2019 NFL Preview & Prognostications

I was at an outdoor concert a couple of weeks ago, and as darkness fell around 9pm I felt a slight chill in the air. Autumn was in the breeze. That’s a feeling I usually don’t experience until Labor Day Weekend while attending our local Italian Heritage Festival. In the moment I was not pleased because I tend to prefer the warmth & sunshine of summer. I have nothing particular against fall except for the fact that it ushers in winter, which I despise. At any rate, in an effort to find a silver lining and think positive I must say that there are a few good things about autumn…my birthday, Halloween, & football. Glorious football is back!! It’s time once again to look into the pigskin crystal ball and make some predictions about how this season might play out. I don’t put a whole lot of stock in pre-season, but there are injuries, holdouts, & emergent rookies we can’t ignore. As always the team’s record from the previous year is in parentheses, with the predicted record for this season following it. And remember…no wagering. I am not a professional and most of the time I’m not very good at this. Let’s just relax & have some fun.

 

  

 

 

North

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6-1) 10-6

Baltimore Ravens (10-6) 9-7

Cleveland Browns (7-8-1) 8-8

Cincinnati Bengals (6-10) 3-13

Despite an eventful off-season that saw talented but troubled WR Antonio Brown shipped to The Left Coast I don’t think my Steelers will implode. However, I do expect divisional games to be even more competitive than usual. Don’t sleep on the Ravens…they’ll battle for every yard on both sides of the ball, and new QB Lamar Jackson is feast or famine: he’ll have moments of pure brilliance, but he needs to become a better passer and has to stay healthy. Everyone needs to slow their roll on the “new & improved” Browns. Going back to his college days I’ve always opined that QB Baker Mayfield gave me a Bret Favre-ish vibe, and I see it now more than ever. Adding receivers Odell Beckham Jr. & Jarvis Landry into the mix along with a backfield of Nick Chubb & Kareem Hunt bodes well for the offense. I like their defense too…DEs Myles Garrett & Olivier Vernon and tackle Sheldon Richardson should be stout against the run as well as put some pressure on opposing QBs, and the secondary might be sneaky good. Having said that, I’m not buying Cleveland as a playoff team just yet. The Bengals finally pushed longtime head coach Marvin Lewis out the door, but I’m not sure 35 year old Zac Taylor is the answer. He’s never been a head coach at any level and the learning curve will be quite foreboding. Regardless of whether or not Taylor lasts more than a season or two Cincy probably needs to blow things up and construct a whole new roster from the ground up.

 

 

South

Indianapolis Colts (10-6) 10-6

Houston Texans (11-5) 9-7

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) 9-7

Tennessee Titans (9-7) 5-11

There are just so many questions…this might be the most difficult division in the league to calculate. Can Colts’ QB Andrew Luck stay healthy?? Will QB Nick Foles be the answer Jacksonville has been seeking?? Marlon Mack, Derrick Henry, Lamar Miller, or Leonard Fournette…which running back will lead the pack?? Will any of these four defenses emerge as elite (the Jags were #5 a year ago, the Titans #8, Indy & Houston were #11 & #12)?? I’m downgrading Indianapolis a bit due to concerns about Luck’s ankle, but still think they will win the division if he doesn’t miss more than a couple of games. I like Foles and the Jags’ defense is stout, but have serious doubts about the durability of Fournette and the rest of their skill players inspire little confidence. I love Texans’ QB Deshaun Watson, but somebody other than WR DeAndre Hopkins has to step up and be reliably productive. Houston has the same issue on the defense…JJ Watt is fantastic, but others have to contribute. My vibe is that they take a step back this season, make some adjustments, and become serious contenders in 2020. This feels like a make or break year for Titans’ QB Marcus Mariota. When he came out of Oregon in 2015 the big debate about who would go #1 overall in the draft was between him and Florida St.’s Jameis Winston. Winston went to Tampa while Mariota was chosen next, but neither quarterback has set the world on fire. There just seems to be something amiss in Tennessee. I think they decline slightly and head coach Mike Vrabel finds himself on the hot seat.

 

 

East

New England Patriots (11-5) 10-6

New York Jets (4-12) 8-8

Miami Dolphins (7-9) 8-8

Buffalo Bills (6-10) 3-13

Here we go again. Tom Brady appears to be ageless and Bill Belichick’s stature as a head coach grows with each passing year, despite his shady tactics. The Patriots have become Tiger Woods from two decades ago when he was winning a lot but we all knew he really only cared about the majors. In much the same way it seems like everyone understands that New England will win a rather weak division, and their only true goal is another Super Bowl. With that in mind I think they’ll win the division but not run away with it. Jets’ QB Sam Darnold continues his maturation process, and now he has RB Le’Veon Bell as a safety net. I like what the Jets are doing and believe they’ll noticeably improve. I feel bad for Dolphins & Bills fans. They’ve known for a decade & a half that their teams aren’t winning the division, but they don’t even get to enjoy watching obvious progress. Both squads just seem to be treading water and perpetuating their mediocrity with poor coaching hires, bad free agent moves, and subpar drafts.

 

 

West

Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) 11-5

Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) 10-6

Oakland Raiders (4-12) 6-10

Denver Broncos (6-10) 3-13

At the time of publication Chargers’ RB Melvin Gordon is threatening to continue his holdout into the start of the season, which could certainly have a negative impact. Even if he’s back in uniform Week 1 there have to be questions about fitness & durability after sitting out the entire pre-season. It’s a messy situation that opens the door just enough for the Chiefs to slip by & take the division. There’s a lot to like about KC, led by NFL MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Speaking of messy situations, the Antonio Brown Circus has moved from Pittsburgh to Oakland, which theoretically should make the Raiders better on the field…but I’m not convinced. I’ve lost track of whether this is the team’s final season in Oakland or if they’ll have to wait until 2021 to relocate to Las Vegas, but until that move occurs I think the Raiders are stuck in neutral. The Broncos have ostensibly improved their quarterback quandary with the addition of Joe Flacco & by drafting Drew Lock out of Missouri in the second round of the draft. They also have new head coach Vic Fangio, which should help the defense. Give this group time to gel & they have potential, but I have low expectations for the current season.

 

Playoff Teams:   Chiefs, Steelers, Patriots, Colts, Chargers, Texans

AFC Championship:    New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Chargers

 

 

 

 

North

Chicago Bears (12-4) 11-5

Minnesota Vikings (8-7-1) 8-8

Green Bay Packers (6-9-1) 8-8

Detroit Lions (6-10) 5-12

The more things change the more they stay the same, and I don’t expect much difference in what ESPN’s Chris Berman used to call the Norris Division. The Packers have a new head coach and QB Aaron Rodgers has become increasingly enigmatic. The Vikings have some talent but not enough to move the needle. The Lions are…well, they’re the Lions. That leaves the Bears to claim another division crown and vie for home field thru the playoffs. QB Mitch Trubisky should take another step in his development and I have high expectations. Combined with a tough defense that makes for a potentially elite team. Anything short of an appearance in the conference title game will be a disappointment for Chicago.

 

 

South

New Orleans Saints (13-3) 14-2

Atlanta Falcons (7-9) 9-7

Carolina Panthers (7-9) 9-7

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) 2-14

My heart still hurts for the Saints and their fans. They absolutely should have been in the Super Bowl last season but got royally screwed by an inept officiating crew. My vibe is that situation will provide motivation to an already very solid team. QB Drew Brees is almost as nature-defying as Brady, but I suspect this may be his last great opportunity to get another Lombardi Trophy. The Falcons & Panthers will both be good but not great, and I have serious concerns about the health & durability of Carolina QB Cam Newton. Tampa is just a warmer version of Buffalo with a more heralded QB. They can change coaches and do all the tinkering they want, but none of their decisions seem to work out the way they hope. Jameis Winston is undeniably talented, but I just don’t think he is a top shelf NFL quarterback.

 

 

East

Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) 10-6

Dallas Cowboys (10-6) 9-7

Washington Redskins (7-9) 7-9

New York Giants (5-11) 6-10

The Eagles’ safety blanket is gone, so QB Carson Wentz better stay healthy. Not only that, but he needs to live up to the hype. The division will be a dog fight, and Wentz needs to fulfill his potential for Philly to come out on top. I’m not buying the Cowboys’ hype. I don’t think they’ll be horrible, but the holdout of RB Zeke Elliott could have a negative impact. Media types will yap endlessly about a “quarterback controversy” in New York, but does it really matter?? I’ve never thought Eli Manning was that good, and if he loses the starting gig to rookie Daniel Jones it says a lot more about Manning than it does Jones. Either way the Giants’ QB…whomever it may be…won’t have Odell Becham Jr. to throw to, and that’s a problem. RB Saquon Barkley can only do so much, right?? The Redskins will have some solid games and at times look like a potential playoff team, but at the end of the day their fans will be disappointed and be left to wonder what happened. Head coach Jay Gruden is an offensive coordinator masquerading as a head coach, successfully trading on his more famous brother’s name, and he’s not going to achieve much success with Case Keenum as his starting quarterback. Rookie signal caller Dwayne Haskins will likely snag the job by mid-season, so there is some hope for the future.

 

 

West

Los Angeles Rams (13-3) 10-6

San Francisco 49ers (4-12) 9-7

Seattle Seahawks (10-6) 8-8

Arizona Cardinals (3-13) 4-12

I hated what happened in the NFC Championship game last season not only because of how the Saints got shafted, but also because I knew the Rams were sitting ducks in the Super Bowl. As talented as they are I just knew that the Patriots were foaming at the mouth to take on a young & inexperienced coach/QB combo, and it turned out exactly as I knew it would. And now the Rams aren’t a secret to the rest of the league so their opponents will be more prepared than a year ago. I still think they’ll win the division, but it won’t be quite as effortless. Jimmy G. is back under center for the Niners, and that means a huge turnaround. They’ll be in a battle with several other teams for a wildcard berth, but that’s a nice change from last season. Seattle still has Russell Wilson and they made some solid draft picks, but I believe they’ll take a step back this year. The Cards are trying to copy the Rams’ formula, but I’m not convinced it’ll work. Kliff Kingsbury probably needed a few more years as a college coach before taking the helm of an NFL team, and Kyler Murray is a perfect example of a great college quarterback whose skills just don’t translate to the NFL. Kudos to the powers-that-be in Arizona for rolling the dice and trying something new, but two years from now Kingsbury will probably be coaching on Saturdays and Murray will be playing baseball…if NFL defenses don’t maim the little guy.

 

Playoff Teams:   Saints, Bears, Rams, Eagles, Falcons, 49ers

NFC Championship:   New Orleans Saints vs. Chicago Bears

 

 

 

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Top 5 Picks in 2020 NFL Draft

1       Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2       Denver Broncos

3       Cincinnati Bengals

4       Buffalo Bills

5       Arizona Cardinals

2018 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 2

Wow, the beginning of the NFL season kind of snuck up on me. When choosing which games to pick I could not pass up the opener featuring the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, but it’s a Thursday nighter, and early games for this procrastinator are an issue. Fortunately I think we’re going to make it just in time. I got off to a pretty good start last week. Zach?? Not so much. We’ll see how adding pro football into the mix spices things up. This is going to be quick & dirty due to time constraints, so enjoy.

My Season:        4-1

Z’s Season:      1-4 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clemson (-12)   at      Texas A&M

The Tigers had no problem beating down Furman last weekend, and A&M easily defeated Northwestern State. I have no doubt that Jimbo Fisher will dramatically improve the Aggies in time, but it might take a season or two. Conversely, Clemson seems damn near unbeatable. This game is in College Station, which is traditionally a raucous crowd. That should give me pause, but it really doesn’t. Clemson might lose at some point this year, but it’s not going to be this week. Zach points out that A&M played on Thursday last week, meaning they’ve had an extra couple of days to prepare for this game. He likes the home field and thinks this will be a close game. The Aggies may not win, but Zach believes they’ll cover the points.

My Pick:     Clemson

Z’s Pick:     Texas A&M

 

 

 

USC                     at      Stanford (-4)

As good as Stanford has been the last several years it feels like it has been rare for them to be favored over the Trojans. Of course they do have the nominal home field advantage, which makes sense I suppose. Both teams had fairly effortless wins last week, so not much can be learned from those games. I feel like Southern Cal has been overlooked a bit in the offseason and no one is expecting much because they are trying to replace QB Sam Darnold, now plying his trade with the New York Jets. Conversely, Stanford running back Bryce Love is a Heisman frontrunner and getting all kinds of attention. The Vibes are telling me the script might get flipped this weekend. Contrary to what I’ve observed, Zach feels like USC is overhyped…but he thinks they’ll get a close victory.

My Pick:     USC

Z’s Pick:     USC

 

 

 

San Francisco at      Minnesota (-3)

Expectations are high for the 49ers, but perhaps we need to pump the brakes a bit. Sure, Jimmy G. looks like he’s going to be a good quarterback, but I’m not sure about the weapons he has surrounding him, a concern exacerbated by the loss of starting RB Jerick McKinnon to a torn ACL just a few days ago. The defense could be quite good though, with the addition of Richard Sherman in the secondary being a solid move. But if we’re talking defense you can’t look past the best, and a season ago that was the Vikings. I don’t expect that to change this year, and new starting QB Kirk Cousins could push his team all the way to February. Zach doesn’t buy all the Cousins hype and thinks Garoppolo will emerge as the better quarterback, but he likes Minnesota to get the close win.

My Pick:     Minnesota

Z’s Pick:     Minnesota

 

 

 

Houston             at      New England (-6.5)

On paper this might look like a mismatch, but I am convinced that Houston’s 4-12 record in 2017 was an anomaly. QB Deshaun Watson and defensive lineman JJ Watt are both back & healthy, so I expect this season to be much different. The Patriots are what they are, and any perceived chinks in their armor haven’t shown up on the field. I think both teams will make the playoffs, but from a psychological perspective a win in this one would be huge for the Texans. Zach likes Houston well enough, but he just can’t pull the trigger against the Pats.

My Pick:     Houston

Z’s Pick:     New England

 

 

 

Atlanta                at      Philadelphia (-2.5)

The NFL season kicks off on Thursday night with the defending Super Bowl Champs having the home field against the Falcons, who most of the experts are predicting will battle New Orleans for the NFC South. The offseason hasn’t been perfect for the Eagles, and traditionally it is difficult for defending champions to recapture that magic a season later. I believe that Atlanta might be a bit overrated, and I’m not necessarily sure what to make of Philly, but for now I think the afterglow of that Super Bowl win lingers on and make this another night to celebrate in the City of Brotherly Love. Zach concurs and thinks the Eagles will win by two TDs.

My Pick:     Philadelphia

Z’s Pick:     Philadelphia

 

2018 NFL Preview & Prognostications

The old saying is that “hindsight is 20/20”, and sometimes hindsight can also be absolutely hilarious. There is a Facebook page called Freezing Cold Takes which posts old tweets & comments from talking heads about players, teams, games, & draft picks that turned out to be way wrong, which is great because I’ve always thought it terrible that no one holds those people accountable for some of the outrageous opinions that they spew in an effort to get attention and stir the pot. Here at The Manofesto I do reflect on stuff I’ve written in the past and often call myself out on things about which I’ve been off base, and in looking back at last year’s preview I just have to roll my eyes that I said “football is a uniter, not a divider”, since the NFL proceeded to spend the next few months dividing the nation with their idiotic anthem protests. I’d like to think that this season will be different, but between renewed debate about those protests in addition to new rules that turn what used to commonly be referred to as a tackle into a penalty, I’m not sure football fans will be any happier with the NFL in 2018. Atleast they loosened up and clarified exactly what a catch is, so I suppose that’s progress. And as far as hindsight goes, a year ago I did throw out a plea for someone to “give Jon Gruden a coaching job and get him off our TVs”, so a shout out to the Raiders for answering that prayer.  As always the team’s record from the previous year is in parentheses, with the predicted record for this season following it. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

North

Minnesota Vikings       (13-3)         11-5

Chicago Bears             (5-11)        8-8

Green Bay Packers     (7-9)           8-8

Detroit Lions                 (9-7)           6-10

 

The Vikings swapped out Case Keenum for Kirk Cousins at QB, which theoretically should be an upgrade. The defense was already stellar, and they’ve now added defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and drafted cornerback Mike Hughes in the first round, so I see no reason to expect a dropoff. Minnesota won’t take anyone by surprise this year, but I still think they’ll win the division easily. The biggest surprise might be the Bears. I really like quarterback Mitch Trubisky, Jordan Howard & Tarik Cohen make for a great running back tandem, & I think wide receiver Kevin White (formerly of my WVU Mountaineers) will finally stay healthy and prove why he was a first round pick in 2015. My concern is with Chicago’s defense, and with this being new head coach Matt Nagy’s first season I think the playoffs are a bit much to expect. I feel like the Packers are leaning on their reputation but in reality aren’t that good. QB Aaron Rodgers has spent most of the offseason gallivanting around with new girlfriend Danica Patrick, and it wouldn’t be the first time that an athlete’s personal life has distracted them from their job. The Lions have a new coach too…former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who was indicted for sexual assault back in his college days but not convicted, something he didn’t feel was important to mention to the powers-that-be in Detroit during the hiring process. I think Patricia will get the Lions over the hump someday…but not this year. The roster simply isn’t good enough and the division is too tough.

 

 

 

South

Carolina Panthers                 (11-5)         12-4

Atlanta Falcons                     (10-6)         7-9

New Orleans Saints              (11-5)         6-10

Tampa Bay Buccaneers      (5-11)         2-14

 

The NFC South has been one of the most compelling & competitive divisions in the league the past few years, but I don’t believe that’ll be the case in 2018. Cam Newton is in his eighth season under center for the Panthers, and it feels like the time for hype is over and he actually needs to lead his team back to the Super Bowl, a height they reached in 2015 before getting throttled by the Denver Broncos. I’m just not feeling good vibes about the Falcons or Saints, although I’d love to see 39 year old Drew Brees end his career on a high note in the next couple of seasons. I foresee sharp declines for Atlanta and New Orleans this year. I’ve never been a huge fan of Bucs QB Jameis Winston…not because he lacks talent since he is actually quite capable, but because he seems like kind of a jackass. Once again he is being accused of improper conduct, this time for allegedly groping an Uber driver a couple of years ago. The NFL found enough merit in the charge that they suspended Winston for the first few games of the season, and I don’t think things will get much better for the team once he returns.

 

 

 

East

Philadelphia Eagles              (13-3)         12-4

Washington Redskins                    (7-9)           9-7

Dallas Cowboys                              (9-7)           7-9

New York Giants                   (3-13)         6-10

 

A year ago I predicted that the Eagles would finish 5-11 and have the third overall pick in the NFL Draft. Instead they won 13 games & the division and went on to upset the Pats in the Super Bowl. Now starting QB Carson Wentz is returning from a torn ACL suffered late last season, and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is the backup, which seems unfair to the rest of the league. The Redskins lost Kirk Cousins but replaced him under center with Alex Smith, which feels like a lateral move. The Cowboys have Dak Prescott back as their quarterback, but I’m not sure he has anyone to thrown the ball to after the departure of Dez Bryant and the retirement of tight end Jason Witten. Sure they have RB Zeke Elliot, but what if defenses stack eight in the box and dare Prescott to beat them?? That won’t end well for Dallas. As much as some may disagree, I don’t believe the Giants are going to get back into the playoff hunt as long as Eli Manning is their quarterback. Eli has benefited from his family ties and a couple of really lucky Super Bowl wins, but in general I’ve always felt that he is overrated and now he is on the downside of his career. The Giants drafted running back Saquon Barkley second overall, and he will undoubtedly open up the offense allowing receiver Odell Beckham to catch his fair share of touchdowns, but I just don’t think it’ll be enough, especially if the defense doesn’t gel.

 

 

 

West

Los Angeles Rams               (11-5)         10-6

San Francisco 49ers            (6-10)         10-6

Seattle Seahawks                 (9-7)           5-11

Arizona Cardinals                  (8-8)           3-13

 

Seattle’s Legion of Boom has been relegated to the dust bin of history and their once imposing defense looks totally decimated. But hey, atleast they still have Russell Wilson at quarterback, right?? That’s the only reason I’m picking the Seahawks to win more games than the Cardinals, because Arizona is going into the season with fragile Sam Bradford as their signal caller…unless first rounder Josh Rosen steals the job in the pre-season. The 49ers seemed like a completely different team after they traded for QB Jimmy Garoppolo in the latter stages of last season, and I think he’s the real deal. I’m not all that confident in the weapons Jimmy G. has surrounding him, but if the defense is as good as it looks to be on paper then ‘Frisco could pull out their fair share of tight, low scoring games. Conversely, the Rams should put plenty of points on the board as young QB Jared Goff gets in sync with receivers Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Pharoah Cooper, & Brandin Cooks. Oh, and they have top flight running back Todd Gurley toting the rock. So if the defense is even slightly above average I think the Rams have to be the favorites by a nose over San Francisco.

 

 

Playoff Teams:   Minnesota, Carolina, Philadelphia, L.A. Rams, Washington, San Francisco

NFC Championship:   Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

North

Pittsburgh Steelers               (13-3)         11-5

Baltimore Ravens                 (9-7)           8-8

Cleveland Browns                 (0-16)         6-10

Cincinnati Bengals                (7-9)           5-11

 

It is a testament to how little regard I (and most of the football viewing public) give the Browns that I didn’t even realize that they went 0-16 last season. I thought they’d won atleast one game, but that was in 2016. I’m not all that enamored with #1 overall pick Baker Mayfield not because he doesn’t have potential but because I think Cleveland could’ve made some deals, improved their team, and still snagged Mayfield later in the first round. Actually he kind of gives me a Brett Favre vibe, and if that’s true then he could turn out to be the answer they’ve been searching for in The Factory of Sadness for many years. But for now winning more games than they’ve won in total over the past couple of seasons would be cause for optimism. If that actually happens then it could mean a last place finish for the Bengals, which I’d have to assume would bring an end to Marvin Lewis’ decade & a half long reign as Cincy’s head coach. I’m not at all impressed with quarterback Andy Dalton or any of his weapons, with the exception of receiver AJ Green, who has to be pondering an escape to a contender after eight seasons with a team going nowhere. Their defense might keep Cincinnati competitive in quite a few games, but I think they’ll fall short more often than not. There is a quarterback controversy brewing in Baltimore, with fans & sports media desperately wanting rookie Lamar Jackson (a former Heisman Trophy winner) to prove himself good enough to supplant veteran Joe Flacco. The problem is that neither quarterback has anyone noteworthy to throw to, and the running game is a triple threat of mediocrity. The defense is always stout in Baltimore though, which might be good enough to snag a wild card. The division is my Steelers’ to lose. A year ago I pointed out that “the AFC North isn’t their true competition” and that “the only thing on anyone’s mind is overcoming the Patriots and getting to the Super Bowl”. That is truer than ever after losing home field advantage to the Patriots on one of those stupid “was it a catch or wasn’t it” decisions and then not really showing up against the Jags in the playoffs. Much of the offseason in Pittsburgh has been spent dealing with RB Le’veon Bell’s contract demands, and it’s all but a foregone conclusion that this will be his final season wearing Black & Gold. That combined with Ben Roethlisberger’s advanced age makes 2018 feel like a make or break, all or nothing, all chips in the center of the table season for the Steelers.

 

 

 

South

Houston Texans                  (4-12)         10-6

Jacksonville Jaguars           (10-6)         9-7

Tennessee Titans                 (9-7)           8-8

Indianapolis Colts                 (4-12)         7-9

 

I really like QB Deshaun Watson. He may have been on his way to being named NFL Rookie of the Year until a knee injury took him out midway thru the season. Assuming that he is healthy & ready to go I have to believe that the Texans are the team to beat in the South. Philanthropic defensive tackle JJ Watt also had his 2017 season torpedoed by injury, but he’ll be back on the field as well leading a stout defense. There is a lot to like about Houston. I suppose most “experts” will be picking Jacksonville to win the division again and maybe even make it to the Super Bowl…but I’m not convinced. Obviously their defense is quite impressive, but I am stunned that they stuck with Blake Bortles under center, and the rest of the offense is just as prosaic with the exception of RB Leonard Fournette, who is an injury waiting to happen. The Colts’ entire season rests on the health of QB Andrew Luck, and judging by the past two years that’s not at all comforting. If Luck is back then the question is can he live up to the Peyton Manning comparisons that were prevalent when he first entered the league, and I just don’t see that happening this season. I’ve got to see more from receiver TY Hilton, tight end Jack Doyle, & running back Marlon Mack…not to mention the offensive line, and I’m really not sure what to expect from the defense. First year head coach Frank Reich really has his work cut out for him in Indy. I feel like the Titans will be about the same as last year, perhaps a bit improved defensively. I like QB Marcus Mariota, and Corey Davis should emerge as a legit top flight receiver, but with Houston rebounding from a season that I believe was an anomaly it feels like Tennessee will be on the outside looking in.

 

 

 

East

New England Patriots           (13-3)         11-5

New York Jets                       (5-11)         7-9

Buffalo Bills                            (9-7)           6-10

Miami Dolphins                      (6-10)         5-11

 

Ugh. I hate this part. The Patriots are like a damn cockroach that no one can seem to destroy. Credit where credit is due though…they have been resilient in fending off the competition for over a decade. Whether you attribute that to skill, luck, cheating, or something else is a matter of opinion. At any rate, I won’t predict their demise until I actually see proof of impending doom, and though I’ve been looking & hoping for that for a few years now it hasn’t happened yet. Everybody else in the division is just there to provide the façade of competition. The Jets have yet another new quarterback, although it is possible that veteran journeyman Josh McCown will start ahead of rookie Sam Darnold for a few weeks. Buffalo had a decent season a year ago, but I think they’ll fall back a bit in 2018. AJ McCarron is penciled in to start ahead of first round draft pick Josh Allen under center, and I suppose it is possible that either could emerge as a pleasant surprise. On paper the Bills defense seems like it should be good, so we’ll see. Ryan Tannehill returns from injury to quarterback the Dolphins, while Jay Cutler has re-retired and is doing reality TV. God help us all. There are some decent weapons available to Tannehill, but the fact that Cutler only got Miami six wins a year ago and Tannehill isn’t as good as Cutler doesn’t bode well. The defense has potential, but I don’t think that’ll be enough to win very many games.

 

 

 

West

Los Angeles Chargers            (9-7)           9-7

Oakland Raiders                    (6-10)         8-8

Kansas City Chiefs               (10-6)         7-9

Denver Broncos                     (5-11)         2-14

 

Thanks again to the Raiders for bringing Gruden back to coach, which means that ESPN’s Monday Night Football crew will consist of Joe Tessitore, retired players Booger McFarland & Jason Witten, and Lisa Salters reporting from the field. Sounds good to me. I don’t believe that the Raiders will be back in the playoffs just yet, but they’ll improve slightly and Derek Carr might get back to being the talented quarterback he was a couple of years ago. Amari Cooper and Packers’ refugee Jordy Nelson make for an impressive receiving tandem, and Marshawn Lynch & former Buccaneer Doug Martin should solidify the ground game. The defense seems like it has some questions, which is why I’m hesitant to make Oakland more than a .500 team. I really sense a decline coming from Kansas City. Second year quarterback Patrick Mahomes takes over for the departed Alex Smith, and it might take some time for the young man to figure things out. He’s got some fantastic weapons at his disposal, so perhaps the learning curve won’t be as steep as I’m predicting. The Broncos feel like they’re on the edge of the cliff. Case Keenum is the new quarterback, and we’ll find out fairly fast if he’s the talented guy that won 11 out of 14 games with the Vikings last season or the pedestrian backup everyone always believed him to be. If Denver’s defense gets back to being as great as they were when winning the Super Bowl a few years ago that’ll help a lot, but I feel like they were pretty good last season and the team only won five games. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something is amiss in the Mile High City, and it might get worse before it gets better.

 

 

Playoff Teams:   Pittsburgh, Houston, New England, L.A. Chargers, Jacksonville, Baltimore

AFC Championship:    Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Houston Texans

 

 

 

 

 

 

17

 

 

 

 

13

 

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Picks in 2019 Draft:

1       Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2       Denver Broncos

3       Arizona Cardinals

4       Seattle Seahawks

5       Cincinnati Bengals

2017 NFL Preview & Prognostications

In light of all the absurdity happening in the world these days it’s good to know that it won’t be long until we can spend hours upon hours every weekend curled up on the couch watching football and forgetting about life for awhile. Football is a uniter, not a divider. Oh sure everyone has their favorite teams & players and fans will good-naturedly debate each other over such issues, but at the end of the day football fans on opposite ends of even the most longstanding rivalries usually have no problem sitting down with a cold beverage and some tasty snacks to watch the game together. There is so much common ground. Raider Nation, Cheeseheads, & Philly Boo Birds can all agree on certain things…the Browns suck, Tom Brady is a douche canoe, RedZone rocks, and for the love of God & all that’s holy will some lowly team PLEASE give Jon Gruden a coaching job and get him off our TVs. So in preparation for that upcoming glorious day please sit back, relax, & look into the gridiron crystal ball to see what might be in store for the NFL over the next few months. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

AFC

 

East

New England Patriots

(14-2) 13-3

Miami Dolphins

(10-6) 8-8

Buffalo Bills

(7-9) 5-11

New York Jets

(5-11) 3-13

Sports media has spent the offseason fellatiating the Patriots even more than usual, including shoving Tom Brady’s 40th birthday down our throats like it was some sort of religious holiday. Look, I’m not an unreasonable man. Despite repeated instances of cheating their way to success I will begrudgingly concede that any team that wins five Super Bowls in 15 years deserves kudos, but numerous outlets predicting an undefeated season is just silly. This is a weak division that New England will win easily, but I think they’ll stumble a few times along the way. The loss of QB Ryan Tannehill to injury and the subsequent signing of the suddenly unretired Jay Cutler doesn’t move the meter either way for the Dolphins in my opinion. They might be in the wildcard conversation early on but aren’t a threat to be taken seriously. The Jets are going to get worse before they get better, and the Bills are just treading water, with new head coach Sean McDermott being the latest guy that’ll lead the team nowhere before getting canned in a couple of years.

 

 

West

Oakland Raiders

(12-4) 13-3

Kansas City Chiefs

(12-4) 9-7

Denver Broncos

(9-7) 8-8

Los Angeles Chargers

(5-11) 7-9

The Raiders and Chiefs were neck & neck last season, but I think this is a year in which the future Vegas franchise establishes dominance while Kansas City takes a step backward. I really like Oakland QB Derek Carr, and with RB Marshawn Lynch coming out of retirement, WR Cordarrelle Patterson coming over from Minnesota looking for a fresh start, & Amari Cooper ready to emerge as one of the league’s premier receivers the offense will be difficult to stop. Khalil Mack & Bruce Irvin are a formidable pass rushing duo. The Chiefs feel like they’re in a transitional phase, with first round pick Patrick Mahomes biding his time until QB Alex Smith goes away, career backup Spencer Ware & third round pick Kareem Hunt vying to replace departed RB Jamaal Charles, and talented receivers Tyreek Hill & Chris Conley stepping up in the absence of the departed Jeremy Maclin. The defense will have to be the foundation for KC. Whether Trevor Semien or Paxton Lynch wins the quarterback battle in Denver their defense will also be the key to success. The Chargers have moved from San Diego to Los Angeles and will play in a stadium about the size of my apartment. I feel bad for QB Philip Rivers because I’m sure this isn’t how he’d prefer to see his career wind down. Anthony Lynn is an unproven head coach, although offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt & defensive coordinator Gus Bradley are former head coaches themselves. First round pick Mike Williams, a receiver out of Clemson, and second rounder Forrest Lamp, an offensive lineman from Western Kentucky, have already suffered injuries in training camp (Lamp is out for the season, Williams should return at some point), which isn’t a good omen.

 

 

North

Pittsburgh Steelers

(11-5) 10-6

Cincinnati Bengals

(6-9-1) 9-7

Baltimore Ravens

(8-8) 8-8

Cleveland Browns

(1-15) 3-13

I am normally very cautious when it comes to having high expectations for my Steelers, but I can’t deny the fact that they should clearly be the best team in the division. I’m sure everyone in Pittsburgh would deny it, but the truth is that the AFC North isn’t their true competition. The fact is that the only thing on anyone’s mind is overcoming the Patriots and getting to the Super Bowl. Having said that, this division is always a grind so I don’t expect the Steelers to run away with the crown. It’ll be a season long slog. I think the Bengals will be better than most expect, with AJ Green & first round pick John Ross forming an intimidating receiving duo and the much maligned Joe Mixon adding a dimension to the running game. Baltimore feels like they’re spinning their wheels. Perhaps they should crowd source their fans for solutions. The Browns are the Browns…a perpetual Factory of Sadness where talented players waste away valuable years of their career. They may show a small improvement this year, but really…who cares??

 

 

South

Tennessee Titans

(9-7) 11-5

Houston Texans

(9-7) 8-8

Indianapolis Colts

(8-8) 7-9

Jacksonville Jaguars

(3-13) 6-10

Much like the West, in which two teams that were even as they crossed the finish line last season seem to be headed on divergent paths, so it goes in the South, with Tennessee taking a leap forward and the Texans seeing their momentum stopped for now. I really like Titans’ QB Marcus Mariota, and he’s got some weapons…RBs DeMarco Murray & Derrick Henry, TE Jace Amaro, and WRs Eric Decker & first round pick Corey Davis. The offensive line looks good too. I’m not quite sure about their defense though. Houston will once again rely heavily on their stout defense while they sort out the quarterback situation. Tom Savage will probably begin the season as the starter, but I really like Deshaun Watson and think he’ll be one of the league’s best QBs in a couple of years. Colts’ signal caller Andrew Luck was supposed to be the next Peyton Manning, but things don’t seem to be working out that way, and I don’t expect Indy to improve. I had been under the impression in recent years that the Jags were up n’ comers, but they’ve gone backward. Unlike most people I’m not that psyched about first round pick Leonard Fournette, and QB Blake Bortles inspires zero confidence.

 

 

 

Playoff Teams:   New England, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Kansas City, Cincinnati

AFC Championship:    New England vs. Pittsburgh

 

  

 

NFC

 

East

New York Giants

(11-5) 11-5

Dallas Cowboys

(13-3) 10-6

Washington Redskins

(8-7-1) 8-8

Philadelphia Eagles

(7-9) 5-11

The suspension of RB Zeke Elliott isn’t a good beginning for the Cowboys. Whether he’s out six games or has the punishment reduced a bit I think Dallas loses atleast a couple contests that they otherwise may have won. That opens the door for the Giants, who enter season two of the Ben McAdoo era having done rather well last year and now switch out receiver Victor Cruz (now with the Bears) for Brandon Marshall (formerly of the Jets) & add first round pick Evan Engram at tight end. This is a tough division, but New York has to be the heavy favorite. The Redskins have spent the offseason in a pissing contest with quarterback Kirk Cousins, but also added free agent receiver Terrelle Pryor, defensive end & first round draft pick Jonathan Allen, and fourth round RB Samaje Perine. Still though, they feel like a team on the negative side of transformation until the likely departure of Cousins and the drafting of a new quarterback next year. I love Eagles’ QB Carson Wentz, but Philly is a team with too many moving parts & youngsters to really gel into anything good at this point. Maybe next year.

 

 

West

Seattle Seahawks

(10-5-1) 12-4

Arizona Cardinals

(7-8-1) 8-8

Los Angeles Rams

(4-12) 6-10

San Francisco 49ers

(2-14) 5-11

Seattle had, by their standards, a pretty mediocre season in 2016, lowlighted by a surprising loss to the lowly Rams in week two. However, they did make the playoffs before being beaten by the Atlanta Falcons. RB Eddie Lacy has moved to the northwest from Green Bay, and I expect him to be in shape & a significant contributor. The Cardinals are looking to rebound from a tough year and get back to the team they were in 2015 when they played in the NFC title game. It’s all about QB Carson Palmer. At 37 years old can he summon up one last great season, or will the oft injured signal caller just kind of fade away?? The Niners & Rams keep adding pieces in free agency & thru the draft, but it doesn’t seem like either team is closer to turning things around. This is the Seahawks’ division to lose, and I don’t think it’ll even be competitive.

 

 

North

Green Bay Packers

(10-6) 12-4

Minnesota Vikings

(8-8) 9-7

Chicago Bears

(3-13) 6-10

Detroit Lions

(9-7) 5-11

Much like Seattle the Packers just felt a bit off last season, even though they made it to the NFC title game. I think there was a lot of drama in the personal life of QB Aaron Rodgers that affected him negatively, though we’ll never really know for sure. At any rate, keep an eye on the backfield, where converted receiver Ty Montgomery will get some stiff competition from hardnosed runner Jamaal Williams, a 4th round draft choice from BYU. Otherwise I assume Rodgers will pass the ball a lot to an array of talented receivers and the defense will be overlooked & underrated. In Minnesota Adrian Peterson has taken his child beating ways down south to The Big Easy and it’ll be up to former Raider Latavius Murray and/or rookie RB Dalvin Cook to replace him. The receiving corps is…okay…but I expect QB Sam Bradford to be handing the ball off much of the time. Good ol’ smashmouth football for the Vikings. The defense will be alright, but might have to be better than that in some low scoring slugfests. The Bears will allegedly try to get thru the season with QBs Mike Glennon & Mark Sanchez, with first round pick Mitch Trubisky essentially redshirting his rookie season to learn the ropes. It’s a bold strategy…let’s see if it pays off for them (or even if they stick to that plan). There are some talented offensive weapons in Chicago…receivers Kevin White, Markus Wheaton, Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright, & Reuben Randle, RB Jordan Howard, rookie tight end & 2nd round draft pick Adam Shaheen…but none of that matters if the quarterback is subpar. The defense in the Windy City has potential but is, on paper, underwhelming. I am predicting that the Lions take a big step backward after a career year from QB Matthew Stafford in 2016. Their defense has been upgraded, but I don’t think Stafford can repeat last season’s success, and I’m not all that enamored with the weapons he has to work with. The Packers will win the North, and it won’t be close.

 

 

South

Atlanta Falcons

(11-5) 10-6

Carolina Panthers

(6-10) 10-6

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(9-7) 10-6

New Orleans Saints

(7-9) 9-7

All anyone will remember about the Falcons’ 2016 season is their epic collapse in the Super Bowl, which is a shame, but also can be used as motivation. They’ll be almost as good this year, but other teams will step up to compete. The Panthers’ putrid season was probably an anomaly, and I expect them to flip the script this year behind new offensive weapon Christian McCaffrey, who’ll line up in the backfield but can be a receiver as well. I like Tampa and believe we’ll see the continued maturation of QB Jameis Winston, especially since he now has a really good tight end in first round pick OJ Howard and a talented group of receivers, including free agent signee DeSean Jackson. The Bucs will be in the playoff hunt. I am rather sentimental, so I’d like to see QB Drew Brees lead the Saints back to the playoffs as he winds down his brilliant career, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Signing free agent RB Adrian Peterson won’t be a difference maker since he’s way past his prime. Actually it’ll probably be Mark Ingram & third round choice Alvin Kamara getting most of the work in the backfield by the mid-point of the season.

 

 

 

Playoff Teams:   NY Giants, Green Bay, Seattle, Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay

NFC Championship:   NY Giants vs. Green Bay

 

 

 

Pittsburgh Steelers      41  

Green Bay Packers 38

 

 

Top 5 Picks in 2018 Draft:

1       New York Jets

2       Cleveland Browns

3       Philadelphia Eagles

4       San Francisco 49ers

5       Detroit Lions

2012 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 15

And down the stretch we come!! This is the next-to-last week of the NFL season and thus the inaugural season of the PPP’s. I had another 4-3 record last weekend (I am almost positive that I’ve not exceeded that success rate at all this year), bringing my overall record to 42-61-1. Surprisingly there aren’t a lot of compelling matchups this week. There are a lot of games where one team is already securely in the playoffs while their opponent’s season long ago went in the crapper. And there are a few games where both teams are bad. The one game with a somewhat moderate level of drama is a game I won’t pick because it involves my Steelers and I cannot be impartial. Nevertheless I believe that I have found 7 games worthy of our attention. We’ll see.

 

 

San Diego       at         NY Jets (-2.5)

Has there been any bigger train wreck in the NFL this year than the Jets?? If they have any Jets-Pin-Procompetition it just might be the equally abysmal Chargers, but of course for a variety of reasons the Jets get a lot more scrutiny. I think it’s safe to say that a good many of the personnel for both teams…players, coaches, suits…involved with this game will not be a part of their respective organizations the next time these two meet (whenever that may be). At any rate I think the Jets pull this one out, because how great would it be if, after all the love & hate for both Mark Sanchez & Tim Tebow, it is QB Greg McElroy who emerges as the best field general on the team??

 

Minnesota      at         Houston (-7)

Apparently Vikings QB Christian Ponder married ESPN hottie Samantha Steele this week after houston texans logo2just meeting her like 4 months ago. Not only does that make me question his sanity & decision making skills, but it logically makes one wonder just how prepared he will be to face the Texans’ stout defense. Houston already has their division won but is still battling for home field throughout the playoffs. Minnesota is in a dogfight for a wildcard spot. If Houston had nothing to play for I might roll the dice, but that home field thing is a huge asset so I think they’ll still be sharp and win easily.

 

New Orleans at         Dallas (-2.5)

Contrary to the opinion that I have espoused for months the Saints have not overcome their New-Orleans-Saints-Logo-244x300early season woes and will not be making the playoffs. The Cowboys, on the other hand, are still very much in the thick of the playoff hunt and could even win their division. This is a total vibe game. Logically speaking Dallas has everything to play for plus the home field advantage. However, they are also a hot mess. New Orleans has never recovered from all the offseason bounty hoopla, but they still have QB Drew Brees, and I am betting that he does not want to let his team finish worse than .500. The Voices are telling me to pick the Saints, so I shall comply.

 

Tennessee       at         Green Bay (-11.5)

Will Green Bay lose this game?? No, probably not. Will they cover the spread?? That’s a more Tennessee_Titans_Helmetinteresting question. The Titans have been a real disappointment to me this season. I have always thought that QB Jake Locker was the real deal, and I figured that RB Chris Johnson would rebound from a subpar 2011 and have a monster year. But for some reason things just haven’t gelled in Music City. Meanwhile the Packers just keep on truckin’ and have already clinched the division. It is unlikely that they are going to overcome the Atlanta Falcons for the home field, so what do they really have to play for?? Don’t be surprised if several Green Bay starters get a lot of rest these next couple of weeks. That being said I think the Packers win the game but not by double digits…so the Titans are the pick.

 

New England (-14.5)  at         Jacksonville

So this is what it has come to?? I am reduced to picking a game that wouldn’t be in doubt even if New_England_Patriots_Helmetthe entire Patriots starting lineup just stayed home?? New England is still very much in contention for home field throughout the playoffs, which should be sufficient motivation. Conversely the talking heads on ESPN and elsewhere are already talking about the Jags signing Tebow in the offseason. As much as it pains me to do so I have to go with the Pats to win big & cover.

 

NY Giants (-1.5)          at         Baltimore

The Ravens have already clinched a playoff berth but have also lost three games in a row. The Giants LogoGiants are always dangerous this time of the year because it’s usually when they shake off all that mediocrity and get hot. Winning their last two games would almost certainly net a division title, and since the last game of the season is against the pathetic Philadelphia Eagles one would assume that this would be a game the Giants would be sufficiently jacked for. New York has everything to win & lose…Baltimore knows it’ll either be the lowest seeded division champion or a wildcard, which is kind of like the difference between Burger King & Wendy’s, i.e. not much difference. Therefore, even though they disappointed me last week I’m going to choose the Giants.

 

San Francisco (-1)      at         Seattle

Who would have ever figured three months ago that this would be such a highly anticipated4 game?? Kudos to head coach Pete Carroll, who’s Seahawks have won 5 out of their last 6 games and look likely to make the playoffs if they can just win one of these last two games. Meanwhile the 49ers have won 4 out of their last 6, with only inexplicable stumbles against the Rams that led to a loss & a tie. I know Seattle has the home field here, and that crowd will be amped out of their freakin’ minds. But I also think that most “experts” would agree that ‘Frisco is still clearly the better team. I am an underdog kind of guy so Seattle’s success has been fun to watch, but I think they’re going to have to win next week against the Rams to secure their playoff spot because I don’t believe the 49ers will lose this one.

 

 

 

2012 NFL Preview & Prognostications

There’s nothing like cutting it close, right?? Just a few hours before the 2012 NFL season officially kicks off (on a Wednesday…weird) I am here with my always stellar & 100% accurate predictions. Well…okay…my vibes aren’t always all that precise, but I keep trying!! I am not really predicting anything all that wacky this year because I think we pretty much know who the haves & have nots are in professional football. There are always a few mild surprises, and of course a couple of injuries here & there can change everything in the blink of an eye, but not withstanding the unforeseeable I believe that this season will mostly adhere to conventional wisdom, but in a fun kind of way. As always I do not condone wagering, especially with my track record. Seriously, the only thing financially riskier than using my football forecast for monetary gain is trusting President Obama and his economic braintrust. Each team’s 2011 record is shown in parentheses, with my prediction for 2012 immediately following.

 

 

NFC East

*Philadelphia Eagles      

(8-8)                      12-4

*Dallas Cowboys             

(8-8)                      10-6

New York Giants             

(9-7)                      8-8

Washington Redskins    

(5-11)                    7-9

Last year the Eagles signed a bunch of big time free agents and bloviated a bit too much about being a team of destiny…then proceeded to fall flat on their face. If…if…QB Michael Vick can stay healthy in 2012 they may finally fulfill their potential. Everybody knows that another disappointing season will cost Coach Andy Reid his job and I don’t think anyone really wants to see that happen. The Cowboys will be in hot pursuit and should make the playoffs. I really like new Redskins field general Robert Griffin III but he is a rookie quarterback and I think we need to lower expectations for a couple of years. A year ago I predicted that the NY Giants wouldn’t “be nearly as good as most others seem to think they will”. They promptly went out and won their 2nd Super Bowl in 5 years. However, I will not be deterred!! Actually if you look closely at last year the Giants went 9-7, backed into the playoffs, then got hot at the right time. That is unlikely to happen again, and I think it far more probable that they will have a similar record in 2012 and fail to reach the postseason rather than actually having a dramatically better regular season this time around.

 

NFC North

*Green Bay Packers      

(15-1)                    11-5

Chicago Bears                   

(8-8)                      9-7         

Detroit Lions                     

(10-6)                    9-7

Minnesota Vikings          

(3-13)                    2-14

I just don’t see this division as being in any doubt. The Packers may have stumbled last year in the playoffs, but they are still among the elite franchises in the NFL and have the best QB in the game. Their aerial attack is so good that their defense just has to be solid, not spectacular. The Bears & the Lions will both be decent and in the midst of the playoff hunt, but I’m just not all that impressed…yet. Give the Lions another year or two. I like young Vikings QB Christian Ponder, and of course when healthy Adrian Petersen is among the best running backs in the business, but there’s really nothing else to be excited about. And if AP doesn’t recover as well as hoped for from knee surgery it could be a v-e-r-y long year for the guys in purple.

 

NFC South

*New Orleans Saints     

(13-3)                    9-7

*Carolina Panthers         

(6-10)                    9-7

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(4-12)                    7-9

Atlanta Falcons                                

(10-6)                    7-9

I do not believe that a team can go through the turmoil that the Saints have experienced this offseason and not be affected. Their head coach is suspended for an entire year, and the guy they picked to fill in is suspended for the first 6 games. So for nearly half of the season they are being led by a 3rd string head coach. For most teams that would be a fatal blow, but this team has an ace in the hole…QB Drew Brees. There is a school of thought that Brees will lead this team in blitz of anger and dominate their opponents en route to glory just to prove a point and piss off Commandant Fidel Goodell. That sounds like a fun theory, but I don’t believe it’ll be quite that easy. Fortunately for fans in The Big Easy their team plays in a rather mediocre division. I do think QB Cam Newton, in his 2nd year, will surprise a lot of folks and lead his team to the playoffs. The Buccaneers will improve but when a team goes 4-12 there’s really nowhere to go but up. I like new Bucs coach Greg Schiano, but there will be an adjustment…this ain’t The Big East anymore. The surprise might be in Atlanta, where I’m just not sold on the Falcons. QB Matt Ryan will be a free agent after the 2013 season, and by then I think he’ll be ready to flee The Peach State.

 

NFC West

*San Francisco 49ers     

(13-3)                    12-4

St. Louis Rams                  

(2-14)                    8-8

Seattle Seahawks           

(7-9)                      8-8

Arizona Cardinals            

(8-8)                      5-11

Much like the NFC North this division isn’t really all that competitive. The 49ers fell just short of The Super Bowl in coach Jim Harbaugh’s inaugural season…I don’t think winning the division is at the top of their list of goals. I believe the Rams will be much improved and will rebound from last year’s horrible season. The Seahawks are relying on undersized rookie QB Russell Wilson to lead them, which may pay dividends 4 or 5 years from now, but will only result in mediocrity for now. The Cardinals are a mess. A year ago I stated that “I’m sold on new Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb” and predicted a division title. I am not sure what kind of drugs I was on that day. Needless to say I was way…way…way wrong. Is john Skelton the answer?? Hell no. The fans in the desert have to be praying that their Cards can somehow get ahold of USC quarterback Matt Barkley in next year’s draft, and I think they’ll finish in a spot that’ll allow them to do just that. Fortunately they have WR Larry Fitzgerald locked in thru 2018, so atleast they have that going for them.

AFC East

*New England Patriots

(13-3)                    11-5

Buffalo Bills                        

(6-10)                    8-8

New York Jets                  

(8-8)                      7-9

Miami Dolphins                

(6-10)                    3-13

As much as I would love to see the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era come to a devastating end, sadly I don’t think it’s quite that time just yet. The Patriots should run away with the division and be amongst the heavy favorites to contend for The Lombardi Trophy. I really like what the Bills have done with their defense, especially the addition of Mario Williams. However, I do not believe that head coach Chan Gailey nor QB Ryan Fitzpatrick are the long term answers in Buffalo. There is an old adage that says if you have two quarterbacks then you have none, and I think that is exactly the conundrum the NY Jets find themselves in. Tim Tebow, as much as one might appreciate & respect his faith, morality, and personality, is nothing more than a huge distraction in regards to the on-the-field product. Also, RB Shonn Greene, even though he runs behind possibly the best offensive line in football, has not proven that he can be an elite tailback in the NFL. Oh, and whoever winds up being the quarterback doesn’t really have much of anyone to throw to besides head case Santonio Holmes, a #2 receiver trying desperately to convince everyone he is better than he is. And then we have the Miami Dolphins. Anyone who watched HBO’s Hard Knocks this summer can verify that this team is going to be bad…very bad. I think ownership made a horrible mistake hiring Joe Philbin as the new head coach. Philbin seems like a perfectly nice man, but traditionally very nice men don’t make successful NFL coaches. Rookie QB Ryan Tannehill has potential, but he has absolutely no one to throw to outside RB Reggie Bush.

 

AFC North

*Baltimore Ravens         

(12-4)                    11-5

*Pittsburgh Steelers      

(12-4)                    10-6

Cincinnati Bengals           

(9-7)                      9-7

Cleveland Browns           

(4-12)                    2-14

The Bengals did a lot better last year than I predicted, and quarterback Andy Dalton acquitted himself quite nicely. That being said, I don’t think we’ll see anything better in Cincy this season. Note to Bengals fans: “upgrading” from RB Cedric Benson to RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis is kind of like buying a Whopper instead of a Big Mac…better, but still not the steak that you really should spring for. The Browns will be even more horrible than usual. I don’t really understand giving up on QB Colt McCoy in favor of 28 year old rookie Brandon Weeden. It seems like a curious decision, but hey, it’s the Browns…they aren’t known for their smart decisions. So the division undoubtedly will come down to the Ravens and Steelers…again. The Ravens are on borrowed time because after Ray Lewis & Ed Reed are done I think the team will decline. Complicating matters in 2012 is the fact that linebacker Terrell Suggs tore an Achilles tendon last spring and will miss most or possibly all of this season. That would seem to tip things in the Steelers’ favor, but desperation can be a tremendous motivator. As a diehard Steelers fan I have some significant concerns about my team, including the uncertainty at RB (starter Rashard Mendenhall suffered a torn ACL at the end of 2011 season and may or may not be ready to return), an aging & injury riddled defense, a new offensive scheme under coordinator Todd Haley, and an unfortunate pre-season knee injury to promising 1st round pick OL David DeCastro. I do not think that the Steelers will be bad at all, but neither will they be elite.

 

AFC South

*Houston Texans            

(10-6)                    9-7

Tennessee Titans            

(9-7)                      9-7

Indianapolis Colts            

(2-14)                    6-10

Jacksonville Jaguars       

(5-11)                    4-12      

Lots of talking heads are jumping on the Texans bandwagon, and admittedly they do have a solid QB in Matt Schaub and one of the best RBs in the league in Arian Foster…not to mention big time receiver Andre Johnson. But I don’t think it’ll be a walk in the park for Houston. I really like Titans QB Jake Locker, and I think RB Chris Johnson will rebound from a subpar 2011. If Locker has a target or two step up to solidify the passing game I think the boys in Music City will be in the thick of the battle to the very end. Another quarterback I really like is Colts rookie Andrew Luck. In time I believe he will follow a similar path of success to that of his predecessor in Indy Peyton Manning. However, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and improving by just a few games would be a significant reason for optimism. The Jaguars offseason has been dominated by the holdout of RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who magically decided to end the standoff immediately following the end of the pre-season. That does not bode well. I do like rookie WR Justin Blackmon, but I’m just not sure second year signal caller Blaine Gabbert is the right man to deliver the ball. NFL owners & fans have an increasingly short attention span, and Gabbert will need to show remarkable improvement to prevent a loud clamor for his ouster. I think it is very likely that the Jags will be players in the Matt Barkley Sweepstakes.    

 

AFC West

*Denver Broncos            

(8-8)                      10-6

*Kansas City Chiefs        

(7-9)                      9-7

Oakland Raiders              

(8-8)                      8-8

San Diego Chargers        

(8-8)                      6-10

There’s a new sheriff in town in Denver, and his name is Peyton Manning. The Broncos made the playoffs last season with Tebow at the helm, so surely they will be just as good and probably better under the skilled leadership of an actual NFL quarterback. KC is getting alot of buzz these days, and I do think the two headed RB monster of Jamaal Charles & Peyton Hillis can be an effective tandem, but my question is whether or not QB Matt Cassel is the right man for the job. The Raiders just seem to be treading water…neither all that great or too awfully bad. The surprise may be the Chargers, who I picked to win The Super Bowl last year. I was way off base obviously, and am now pretty much convinced that the party is over in San Diego and head coach Norv Turner will soon be enjoying an early retirement.

 

 

 

AFC Championship                          Baltimore            vs.          New England

My six playoff teams are noted (*), and I am not even going to try to get cute with the championship selections. Football fans would love to see another Ravens-Patriots matchup, even though just like last year I would be humbly asking God if there is any way both teams could lose. I don’t think the results will be much different, and we’ll see the damn Patriots in The Super Bowl yet again.

 

NFC Championship                         Green Bay           vs.          Carolina

The predicted playoff teams are noted (*), and I think it’ll come down to the Packers (no surprise) versus the Panthers (kind of a surprise), with Green Bay taking Cam Newton to the woodshed. Don’t worry Carolina fans…his time will come, just not yet. Making it this far only to be demolished by Aaron Rodgers will be a great lesson for the young man and will benefit him tremendously in 3 or 4 years.

 

 

Super Bowl

New England  Patriots                   vs.          Green Bay Packers

As much as I hate to admit it, this one would be a classic. I daresay that it would even be a shootout. The TV folks would LOVE that. In the end though I think the Packers have too much firepower and will win the highest scoring Super Bowl of all time 42-38.

 

2009 NFL Preview – NFC

The word for this year’s NFL season is parity. Yes…..I realize that’s not an original thought. You hear it dozens of times from all the talking heads on ESPN, CBS, Fox, and NBC…..your friendly neighborhood purveyors of NFL action. But honest to God I really believe it to be the case this year. There are a few teams (Cleveland, Kansas City, Detroit) that continue to wallow in the land of dreadful despite all the usual machinations such as new coaches and noteworthy free agent signings or trades. And there are a few elite teams (Pittsburgh and the New York Giants for example) that continue to ride the tasty wave of success with no signs of decline. But the vast majority of the league seems to be atop a high wire, where a key injury or bad move by the coach will dictate the fickle difference between 7-9 and 11-5 but no amount of tinkering will make them neither elite nor awful. It’s one of the reasons we love the NFL…..it’s unpredictable and somewhat random. That being said, here’s my take on how we might see the season unfold. As always…please, no wagering. I don’t claim to actually be good at this.

We’ve already dissected the AFC…now it’s the NFC’s turn:

NFC EAST

New York Giants                 13-3

The Plaxico Burress debacle dominated the Giants off season. As unfortunate as that situation was, I believe that the loss of Burress and the other starting WR Amani Toomer will actually benefit the team, as the replacements…some combination of Domenick Hixon, Steve Smith, rookie Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, and Sinorice Moss…have the potential to be a significant upgrade (and far less of a headache than Plax). Some may say the running game suffers a bit by the departure of Derrick Ward to Tampa, but personally I think it provides clarity. I’ve seen the NFL evolve from running back tandems in my childhood to the era of one feature back and back around to tandems the past few years, but I’ve never thought a three back system is a good thing. It’s just too muddled and confusing. There’s no way to get three running backs involved successfully and keep them all happy, especially if all three really are talented enough to be the primary runner. In New York it is now clear that Brandon Jacobs is the #1 option  and Ahmad Bradshaw is his backup, albeit one who’ll see his fair share of action. That will be helpful to the offense. On the defensive side of the ball the return of defensive end Osi Umenyiora can only make an already strong defense even more imposing.

Philadelphia Eagles            10-6

I’m not a big Donovan McNabb fan. He may be one of the most overrated football players in the past half century. That being said, this is always a top level team and one that’s a legitimate threat to win every single game. The defense had a rough offseason, losing safety Brian Dawkins and CB Lito Shepperd and also enduring the sad death of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. Offensively Jeremy Maclin was drafted to be a bookend WR with last year’s pleasant surprise DeSean Jackson, and some additions were made to bolster the offensive line. The Eagles made headlines of their own by signing QB Michael Vick, who is looking for a fresh start after spending the past couple of years…..away. I’m not too concerned about the defense…..Philly just seems to be one of those teams, like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, that is perennially strong on the defensive side of the ball, with age and free agency and other factors never seeming to have a significant negative impact. And the offense will be better as more weapons have been added. But for some strange reason this is a team that has a hard time reaching the pinnacle, getting to the Super Bowl only twice in the past 30 years despite making the playoffs in over half of those seasons. I see no reason why 2009 will be much different…..they will have a successful season, make the playoffs, and then fall short of the goal.

Dallas Cowboys                  10-6

One word springs to mind…..overrated. The Cowboys are the professional equal of Notre Dame, living off an overblown reputation largely earned decades ago and having a bloated sense of self worth. I’m not saying this isn’t a good team, it’s just not a great team. Jerry Jones hasn’t become the complete joke that Al Davis has, but give it a few more years and I’m sure it will happen. The Cowboys have a shiny new billion dollar stadium that has puffed up the egos of Cowboy Nation even further, but that ain’t gonna win ball games. Much like the Eagles, the Cowboys will have a solid season and then fall apart at some point in the playoffs. The offseason departures of Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones, and Jessica Simpson will be addition by subtraction, but it still won’t be enough.

Washington Redskins        7-9

There seems to be an undeniable correlation between ownership and success, or lack thereof, on the field. Jerry Jones and Al Davis are wack jobs and their teams are either God awful or heading in the wrong direction. The Rooney Family are held up as model citizens and owners, and the Steelers have won two Super Bowls in the past few years. Coincidence?? Of course not. That brings us to Daniel Snyder, a self made billionaire who epitomizes the fact that just because you have the ability to make money doesn’t mean you know diddly squat about football. He’s another one of these owners that, instead of hiring knowledgeable football gurus to run his team, thinks it’s his right and privilege to make all the decisions himself. I suppose it is technically his right and privilege, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. He has continuously tried to buy success by signing aging free agents to big money contracts, only to have those moves not pay much of a dividend on the field. 2009 does have the potential to be different, as most would agree that DE Albert Haynesworth was a quality signing. But the jury is still out on QB Jason Campbell, head coach Jim Zorn, and a receiving corps that is unimpressive to say the least. The division is super tough, and I just don’t see this team being able to get over the hump quite yet.


NFC SOUTH

New Orleans Saints           9-7

I’m not sure if the NFC South is mediocre or just the quintessential embodiment of the aforementioned parity. Picking this division really is like pinning the tail on the donkey. There is no right or wrong answer. I really like Drew Brees though, so the Saints get the nod in a virtual coin flip.

Carolina Panthers              9-7

I don’t like QB Jake Delhomme nearly as much as I like Drew Brees. That’s it, that’s the x factor, the tie breaker. The defense is always strong, and most pundits seem to not believe this team will be much different than the one who won 12 games last season. But I see that they have tough out-of-conference games against Miami, New England, and the Jets, plus they start the season against Philly, Dallas, and Atlanta. That may be 6 losses right there.

Atlanta Falcons                   8-8

One step forward, two steps back. Everyone fell in love with rookie QB Matt Ryan last season, with good reason. He was impressive. No significant changes were made in the offseason with the exception of adding future Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzalez, and that’s what bothers me. This feels like a team to me that believes they’ve arrived, that believes last season erases a track record of mediocrity, that no further changes need to be made. But history proves otherwise. In 1998 the Falcons went 14-2 en route to the Super Bowl before falling to the Broncos…..the next season they went 5-11. In 2002 they were a playoff team…..the following season: 5-11. In 2004 the Falcons won 11 games and made it to the NFC title game where they lost to the Eagles…..the next year they were a .500 team. Achieving success isn’t foreign to the Atlanta Falcons, but sustaining success seems to be an issue.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers    8-8

There’s a new sheriff in town for the Bucs. There’s also a new QB. Pretty much everything is new. It’s rebuilding time in Tampa. The division is a tossup so maybe this team will surprise some folks, but on paper it doesn’t look promising.


NFC NORTH

Minnesota Vikings             12-4

The Vikings acquired a new QB recently, some guy whose name escapes me right now. But whoever he is, a lot of people expect him to be the final piece of the puzzle for a team who has had an above average defense for awhile now and last year added Adrian Peterson who quickly established himself as one of the top running backs in the league. I concur.

Green Bay Packers             10-6

Last season was a tumultuous one for the folks in Titletown. This offseason has been rather uneventful in comparison. Aaron Rodgers is firmly ensconced as the QB, and in 2008 he acquitted himself quite nicely. There’s no reason to believe that he won’t be even better this year. The biggest question I have is RB Ryan Grant. Is he a one year wonder?? If he proves to be legit then The Pack will be a formidable force. 3 of their first 5 opponents are Detroit, Cincinnati, and St. Louis, so there is potential for a hot start. There are tough non-divisional games against Baltimore, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Arizona. If Green Bay can manage to win 3 of those then it’s on, it’s on like Donkey Kong baby. And then of course there is the division…..6 games against Minnesota, Chicago, and Detroit. We can safely assume 2 wins against the hapless Lions, so if they can split the other 4 games that’d possibly get them to 10 wins which may be good enough for a wild card playoff appearance.

Chicago Bears                      8-8

Move on, there’s nothing to see here. Everyone is making a big deal out of the fact that the Bears significantly upgraded the QB position. Okay, I will submit to that fact. They swindled the Broncos in acquiring Pro Bowl QB Jay Cutler for the ill fated Kyle Orton, and I missed exactly how this happened but somehow Rex Grossman ended up in Houston doing exactly what he was destined to do, ride the pine. But quite honestly I’m not buying the Cutler hype. He acted like a complete jackass in whining his way out of Denver, which I know has nothing much to do with his on the field ability but it still makes me question his leadership skills and mental & emotional makeup, something that is vital for the quarterback position. Bret Favre has been around long enough and achieved at a level that somewhat justifies his diva attitude. Jay Cutler hasn’t proven himself worthy of carrying Favre’s luggage, atleast not yet. And even if people a bit less neurotic than me can put all that aside, there’s still that issue that Cutler has no one to throw to in Chicago. When the Bears add a couple of meaningful pieces to the receiving corps then maybe I’ll become a believer. Until then they have an awesome defense, an above average running back in Matt Forte, an overrated QB with an attitude problem, and no one to catch the ball. I believe in the axiom that defense wins championships…..Baltimore and Pittsburgh have proven that. But Minnesota’s defense is just as good if not better than Chicago’s, and offensively there’s just no comparison. Non division games against the Steelers, the Cardinals, and the Ravens will be super tough.

Detroit Lions                        4-12

Hey, atleast they’ll not go winless again this year. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so no one expects a quick turnaround in Motown. If QB Matthew Stafford proves to be the real deal and they continue to add pieces to the offense and the defense then maybe we can expect something approaching respectability for the Lions in about 3 or 4 years. I suspect by then there will be yet another new coach and a bunch of new players, but that’s a long way away. In 2009 winning 4 games will be a welcome improvement.

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals               10-6

A year ago at this time no one was picking the Cardinals to go to the Super Bowl. Not only did they go but they darn near won the thing. Ohio State’s Beanie Wells replaces the departed Edgerrin James at running back, a risky move considering Wells’ injury history. I also don’t believe Kurt Warner is the long term answer at quarterback. Matt Leinart needs to shape up or ship out. But for now, in 2009, there is a belief that Warner can atleast keep things moving in a positive direction. Do I think the Cards will make it back to the Super Bowl?? No, I don’t. But they should be able to maintain dominance in their division and make the playoffs.

Seattle Seahawks               9-7

I’ve always believed that Seattle was better on paper than in reality, but they aren’t as bad as they played last year. The injury bug bit and bit hard in 2008. If they can avoid that this season they instantly become better. Jim Mora Jr. takes over as head coach after Mike Holmgren decided not to return, so that should freshen things up a bit. Receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh finally escaped Cincinnati and will be hungry to prove he is a legitimate #1 WR as well as see what it’s like to actually be part of a winner. It will be interesting to see who emerges as the primary running back, Julius Jones or the newly signed Edgerrin James. Even if they run a tandem it’s not a bad duo. A couple of additions were made on the defensive side of the ball, and how quickly that group gels could decide on which side of .500 the Seahawks finish. I’m optimistic they will rebound from last year’s aberration and once again be in the playoff hunt.

San Francisco 49ers          6-10

Deciding between Alex Smith and Shaun Hill in the starting quarterback competition is like going to a restaurant and having the choice of beef broth or unsalted crackers…..uninspiring, uninteresting, unappetizing, and not fulfilling in any way. After establishing themselves as one of the all time elite franchises during the glory years of Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Bill Walsh, and George Seifert the 49ers have now slipped into Bengals/Browns/Lions territory, which I find sad. They drafted WR phenom Michael Crabtree with their 1st round pick and he has subsequently held out all summer and may hold out all year and go back into the draft next year. No matter how it shakes out long term, within the framework of this season it’s a wasted choice and eerily reminiscent of something that might happen to Cincinnati and not to great teams like Pittsburgh, New England, or Indianapolis. I like Mike Singletary as a coach just as I fondly recall his fierce talent as a player, but I think the problems in San Francisco start upstairs and until those issues are resolved the coaches and players are just pawns in a perpetually losing situation.

St. Louis Rams                     5-11

Wow…what has happened to the Rams?? It wasn’t that long ago that The Greatest Show On Turf was appearing weekly at a stadium near you, but the Dick Vermeil/Kurt Warner/Torry Holt era is over and done. Even offensive tackle Orlando Pace is gone. I’m a big fan of QB Marc Bulger, who is a former West Virginia Mountaineer, and I think Steven Jackson is among the league’s best running backs when he is healthy. But beyond those two the cupboard is pretty bare and the Rams are in full on rebuild mode. Nothing happened in the offseason to give anyone any reason to believe a dramatic turnaround is imminent after last season’s 2-14 epic failure. I suspect more turnover…..perhaps a new QB or even a very quick and sudden end to Steve Spagnolo’s short tenure as coach..…will occur before this team begins to show signs of a full recovery.