haven’t figured out how to protect their passer. Unfortunately, this may be preventing him from fully developing. This year, however, may be the Texans breakout year.

Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jags have exactly what you want at quarterback. Byron Leftwich is smart and young, meaning he should be able to battle through any diversity, be it physical or mental. Never mind that LeBrandon Toefield will probably end up carrying the load at halfback, Leftwich is poised to step up the passing game a little bit. Unfortunately, the Jags still won’t score enough to keep them above .500 in a high powered conference.

The Jaguars feature a strong secondary and Marcus Stroud on the defensive line, but they have a weak linebacking corps, and the lingering injuries to their star running back. It will be hard for the Jaguars to make serious noise this year.

Tennessee Titans – Steve McNair and Billy Volek are a pretty good one-two combination at quarterback. It’s too bad that the Titans assume that McNair will develop a lingering injury and still keep Volek on their roster. In the other skill positions, the Titans are relying on very young players and a white wide receiver which will probably not end well.

On defense, the Titans have Albert Haynesworth to plug up the run. Other than that they have ten guys wearing the uniform. That’s not saying much, really. But I am looking for the Pacman Jones era to rival the Deion Sanders era in terms of bling and audacity. I think he’s the long lost triplet of the Yin Yang Twins.

AFC WEST
San Diego Chargers – The Chargers have the basic offense that everyone pines for. They have a dominant rusher that makes the defense overplay the ground game, and when that happens, they have a competent quarterback with enough options and protection that he can check down to his Pro Bowl tight end. It isn’t the system Joe Tiller ran for him at Purdue, but Drew Brees is finally adapting nicely.

They have Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison…. Wait, what’s that? They left two years ago? Snap! Well, they still have some good young talent, like Igor Olshansky and Marlins lead off hitter, Luis Castillo. An additional aspect that should help them this year is their special teams, where rookie Darren Sproles has looked excellent as a return man. Who needs Tim Dwight anyways?

Oakland Raiders – I don’t like the Raiders’ defense. I’m not fond of the running game. But just like the Vikings in 1998, they have a pissed off Randy Moss and that should net them at LEAST six wins. They will get three more based on their own talent. Really, I don’t think there is much else to say about the Raiders. They are an underwhelming team on both sides of the ball, but their new wide receiver, when he tries, is just that dominant.

Denver Broncos – Did every media outlet forget that the Broncos have been to the playoffs the past couple years? They aren’t a bad team, and the drop off at running back from Rueben Droughns to Mike Anderson will be insignificant, as any running back can run in Denver’s system, and Anderson has done it before. Jake the Snake will be fine at quarterback with targets like Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie.

Their secondary is suspect, as evidenced by a draft in which they selected three cornerbacks with their first three picks. Of course, with Randy Moss in Oakland, a faulty secondary is the worst of scenarios for your team. The rest of the defense will be all right, but I suspect the Broncs will get outclassed in their division by two superior opponents.

Kansas City Chiefs – Sure, the Chiefs are in last place, but they are last in the best division, top to bottom, in the league. That has to count for something right? At least Kansas City fans will see something they aren’t used to: the home team putting points on the board (until Priest Holmes AND Larry Johnson go down in week nine). Of course, they will have to endure something they are used to: the opponent putting up a lot of points.

PLAYOFFS
NFC Wild Card
Vikings defeat Cowboys
Giants defeat Cardinals

AFC Wild Card
Raiders defeat Ravens
Jets defeat Patriots (oh yeah, and I’m not even drunk)

NFC 2nd round
Falcons defeat Giants
Eagles defeat Vikings

AFC 2nd round
Colts defeat Raiders
Jets defeat Chargers

NFC Championship
Falcons defeat Eagles

AFC Championship
Colts defeat Jets

Super Bowl XL
Colts defeat Falcons

NFC Coach of the year – Dennis Green
AFC Coach of the year – Dom Capers
NFC MVP – Donovan McNabb
AFC MVP – Randy Moss

Steve’s Picks

Ok, I’ll be completely honest with you. I really don’t feel like doing a preview for the NFL, the baseball one took me way too long to write and even though it was ingenious with my pick of the White Sox winning the division title, I was also a lot more excited about the season starting mostly because Ryan and I started getting into a Sox-Twins debate in January. Expectations for my 2 football teams aren’t quite the same this year. The 49ers are still going to suck, and the Raiders are going to be like an Arena team, so they’ll be totally unpredictable…who knows, maybe I’ll pick them to win the AFC West. I haven’t even decided yet. I’d just like to sit back and enjoy this season and prepare for when the Super Bowl is played about 12 miles from where I live. Onto the picks:

AFC EAST
New England Patriots – Yeah, they’ll still be good. They’ll take the division and so on…but, they won’t win the Super Bowl. They can’t. NFL rules forbid it. Here’s how teams looking for a 3 peat faired in the Super Bowl Era:
1968 Packers – Lombardi left, and the Packers sank to 6-7-1 and missed the playoffs
1974 Dolphins – After having their regular season win streak stopped at Oakland in 1973, the Raiders ended their playoff streak by taking them out again in Oakland in the divisional round.
1976 Steelers – Blown out in the AFC Championship by the Raiders, who lost to Pittsburgh in 1974 and 1975.
1980 Steelers – The team of the 70’s showed their age and stumbled to a 9-7 record and missed the playoffs.
1990 49ers – This is the closest anyone got. They cruised to a 14-2 record, but while trying to run out the clock in the NFC Championship game, Roger Craig fumbled, leading to a last second Giants field goal to win the game 15-13. This game still makes me angry.
1994 Cowboys – Another solid team, but got beat rather easily in the NFC Championship by the Niners, who “got the monkey off their backs” (Are you listening, Peyton?)
1999 Broncos – Elway retired, TD got hurt, 6-10 finish, last place.

So as you can see, most defending 2 time champs have been solid contenders (unless they totally dismantled) and I think the Pats will be the same, but the loss of key coordinators and players like Bruschi with teams being even hungrier to take them out will lead to their downfall this season.

New York Jets – These guys are always better than they seem. I’m still waiting for a game where Curtis Martin takes a shotgun blast to the face, only to have it melt and form back together like the T-1000, because he seems indestructible. He’s got to fall apart eventually right? But when he does it’s ok because they have Lamont Jor…oops never mind….

Buffalo Bills – I really started to admire their #2 ranked defense last season, and I’ve always been a closet Bledsoe fan, so I was definitely pulling for them to make the playoffs after that rough start. Now they’re being lead by a guy, J.P. Losman, who had one of the lowest basic intelligence scores of anyone that’s ever came to the NFL Scouting Combine. Hmm..

Miami Dolphins – Let’s see…they have Gus Frerotte starting at QB, Ricky Williams at RB, and Junior Seau at LB. Rough times down south. I’m waiting for a game where Frerotte scores a TD, bangs his head on the wall again, gets knocked out but the force of the blow knocks a padding panel off the wall, revealing a hollowed out area containing Ricky’s stash.

AFC NORTH
Baltimore Ravens – This was a tough pick with Pittsburgh. Baltimore has a talented defense as usual, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them play the 46 against some of the better passing teams. But running back is what tips the scale for me. Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis are banged up, and on the other side, Jamal Lewis is fresh out of prison and ready to unleash his rage. We’ll see if Derrick Mason can help their pathetic passing game.

Pittsburgh Steelers (Wild Card) – After picking the Ravens to win the division, this is the obvious choice for 2nd. That 15-1 record and #1 ranked defense had to be a fluke, but they’ll still be a tough contender
in the AFC this season. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t the most talented QB, but he proved he’s a winner.

Cincinnati Bengals – The team that everyone just assumes is back on the rise is back again…for another mediocre season. Let’s keep in mind that they still never got that winning season or playoff appearance, despite improving a lot. They will still be worth watching this season for 2 reasons: 1. See if Carson Palmer can develop and 2. While talking to friends about the game, you can say “Houshmandzadeh.”

Cleveland Browns – I’m eagerly awaiting their November 20 meeting with Miami, in the Which Franchise Is More In The Gutter Bowl. I guess Trent Dilfer is an adequate QB for this season, but they will definitely be strong contenders in the Matt Leinart derby. Just like their uniforms, this will be an ugly year in Cleveland.

AFC SOUTH
Indianapolis Colts – That took me about 5 seconds to decide. The Texans and Jaguars keep getting better, but there is no way either team is in the same league as the Colts this year. They have such a prolific offense that all they really need is a step up in defensive play (ranked 29 last year) or Peyton Manning to grow a pair in the playoffs (people are too hard on him anyway) and they’ll be hoisting their first Lombardi Trophy since 1970.

Jacksonville Jaguars (Wild Card) – I think Byron Leftwich makes The Leap this year and carries the rising Jags into the last playoff spot. Even if they don’t beat the Jets in Week 3, they have the advantage of facing the NFC West over the Jets, who have to tangle with the tougher NFC South. That’s your difference maker.

Houston Texans – Dom Capers knows how to take expansion teams and turn them into winners, and the Texans are bound to only get better. David Carr finally has some sort of offensive line, so now the pressure is more on him to perform. The defense was pretty crappy last year though, so I think they’re still a year a way from a making a run at the wild card.

Tennessee Titans – Steve McNair is gutsy, but being gutsy won’t do him much good when one of his limbs finally snaps off. The Titans are definitely rebuilding right now, and won’t be much better until they get a backup less random than Billy Volek and rebuild their sorry defense.

AFC WEST
Oakland Raiders – I was kind of just joking at the beginning of this post, but then I thought to myself, I’m probably going to pick the Colts to win the Super Bowl, so by logic why would I pick the Raiders to be bad? The Randy Moss era has begun, and he wants revenge on the world, all while being loved by his rabid fan base regardless of what he does now. The Raiders D is terrible, but last year they only gave up 0.4 yards per game less than the Colts, and Kerry Collins is no Manning, but he can put up great numbers when put in the right system (which he is in now) and lays off the sauce. He’s inconsistent, but remember he also took the 2nd year Panthers to the NFC Title game in 1996 and the Giants to the Super Bowl in 2000. This isn’t Jeff George here. Also, the entire AFC West has a tough schedule having the face both the AFC and NFC East, but the Raiders have a better road than the other 3 teams by facing Cleveland and Tennessee, so those 2 games might put them on top of this division filled with parity.

San Diego Chargers – This team came out of absolutely nowhere last season to win the division, but there were paper tigers all along, mostly because Marty Schottenheimer gets nervous in the playoffs and completely sucks. He won’t get a chance to screw up another playoff team this year though, because the Chargers out of conference schedule is too hard to steal a wild card berth. Also, for as much as I like Drew Brees from his days at Purdue and the fact he’s my fantasy league QB this year, I don’t think he’ll be able to repeat the season he had last year. LT is still a monster but if the passing game is any worse, they’ll be right back around .500.

Denver Broncos – Maybe I should have picked these guys to win the division, but I can’t just trust any NFL team lead by Jake Plummer and his porn star mustache. The Denver 1000 yard RB du jour is Mike Anderson, draft for fantasy accordingly. I don’t have much else to say about them, besides they should use those alternate orange uniforms all the time.

Kansas City Chiefs – Wait a minute, the Chiefs are basically exactly the same as the Raiders this year, right? Yeah, they are, but I like the Raiders better because they have Moss and a couple of stars that could possibly help their D. I heard the Chiefs signed Calvin Schexnayder to a 1 game contract to further bolster their offense for their game against the Raiders on September 18th, but that won’t stand any match for Raiders special consultant, Jay Gruden.

NFC EAST
Philadelphia Eagles – Still the class of this division, even after the offensive blows they took this year. They still have McNabb and T.O, and even though they pretty much hate each other it will probably still be enough to win this not so talented division

Dallas Cowboys – I’d like to think that Bill Parcels is at least one of the top 3 coaches of my lifetime, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to turn things around in Dallas. They have a lot of talent on the defensive end, and the whole unit should play a lot better this year. I also like the addition of Bledsoe. Say what you want about him, but he still have a few years left in him and he’s had a pretty good career.

New York Giants – Its all riding on Eli Manning this year, so it’s his time to shine, and he still hasn’t proven if he’s ready or not yet. Some people are assuming he is, since I’ve seen the Giants in the playoffs in a lot of other predictions out there. I’m not going to go that far though. Acquiring Plaxico Buress as the big off-season move just doesn’t do it for me.

Washington Redskins – Someone needs to wake Joe Gibbs up and tell him that he is coaching in 2005. You know, different kick off position, 2 point conversions, less time on the play clock, all that stuff. He’s also eventually going to
kill poor Clinton Portis, who went out of his way to gain 20 pounds in the off-season to be the bruising back Gibbs thinks he is. On the upside, his driver, Tony Stewart, in Ryan’s Home Depot #20 is leading the points race in NASCAR this year.

NFC NORTH
Minnesota Vikings – After losing Randy Moss, who admitted he has a weed problem, the Vikings recovered by drafting Troy Williamson, who should be pretty good and signing Koren Robinson, who has less talent and has a gambling and alcohol problem. Oh well, that’s what you get with a high school gym teacher (Mike Tice) running the team. But they’ll still win this division, I really don’t know why, but almost everyone on ESPN.com picked them to go all the way to the Super Bowl. So I don’t want to look like the idiot that didn’t pick them to even make the playoffs if they actually do go to the Super Bowl.

Detroit Lions (Wild Card) – The Lions SHOULD have a potent offense, but we’ll see. I seriously think management is trying to prove to the world that Joey Harrington is the worst QB of all time. If he can’t win with Kevin Jones in the backfield and Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams, all first round picks, he will probably be burned at the stake at the corner of 6 Mile and Gratiot before the season is over. On paper, this looks like a solid team though and I’m excited to see them play.

Green Bay Packers – The Pack is most definitely not back. Favre is almost completely gray and has definitely reached the “I don’t care anymore I’ll just throw it up for grabs because I’m a legend and someone should come down with it” point of his career. He also is working with a depleted O-line that is not going to be able to protect him the way they did in the past. They will have to rely heavily on their pretty crappy defense, Ahman Green, and Javon Walker to take them to the Promised Land.

Chicago Bears – The season hasn’t even started yet, and the Bears have been through 3 different starting quarterbacks. Rex Grossman is hurt yet again and done for the year. Chad Hutchinson had plenty of troubles with apathetic backup defenses in the preseason. So you’re 2005 Chicago Bears starting QB is…(drum roll please)….Kyle Orton! Well at least for now. Orton was a very capable quarterback at Purdue though, and probably even more talented and NFL ready than Brees. He doesn’t quite have the heart of a champion though and he’s surrounded by so much crap that he could be in for a rough time. I wish him the best though.

NFC SOUTH
Atlanta Falcons – I’ll copy and paste a segment from our Championship Sunday post back in January:

“I just don’t think its Vick’s time yet. I see this Falcons team as less of a Cinderella though, more like a team on the brink kind of like the 1995 Packers. They made waves by finally knocking off the Niners but couldn’t get past Dallas, but then 1996 was their year.”

I’m going to stick with that prediction and the Falcons will step up and take the NFC

Carolina Panthers (Wild Card) – The Panthers are getting a lot of hype again this year. Sports Illustrated even picked them to win it all, and that’s fine with me, especially since I have Jake Delhomme on my fantasy team. Last year they were riddled with injuries but finished strong and are now healthy. They will make a serious run at the NFC title, but something just makes you think that 2 years ago might have been a fluke too….

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Bucs are still living in the glory of erasing their history of crappiness by finally winning the Super Bowl 3 years ago. This is a much different group, and they will probably wind up being mediocre, like every other team in the NFC. Cadillac Williams will be a welcome addition to the team, and his nickname is named after a GM car, so he’s good in my book.

New Orleans Saints – I would have picked the Saints for 3rd, but the effects of Hurricane Katrina has completely devastated this team’s chances of doing anything this year, despite all of their talent. There is talk now that the Superdome will be torn down because of all the damage it took, which puts Saints ownership in a tough spot, because they had threatened to move for years before this disaster even happened. It would be sad for this city, but I could definitely see the Saints permanently moving to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, or San Antonio when this is all said and done. Anyways, if they play every game on the road this year, they won’t be very good, but hopefully the fans will show them the same kind of love that the fans in the Black Hole in Oakland surprisingly showed them.

NFC WEST
St. Louis Rams – This division sucks. Any division where the Arizona Cardinals are talked about as contenders can’t possibly be good. I’m not going to buy into that hype though and I’m going to go with the Rams. They could win this thing with a 7-9 record though, who knows. I’ll say that Stephen Jackson will breathe some life into the offense and will carry them to the title, even though I really don’t believe that

Arizona Cardinals – Ok I’ll pick the Cards for 2nd, only because they have new uniforms. In the past 10 years or so, when teams get new uniforms they tend to at least make the playoffs, but I just can’t bring myself to going that far with this team. The funny part about them is that if they just would have beaten the 49ers last year, they would have been 8-8 and maybe had a shot at the playoffs. Luckily for the Niners, those were their only 2 wins so they can thank the Cards for preventing them from becoming the first 0-16 team of all time.

Seattle Seahawks – I think about this team a lot, but not because I’m a huge fan of Matt Hasselbeck or Shaun Alexander. It’s actually because at the plant I work at, we have a new color for 2006 models that is called Stealth Gray to us, and Blue Granite to the consumer. I, however, quickly dubbed it Seattle Seahawks Blue, and it has sort of caught on. This team just doesn’t impress me very much, just like the rest of the NFC West, but really the top 3 teams I listed here could easily finish in any order.

San Francisco 49ers – Maybe drafting Alex Smith wasn’t such a goo
d idea after all. They’re a hopeless team and didn’t even bother making him a starter. I mean what do you have to lose? Tim Rattay has actually proved to be pretty effective when he’s healthy, but he’s mostly in the NFL because he went to Louisiana Tech, where they run a 5 WR formation and pass on almost every down, so he put up ridiculous numbers in college. Odds are the 49ers will wind up with the #1 pick again in this years draft and win the Matt Leinart derby, only to not draft him. It’s sad to see my favorite team in such sorry shape, but can only go up from here, right?

Playoff Predictions
AFC Seeds
1. Indianapolis
2. New England
3. Baltimore
4. Oakland
5. Pittsburgh
6. Jacksonville

NFC Seeds
1. Philadelphia
2. Atlanta
3. Minnesota
4. St. Louis
5. Carolina
6. Detroit

Wild Card Playoffs:
BALTIMORE over Jacksonville
Pittsburgh over OAKLAND
MINNESOTA over Detroit
Carolina over ST. LOUIS

Divisional Playoffs
NEW ENGLAND over Baltimore
INDIANAPOLIS over Pittsburgh
ATLANTA over Minnesota
Carolina over PHILADELPHIA

AFC Championship: INDIANAPOLIS over New England
NFC Championship: ATLANTA over Carolina

Super Bowl XL: Indianapolis 42, Atlanta 24

MVP: Michael Vick, Atlanta
Coach of the Year: Tony Dungy, Indianapolis
Rookie of the Year: Cadillac Williams, Tampa Bay

Kevin’s Picks

I’m going to have to concur with Steve, that its hard to get excited about the NFL when your favorite team thinks hiring Dennis Erickson, getting rid of Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens, and cutting your payroll by $20 million is a recipe for success. On the bright side, there’s a lot of parody in the NFL which makes things exciting, right? Well, if by exciting you mean a new team loses to the Patriots in the super bowl each season, then yes. The moral of the story is just like last year, sports writers have been predicting this will be the year the patriots fall, this will be the year the colts succeed. I, however, will ironically enough go out on a limb here, and predict things staying the same in the football world, and the Patriots adding to their dynasty.

AFC EAST
New England Patriots: The thing about dynasties is that unless you’re a fan of the team, they aren’t fun. However, credit is due where credit is deserved. Because the Patriots have formed a recipe for success in the playoffs, they have a distinct advantage in playoff winning experience that prevents teams like Pittsburgh and Indianapolis from dethroning them. It doesn’t look like another year gone by will help the Colts figure out how to beat the Pats, and any other contender like Pittsburgh, Baltimore, or San Diego lack players with enough playoff experience to pull off an upset. Because the Patriots rarely make mistakes, as long as Tom Brady and Corey Dillon stay healthy, and Bill Belichek’s head doesn’t explode from his large brain, they should be safe this season.

Miami Dolphins: What a crazy pick, I know. But I truly believe that when Ricky Williams comes back, the team will be able to solve a lot of last year’s problems. At quarterback, who knows? AJ Feeley? Why not. With their easy schedule, the Fins could finish second. They aren’t finishing second with a winning record, by the way.

New York Jets: I also am not ready to jump on the Jets bandwagon. They do this all the time: Have a good season, then a horrible one, then a good one. Although he’s on my fantasy team, Curtis Martin is not going to repeat his amazing season, and Chad Pennington is not a great quarterback. The Jets won a lot of close games last season, but that won’t happen this year.

Buffalo Bills: B-U-F-F-A-L-O put it all together and you get a Buffalo. B-U-F-F-A-L-O…Bills! Sorry, I just love the Bills super bowl chant from the early 90’s. Unfortunately, the Bills squad is too young to have a winning season

AFC NORTH
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens remind me of the Jets, in that they weave in and out of the playoffs also. I still don’t understand sticking with Kyle Boeller at quarterback, but their defense is good enough to win this division.

Cincinnati Bengals (wild card): Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson and Rudi Johnson will propel the Bengals to the playoffs for the first time since the early 90’s. They’ve had a few seasons to gain experience, and now it’s their time to shine.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ok, I’m just going to go ahead and claim that last season was a fluke. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t the greatest quarterback, and there are injury questions at running back. Like the Jets, the Steelers won a disproportionate amount of close games last season, but things always seem to even out, as they will this season.

Cleveland Browns: Remember when Trent Dilfer won 20 games in a row? Yeah, that’s not happening here in Cleveland. Rueben Droughnes isn’t in Denver anymore, and Kellen Winslow isn’t coming back anytime soon. My cellar dweller pick for the AFC.

AFC SOUTH
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts have such amazing potential, but they can’t win the big game. They will probably win all their division games, put up lots of big numbers, and then lose both games to the Patriots. You can beat up on the crappy and mediocre teams in the NFL all you want, but you have to be able to win the b
ig game. Great players aren’t always great; they’re just great when they have to be. That’s something Peyton Manning has yet to do.

Jacksonville Jaguars(wild card): The Jags I feel are a team on the rise. Byron Leftwich is a quality quarterback, and if it weren’t for some close loses last season, they would have made the playoffs. Just like the Bengals, third season is a charm for this current rebuilding core.

Houston Texans: The Texans, however, are not going to finally put all the pieces of the puzzle together. David Carr will never be a great NFL quarterback. Until they get someone new, which I don’t see happening anytime soon, except a repeat of the Detroit Lions and Harrington.

Tennessee Titans: Age has finally caught up to the team that nearly dethroned the Patriots in 2003. There is only one guarantee: Steve McNair will be questionable for Sundays game, the analysts will talk about what a tough guy he is and how he will always play hurt for his team, he will start, and the Titans will lose because of it.

AFC WEST
Oakland Raiders: Yeah, this is definitely a crazy pick. The AFC West is not a very strong division, however. All four of these teams can be amazing or horrible in any given season. The addition of Moss, to me, is the only x factor in this division that gives one of the teams the upper hand.

Denver Broncos: The Broncos always seem to finish the season strong, so I’m going to say they make a late season run and narrowly miss the playoffs. Jake the snake isn’t the greatest, and despite losing Rueben Droughnes, no matter who the Broncos stick in there at running back, whether it be Mike Anderson or Tatum Bell, they will rush for a thousand yards plus.

San Diego Chargers: The San Diego Super Chargers were definitely a fluke last season. Drew Brees was playing in a contract year, and is definitely not as good as there record indicated. Add the Antonio Gates fluke to that equation, and I feel the Chargers are coming back down to reality. Tomlinson will be solid, but he won’t win them a lot of games.

Kansas City Chiefs: Priest Holmes has too many injury questions to stay consistent, and Trent Green is a little over the hill. The Chiefs may not be 13-3 again for a long time.

NFC EAST
Philadelphia Eagles: Despite stupid, pointless Owens and McNabb drama, the Eagles are the best team in this division. They should easily win at least 7 division games, and then 4 more against the NFC West. That’s all they need to win the division. However, since the Eagles chose to blame their 4th quarter super bowl meltdown on McNabb’s “stomach sickness” instead of a lack of a two minute drill in their playbook, they seem destined to lose another close playoff game.

Dallas Cowboys: I’ll admit I’m probably going to be very, very wrong about this, but Drew Bledsoe will take the Boys to a second place finish, narrowly missing the playoffs. Bledsoe was due for another change of scenery, and I feel like getting out of the AFC East and back with his former coach will be the key. Peerless Price was a great signing too.

New York Giants: Next season, the Giants and Manning will make the playoffs. Eli is too young this year, and Tiki Barber is not going to have another ridiculous season.

Washington Redskins: Joe Theisman picked these guys to lose in the super bowl this year. Unfortunately, the “greatest two yard run I’ve ever seen” on Sunday Night Football doesn’t make you a good team.

NFC NORTH
Minnesota Vikings: Yes, the Vikings will make the playoffs. Yes, the Vikings will have a good record. No, the Vikings wont go far in the playoffs. The NFC is so weak that being one of the best NFC teams can mean you aren’t even in the top 10 of the top NFL teams. Without Moss, the Vikings are going to be lacking at receiver. Also, they can’t count on Culpepper having as good of a year as last season. But, by default, they will win the division.

Green Bay Packers: Brett Favre is getting old, and getting worse. But it’s going to continue to be a gradual dropoff, not as sudden as everyone thinks. He can’t win a playoff game right now. After this season, he wont be able to make the playoffs. The Pack better get into rebuilding mode fast.

Detroit Lions: The Lions have such a good receiving corps, and such bad Quarterbacks. Unless Garcia returns to his 49er form, or Harrington finally becomes what he’s been made out to be, the Lions are stuck with the Bears at the bottom of the division again.

Chicago Bears: Kyle Orton is not going to lead the Bears to a winning season. He’s a rookie, starting at quarterback, and bound to make many mistakes that lead to loses. At least Roethlisberger had a Bettis/Staley combo that carried him past his mistakes. The Bears don’t have such a running back system for Orton.

NFC SOUTH
Atlanta Falcons: I’ve never been that impressed with the Falcons, and I’m still not after last year. They have a good defense with Mora Jr coaching, but Michael Vick at quarterback means they are still a low scoring team. I still think they take the division in a close race, but I don’t necessarily think they are the best team in this division.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (wild card): I haven’t forgotten about 2002. The Bucs have had a lot of problems since then, but their defense is still solid, things could be worse than Brian Greise at quarterback, and with an easier schedule based on last seasons finish they have the potential to win a lot of games this year. Maybe it’s just a hunch, but I see them becoming a playoff team once again.

Carolina Panthers (wild card): Yes, the panthers are highly overrated, based on sports illustrated and espn’s obsession with them. They are still a playoff bound team though. Delhomme has come a long way and is now a fantasy worthy QB. Again, this is a tight division in my mind, but the Panthers will be the third of this trifecta of NFC South playoff bound teams.

New Orleans Saints: Who knows, maybe the Saints will be inspired by Hurricane Katrina and make the playoffs this season. But, because I’ve never been that impressed with Aaron Brooks or Deuce McAllister, they take the c
ellar in this division, with an almost winning record.

NFC WEST
St. Louis Rams: I’m done picking the Seahawks to make the playoffs and win the NFC. They will always choke, and the Rams will always be there to take advantage of it. This is another weak division, but Marc Bulger is good enough to get his team back into the playoffs for the third straight season.

Seattle Seahawks: Its sad not picking the Seahawks to make the playoffs, because with Hasselbeck and Alexander, they have so much potential. Too bad their receivers always mess it up. Last year, they made the playoffs. This year, they don’t.

Arizona Cardinals: Since when are the Cardinals so good they deserve to be picked to win the division? And since when has anyone thought Kurt Warner still has it. I don’t believe a word the sportswriters are writing, and I think its another mediocre season for the Cardinals.

San Francisco 49ers: The Niners might have a few wins this year, but they still don’t have the players to put together a winning season. Perhaps once Alex Smith takes over and their receivers mature. Until then, I have no faith whatsoever in Tim Rattay.

Playoffs
NFC
Panthers over Vikings
Buccaneers over Rams

Panthers over Eagles
Falcons over Buccaneers

Panthers over Falcons

AFC
Ravens over Bengals
Jaguars over Raiders

Patriots over Jaguars
Colts over Ravens

Patriots over Colts

Super Bowl XL
New England Patriots 17 Carolina Panthers 14

MVP: Peyton Manning
Coach: Bill Belichek