2017 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 18

It’s the last weekend of the NFL regular season and our final week of picks as well. After last week’s action in which I was 3-2 and Zach was 2-3 (that last second garbage TD for Philly was my favorite Christmas gift) we are all tied up for the season, which I’m sure has never happened before. So y’all know what I’m thinking?? That’s right…bonus picks!! It’ll be almost nine months before we get to do this again, so why not end 2017 with a bang?? All of these games have playoff implications, and I’ll do my best to lay it all out there as easily digestible as possible. Every NFL game will be on Sunday afternoon…no Thursday, Sunday, or Monday night games…which means that watching RedZone will be even more fun than usual. Say a little prayer for the bladder of host Scott Hanson. Yes, I realize Sunday is New Year’s Eve, but I rarely go out & do anything fun that night anyway, and anyone who is going to party won’t be getting started until long after the games are over, so the afternoon NFL lineup is really something to be excited about. Happy New Year Manoverse. May your 2018 be filled with joy, good health, & lots of fantastic football.

My Season:        51-50

Z’s Season:        51-50

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cincinnati          at      Baltimore (-9.5)

The Bengals aren’t going to the playoffs unless they buy a ticket, and this is very likely Marvin Lewis’ last game as their head coach after 15 up & down seasons in which his players spent more time in prison than the post-season. However, the Ravens’ playoff outlook is much rosier. Win & they’re in, but even if they lose this game they can still get into the playoffs if either Buffalo or Tennessee loses. The points make me a little nervous, and as a Steelers fan it’d warm my cockles to see Baltimore lose…but The Vibes are telling me they win big at home. Zach agrees on all counts. We’d both prefer to see Baltimore ousted from the playoffs, but it’s probably not going to happen.

My Pick:     Baltimore

Z’s Pick:     Baltimore

 

 

 

Jacksonville      at      Tennessee (-3.5)

The Jags have already won the division and are locked into the #3 spot in the AFC, but Tennessee has some work to do. The Titans would secure a wildcard with a victory…but a loss would mean that their only path to the playoffs would be losses by both the Los Angeles Chargers and the Buffalo Bills. That’s not necessarily far-fetched, but winning this game would certainly be a simpler solution. Jacksonville looked vulnerable in last week’s loss to San Francisco, but will that happen two weeks in a row?? Technically they have nothing to play for, but momentum heading into the post-season is important. If this game were being played in Florida it’d be a no-brainer, but playing at home with their backs against the wall might just be enough to motivate the Titans to a mildly surprising win. Conversely, Zach believes Jacksonville’s defense will come thru in the clutch and score them a close win.

My Pick:     Tennessee

Z’s Pick:     Jacksonville

 

 

 

Oakland             at      LA Chargers (-7.5)

The Raiders have had a disappointing season for sure…but a victory to end the year could certainly be good karma going into an offseason in which they’ll have the 11th pick in the draft and expectations will probably be high again for 2018. Conversely, the Chargers are still very much in the playoff hunt. They have to win this game and hope that the Titans & Bills both lose, which is a tall order. Either way they can only control what they do & how they play, and I think they’ll do just that. Zach didn’t learn a thing from the Eagles’ last second touchdown last week and is again picking the Raiders to atleast cover the points.

My Pick:     LA Chargers

Z’s Pick:     Oakland

 

 

 

New Orleans (-7)                  at      Tampa Bay

The Saints will be in the playoffs, but they’re still battling for a division title. They need a win to secure that crown. A loss coupled with a Carolina victory would make New Orleans a wildcard team. Tampa will have a Top 5 pick in the NFL Draft and has nothing to play for but pride. Is that enough?? I don’t think so…not even at home. Zach concurs.

My Pick:     New Orleans

Z’s Pick:     New Orleans

 

 

 

Carolina             at      Atlanta (-4)

The Panthers have to win and hope that the Saints lose. That’s the only way they win the NFC South…otherwise they’ll be a wildcard team. The Falcons…who represented the NFC in the Super Bowl a year ago and held a significant lead before an epic choke job…must win to secure a wildcard berth, or they could conceivably lose and still get in if Seattle also loses. I think this might be the best game of the weekend, and I’m going to pick the mild upset. Zach thinks Atlanta is just too erratic and has issues winning big games.

My Pick:     Carolina

Z’s Pick:     Carolina

 

 

 

Arizona               at      Seattle (-9)

The Cardinals are playing for pride and a .500 record. The Seahawks must win and hope for a Falcons loss to sneak into the post-season. If Seattle gets into the playoffs I think they can be a very dangerous opponent, but will they get there?? They can’t do anything about the Falcons, but they can go out & win this game. However, The Vibes are telling me the points are a bit much and it might be a lot closer than anyone expects. Zach disagrees and thinks Seattle will win easily.

My Pick:     Arizona

Z’s Pick:     Seatttle

 

 

 

Buffalo (-3)                  at      Miami

The Dolphins have been even more mediocre than I thought they’d be. Surely QB Jay Cutler will be gently pushed back into retirement after the season ends. Conversely, the Bills have been a huge surprise. I never thought they’d even be in the playoff discussion, but here they are with a chance…a very small chance. They must win this game and hope for a Ravens loss, or if Baltimore wins then losses by both Tennessee & the Chargers will do the trick. The biggest Bengals fans in the world might not be in Cincinnati on Sunday…they’ll be in Buffalo (or Bills personnel in Miami). As much as it pains me to say it, I think the road ends painfully for the Buffalo Bills this weekend. Zach believes otherwise.

My Pick:     Miami

Z’s Pick:     Buffalo

 

2014 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 17

I have to be honest. Choosing which games we are going to pick has become difficult. College football is, of course, over. The NFL is down to the nitty gritty. We have a good idea of which teams are definitely in the playoffs and which teams certainly will not be playoff bound. The real interest lies in the handful of teams who are fighting for just a couple of playoff spots. However, I don’t want to just keep talking about the same half dozen teams every week. That’s redundant & tedious for both myself and The Manoverse. Ah well…there are worse problems, right?? At any rate, last week Zach went 2-3, while I went 3-2. Zach’s faith in Johnny Football proved to be misguided, while we both underestimated how far the San Francisco 49ers have gone off the rails. That brings my season record to 50-41, while Zach is currently 46-45. I think it’s pretty cool that both of us are still above .500. Hey ESPN…call me!!

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Buffalo (-5.5) at Oakland
raidersNeither team is going to the playoffs. The Bills aren’t mathematically eliminated, but they are definitely fighting an uphill battle. To be fair Buffalo_Bills_Helmetthough they have shown improvement. It looks like they don’t believe QB EJ Manuel is the answer, so they’ll likely have to address that issue in the offseason. Conversely, even though they seem like they have their quarterback of the present & future with Derek Carr, the Raiders are a mess. They’ll be looking to hire a big time coach in the offseason. As far as this game goes I am going to go with the upset. Call it a gut feeling. Zach thinks Buffalo will win easily.

My Pick = Oakland
Z’s Pick = Buffalo

Detroit (-8) at Chicago
The big sports news this week is that the Bears are benching QB Jay Cutler and starting Jimmy Clausen. It’d be shocking if that is a long term answer. Will Cutler Detroit_Lions_Helmetbe with the Bears next season?? Can head coach Marc Trestman keep his job?? I have no idea. Meanwhile, the Lions are in a dogfight for both their division lead and a wildcard spot. They have a lot riding on this game and I don’t think they’ll mess it up. Zach concurs.

My Pick = Detroit
Z’s Pick = Detroit

Indianapolis at Dallas (-3)
The Colts have already clinched their division. The Cowboys lead their division and need to win atleast one more game. This is going to be a shootout. I expect the Indianapolis_Colts_HelmetPalace in Dallas to have a playoff atmosphere. However, I also expect Andrew Luck to have more bullets in his gun than Tony Romo. Zach agrees.

My Pick = Indianapolis
Z’s Pick = Indianapolis

Seattle (-7.5) at Arizona
ss1The defending champion Seahawks are still in the playoff hunt, but the Cardinals have clinched the division title. However, the Cards are azcdown to 3rd string QB Ryan Lindley. I have no doubt that Arizona will put forth their best effort, and eliminating Seattle from playoff contention would be sweet for them (and every other NFC playoff contender). I just don’t believe that a Seattle team with everything on the line will go down easily. Zach, on the other hand, is all in on the Cardinals despite their shaky quarterback situation.

My Pick = Seattle
Z’s Pick = Arizona

Denver (-3) at Cincinnati
The Bengals took care of business last week by knocking that arrogant jackass Manziel down a peg or two, but now it’s time for them to lose. Cincy is just a half denvergame in front of Pittsburgh & Baltimore in the AFC North, and both of those teams have very winnable games this week. The Broncos have already clinched their division and I suppose it’s not out of the question that they could take their foot off the gas these last couple of weeks. I hope they wait until next week versus Oakland to do that. Zach concurs.

My Pick = Denver
Z’s Pick = Denver

2014 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 4

I am so mad at myself. Sometimes something is so obviously staring one right in the face that we too easily look past it. Such was the case last week. There was a fantastic opportunity for me to go 5-0, which I think would have been the very first time in three years that has happened. I am far too lazy to research the archives in order to verify that fact. At any rate, instead I ended up going 3-2. Why?? Well, first of all, the Green Bay Packers only beat the NY Jets by 7 points. The spread was 8. That one wasn’t so much my fault as it was a Packers team who basically phoned it in and may have actually lost were it not for the inexplicable ineptitude of the Jets coaching staff. Then there was the major upset…the San Diego Chargers defeating the Seattle Seahawks. I should have seen it coming. There was no way the Seahawks were going to go undefeated. That just doesn’t happen. I am the guy who said in my NFL Preview that “Super Bowl Champions oftentimes slip a little the following season” while predicting a rather pedestrian 10-6 record for Seattle. At the same time I called the Chargers “sneaky good” and also predicted a 10-6 record as well as a playoff berth. The Seahawks had dismantled Green Bay in the opening game of the season while San Diego lost a heartbreaker to the Arizona Cardinals. Seattle-San Diego was a home game for the Chargers & a classic trap game for the Seahawks, and they fell into the trap. I should have seen it coming but I didn’t. The good news for me is that while I went 3-2 Zach went 1-4, which means our season thus far looks like this:

Me = 7-9
Zach = 7-8

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Iowa at Pitt (-6.5)
iowaI ranked Iowa 14th in my pre-season Top 25, but after a last second loss to in-state rival Iowa pittSt. they have some work to do if they’re going to fulfill that prophecy. Meanwhile, the hated Pitt Panthers have gotten off to a solid 3-0 start, including a victory at Boston College. Heinz Field isn’t much of a home advantage for the Panthers since there are usually only a few dozen people there on Saturdays, including vendors and homeless people hoping to score some scraps from discarded Primanti Brothers wrappers. Most folks in The ‘Burgh wait to spend their hard earned money on Sunday at the Steelers game. Pitt seems like they may be the real deal, but who knows?? I think this will be a close game and it is undoubtedly pivotal to both teams’ seasons. I’m going to support my own pre-season prediction by going with the Hawkeyes. Using the logic that Boston College beat USC and Pitt beat Boston College so therefore Pitt must be a legitimately good team (which actually does make sense) Zach is picking the Panthers to pound the ball with their rushing attack and win easily.

My Pick = Iowa
Z’s Pick = Pitt

Florida at Alabama (-14.5)
Where is the love for ‘Bama?? Are we just so use to them being a top team that we don’t even feel the need to discuss themflorida gators image anymore?? Is there a bit of Tide fatigue amongst the masses?? The answer is probably yes on both counts. However, this game should receive a fair amount of attention. Florida isn’t back to its Spurrier/Urban Meyer heyday just yet, but they are 2-0. Yes it took them 3 overtimes to beat Kentucky last week. I think they may have been looking ahead just a bit. Anyway, if this game were at The Swamp it’d be really intriguing, but alas it is in Tuscaloosa. Therefore I believe there is probably not much of a doubt that Alabama will win. The question is by how much?? I am probably going to regret this, but I guess maybe I am one of the doubters. I think the Tide rolls, but by less than 14 ½ points. Zach has a man crush on Nick Saban but agrees with my assessment that this will be a close game.

My Pick = Florida
Z’s Pick = Florida

Clemson at Florida St. (-20)
There are no shortage of folks who already have had the #1 ranked Seminoles on upset alert. They were less than clemsonimpressive in a season opening victory over Oklahoma St., a game in which the Cowboys narrowed their deficit to within a touchdown with 2 minutes remaining but ran out of time to make anything else happen. Add in the fact that Florida St.’s quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner, upstanding citizen, scholar, gentleman, & all around class act Jameis Winston is suspended for the first half of this game because he is a moron. Meanwhile, the Tigers are 1-1 after a season opening loss to Georgia followed by dismantling an overmatched junior high team last week. I honestly don’t know how Clemson is still in anyone’s Top 25. They certainly haven’t earned such accolades. However, that could change with this game. Heck, if the game were being played at Memorial Stadium in South Carolina I might actually give them a puncher’s chance to win. However, it is in Tallahassee. The point spread does concern me just a bit. Florida St. has put up only 37 points in each of its first two contests. I think Clemson will be overmatched but motivated, while I am not sure the apprehension of the doubters has reached enough of a crescendo for Florida St. to pay much attention…yet. Zach not only agrees but is boldly predicting an outright Clemson victory. That boy has a set of brass ones. He gets it from his mother’s side of the family.

My Pick = Clemson
Z’s Pick = Clemson

Denver at Seattle (-5)
For anyone who may have been hiding out in one of those bomb shelters from the 60’s recently, this is a rematch of last denverseason’s Super Bowl. In that game the Seahawks’ defense made living legend Peyton Manning look like…well…Eli Manning and cruised to a 43-8 victory that was even more underwhelming than Bruno Mars’ halftime show. But the beauty of the NFL is that every season is new and teams can change…both for the good and the not so good…at the drop of a hat. The Broncos made notable improvements to their defense, while Seattle lost a few pieces, although I don’t think it’s had a significant impact so far. Adding intrigue to this game is the fact that the defending champions, as previously mentioned, were upset last week. Could they really lose two games in a row?? Is Denver as good as their 2-0 record indicates?? The revenge factor for the Broncos cannot be overlooked, but neither can the anger of the Seahawks after a tough loss. This is a hard game to figure out, but I’m going to roll the dice on Manning and go with the underdogs. Zach concurs.

My Pick = Denver
Z’s Pick = Denver

Chicago at NY Jets (-2.5)
Jets-Pin-ProThe Bears spoiled the opening of their brand new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers last chicago-bears-logo13Sunday night and looked pretty good in doing it, especially in the 4th quarter. But let us not forget that they lost their season opener at home in three OTs to the Buffalo Bills. The Jets are 1-1 as well. So basically no one really knows what to expect in this game. New York gets the nominal home field advantage but I’m not sure that means much. This is the story of two quarterbacks. The Bears’ Jay Cutler is, in my opinion, overrated. The Jets’ Geno Smith…a former WV Mountaineer…has potential and occasionally shows flashes but has been disappointing to some. I look for this to be a defensive battle defined by turnovers and lots of smashmouth football. Which QB will make the least mistakes?? Which one will make a blunder at the worst possible time?? Whose running game will dominate?? This is the Monday night game so I suppose I’ll stay up past my bedtime to find out. In a flip of the proverbial coin I’m going with the Jets. Zach disagrees and is picking the Bears.

My Pick = NY Jets
Z’s Picks = Chicago

2013 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 2

I am a day or two later on these picks than I intended to be but it’s all good. I knew we weren’t picking any Thursday night or even Friday games so as long as we do what needs to be done by Friday night we’re all set. The season didn’t get off to as great a start as I’d hoped last week, as I went 2-3 and Zach went 3-2. LSU & Oklahoma St. took care of business, while Nevada & Boise St. did not. I really didn’t see that Boise St. loss coming. And in the big game…the one contest that Zach & I split on…he came out ahead as Clemson beat Georgia. This week the NFL starts which adds a whole new layer of intrigue because there’s always a couple of surprise teams on both ends of the spectrum.

 

South Carolina                  at            Georgia (-3)

georgiaI don’t usually like to pick games involving teams that just appeared here last week, but this one is just too good to pass up. The Gamecocks took care of business last week, though the victory wasn’t quite as impressive as I would have thought it’d be. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs came up short at Clemson. The point spread is interesting and tells me two things. First is of course the all-important home field advantage. But secondly it says to me that there are others beside myself that weren’t all that overwhelmed by South Carolina’s ho-hum win over North Carolina. I’m a little bit torn on this one because I pegged South Carolina as a Top 5 team in my pre-season poll, but I had Georgia at #11 andGamecocks if they start the season 0-2 they are pretty much done, especially with games against LSU and Florida still remaining. For the second week in a row I am going with Georgia, simply because going 0-2 would be catastrophic. And for the second week in a row Zach is going in the other direction. He isn’t impressed with Georgia QB Aaron Murray and feels as though he caves under pressure. He is somewhat concerned with South Carolina’s endurance but thinks that Jadeveon Clowney will get 3 sacks en route to a close Gamecocks victory.

My Pick:                               Georgia              

Z’s Pick:                                South Carolina

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Notre Dame                       at            Michigan (-3.5)

The Fighting Irish & the Wolverines both began their season like so many others…beating up on a team far beneath their skill level, meaning we don’t know much more aboutmichigan-wolverines-fan-gear them than we did a week ago. The spread tells us nothing either other than Michigan is getting a slight home field advantage. However, maybe that advantage isn’t so slight. Coach Brady Hoke is now 15-0 at The Big House. That’s good enough for me. Zach agrees but in all honestly he’s a huge Michigan fan and is picking with his heart.

My Pick:                               Michigan              

Z’s Pick:                                Michigan

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Cincinnati                            at            Chicago (-3)

Our first NFL pick of 2013 and it’s a dandy. Both teams are coming off of a 10-6 season last year. In Cincinnati that was cause for an optimistic outlook for the future. In Cincinnati_Bengals_HelmetChicago it was a reason to fire the coach. In retrospect those may have been appropriate reactions. I think the Bengals are moving forward while I am predicting the Bears to take a nominal step back this season. Zach…a fellow Steelers fan…looks for the Bengals to dominate the AFC North, isn’t a believer in Bears QB Jay Cutler, and thinks Cincinnati wins this game easily. I concur.

My Pick:                               Cincinnati              

Z’s Pick:                                Cincinnati

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Atlanta                                 at            New Orleans (-3)

new_orleans_saints-3737What a great game to start the season!! A lot of pundits are picking the Falcons to have another great year and finally take that last step toward The falconsSuper Bowl. In my pre-season prognostications I predicted that the Saints would win the division and the Falcons would settle for a wildcard. This game will be a huge indicator as to whether or not I am a genius or an idiot. Conversely, Zach is all in on the Falcons and isn’t buying that the Saints are back just because head coach Sean Payton has returned to the sidelines. He thinks Falcons QB Matt Ryan will have a big game and RB Steven Jackson will be a difference maker.

My Pick:                               New Orleans              

Z’s Pick:                                Atlanta

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Green Bay                           at            San Francisco (-5)           

Let’s hop in the ol’ DeLorean and go back in time just a bit. On Saturday January 12, 2013 the Packers traveled to ‘Frisco for a big playoff game. It was a tremendous battle,San-Francisco-49ers but in the end the 49ers gained a solid 45-31 victory and eventually made it to The Super Bowl. The question one must ask is “Has anything changed in the past 8 months??” Well…yes…but not a whole lot. Green Bay drafted stud running back Eddie Lacy so now they have a rushing attack. And San Francisco added WR Anquan Boldin to offset the loss of Michael Crabtree due to an achille’s tendon injury. One thing to remember about that playoff game is that it was QB Colin Kaepernick’s first post-season game and he did pretty darn well…he set the NFL single game record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 181. I feel rather confident in saying that he won’t do that again, but still think San Francisco pulls this game out and covers the points. Zach believes that the 49ers have more weapons and thinks Kaepernick’s legs will be the difference.

My Pick:                               San Francisco              

Z’s Pick:                                San Francisco

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Winning & Musing…..Volume 2.13

Not a lot of stories to cover today, but alot to say about the few big stories that there are…..

 

 

What a long strange trip it has been for Lance Armstrong. I didn’t watch the show because I would rather soak my private parts in scalding hot vinegar while simultaneously being beaten in the face with a bat made of thumbtacks rather than provide Satan’s favorite talk show host Oprah with the 021323-lance-armstrongratings for her “network” that she so desperately craves, but one would have to have been hiding in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan this past week not to know that after years of vehement denials Armstrong finally admitted to using illegal performance enhancing drugs. The strange dichotomy with Armstrong is that he cannot so easily be discarded into the trash heap of shunned former athletes who have been proven to be megalomaniacal cheaters. ESPN’s Stuart Scott, who continues to fight cancer to this day, offered a passionate defense of Armstrong on Mike & Mike in the Morning this week, saying in essence that the things that have been accomplished & the people who have been helped by Armstrong’s Livestrong charity are far more significant than the fact that he cheated to win a meaningless (in the grand scheme of life) bike race that few armstrong-lance-110609-8colpeople in America care about anyway. It strikes me that it is a contradiction that applies…to varying degrees…to nearly all of us. Very few people are all bad or all good. I know lots of good people who have some major flaws, and I have been acquainted with people in my life that I didn’t particularly like for one reason or another who nevertheless had families & friends who I am sure wouldn’t hesitate to enumerate the person’s vast array of positive traits. Right now it is easy to dump on Lance Armstrong, but just like other famous folks that we love to hate…Barry Bonds, the Kardashian twits, Lindsay Lohan, etc…I suspect that if we met him or them in person they’d make a generally favorable impression. Such is the everlasting complexity & imperfection that is humanity.

 

 

Now that the NFL coaching carousel has stopped spinning it is time to make a snap judgment about what each of the teams who fired & hired were able to accomplish. Of course no one ever knows exactly how these things are going to play out because there are so many variables that go into building a successful football team. It is difficult to gauge if a retread will be more or less effective in their new job as compared to former gigs and it is nearly impossible to forecast whether or not a fresh face will be a great coach or a complete bust. It is all just a big ol’ shot in the dark that can go one way or another based on countless things big & small. But hey, we’ll give it a shot anyway.

Grading the recent NFL coaching hires:

Arizona Cardinals          Bruce Arians          B

As a Steelers fan I have an appreciation for what Arians was able to accomplish as offensive coordinator fromLouisville_Cardinals 2007-11 and one also cannot underestimate his role in guiding the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs this season while head coach Chuck Pagano was battling cancer most of the year. The Cardinals must get a legitimate starting QB and either Beanie Wells or the oft injured Ryan Williams has to seize the primary RB role. If those things happen Arians could have tremendous success down the road.

Buffalo Bills                    Doug Marrone       B-

This isn’t Marrone’s first rodeo in the NFL, as he spent several years as an assistant with the NY Jets & New BuffaloBillsRedOrleans Saints before being the head coach at Syracuse the past few years, a program which looked like it might be on its way back to respectability in 2012 after a decade as a bottom feeder. It isn’t a sexy hire for the Bills, but it just might be effective, especially if they can grab a franchise QB in this year’s draft.

Chicago Bears               Marc Trestman       B-

Trestman has been on & off the NFL radar for years. He’s had effective stints as an offensive bears2coordinator/quarterbacks coach with the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Oakland Raiders, & Miami Dolphins…among others…stretching back over two decades. More recently he has won two Grey Cups as a head coach in the CFL. The general consensus is that if anyone can help QB Jay Cutler fulfill his potential it is Marc Trestman. We’ll see.

Cleveland Browns       Rob Chudzinski      C-

To be perfectly honest the grade was initially a D. The Browns really needed to make a splash with the hiring of 365752their 7th coach in 14 years and, with all due respect, Chudzinski doesn’t even come close. However, he scored a major coup by snagging Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. Turner is one of those guys who doesn’t quite seem to have what it takes to be a head coach but he is an excellent assistant. I don’t know if anyone can really turn around the lowly Browns, but if the new ownership & management has some patience and maintains consistency instead of changing coaches like people change socks then maybe this thing has a puncher’s chance of working.

Jacksonville Jaguars    Gus Bradley        C+

Who?? Bradley was most recently the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, a group which allowed their opponents only a nugget more than 15 points per game in 2012, making them one of the league’s top defenses. Jacksonville_JaguarsKudos to the Jags for going with a fresh face rather than a tired old retread. However, it’ll all be for naught if they don’t have the balls to pull the plug on the Blaine Gabbert failure ASAP and either trade for a young QB with potential (names like Matt Flynn, Ryan Mallett, & Kirk Cousins immediately spring to mind) or make the right selection with the 2nd overall pick in the draft. A note to the Jags: if the KC Chiefs pass on QB Geno Smith you should probably follow suit. FYI…the + is because the dude is named Gus. I like guys named Gus. It’s a solid, tough, manly name…unlike Blaine.

Kansas City Chiefs      Andy Reid          B

I am of the opinion that a confluence of events lined up juuuust right (or wrong I guess) to sabotage Reid’s last couple of years with the Philadelphia Eagles. By no means do I believe he is a bad coach. The untimely death of his son during training camp due to a drug overdose seems to have been completely glossed over, but in hindsight kc-chiefs-logomaybe he would have been wise to take this past season off to deal with that loss, and no one can convince me that it did not have a deleterious effect. I think the change of scenery will be a good thing, and because the AFC West is a weak division there may be rapid dividends. Everything hinges on the quarterback situation. It might not be a bad idea for the Chiefs to sign a veteran band-aid (Jason Campbell, David Garrard, Kellen Clemens, Rex Grossman, & Matt Moore are all available) in addition to drafting a rookie QB. Now the question is should they use the top overall pick for that purpose. My answer would be no. I’d grab a big time left tackle with that choice and take a QB in the 2nd round.

Philadelphia Eagles        Chip Kelly           A-

The minus is only because of the poor way the hire was handled, with Kelly initially saying he was going to stay at Oregon then changing his mind 2 weeks later after the Eagles had interviewed practically everyone but Jerry eaglesGlanville and the reanimated corpse of George Allen for the job. The history of college coaches transitioning to the NFL is hit & miss. Guys like Jimmy Johnson, John Robinson, Jim Harbaugh, &  Bobby Ross pulled it off. Others…Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, & Dennis Erickson just to name a few…not so much. My money is on Kelly being successful. The Eagles are a solid organization with good support from ownership who have been a perennial playoff team until the past couple of seasons. Kelly isn’t exactly starting from scratch. If he can turn Nick Foles into a decent starting QB and take advantage of the considerable talents of players like RB LeSean McCoy & WR DeSean Jackson then we might just see a fairly quick turnaround. The NFC East is traditionally a tough division, but the Cowboys are a mess, the Redskins don’t know what the immediate future holds due to the knee injury to RGIII, and the NY Giants seem to have plateaued.

San Diego Chargers         Mike McCoy           C

McCoy spent the past few years as the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, which means his potential is difficult     to gauge. Before this year he had to rely on guys like Kyle Orton & Brady Quinn as his QBs and was San_Diego_Chargers_Helmet3forced to endure the Tebow circus in 2011. Then in 2012 Peyton Manning came along, and who in the world could possibly screw that up?? Having said all that, this is, like the situation in Jacksonville, another case where a newcomer is being given a shot rather than hiring some failed harbinger of mediocrity. I have to give props to San Diego for rolling the dice, but there just isn’t enough data to offer a proper evaluation just yet.

 

 

I have been searching for the right words to assess the Manti Te’o story at Notre Dame. It seems to me that there are two possibilities. Either he was in on the whole thing, which makes him a filthy liar, or he was made a fool of by a few tricksters who perpetuated this joke for no apparent reason other than boredom & cruelty since there doesn’t seem to be any tangible gain to be gotten. After much consideration I am leaning toward the latter probability. And while that would absolve Te’o of any responsibility in regards to straight up lying to the American public, it still leaves one with the inescapable impression of him as an emotionally crippled 12 year old masquerading as a man. teoEither way he appears to be a rather pathetic human being with some curious mental issues who is under the delusion that a woman you’ve never met can be considered your girlfriend. What is almost as amazing to me is that I’ve heard multiple talking heads…football “experts”…say that all this is unlikely to have any significant negative impact on his NFL Draft status. Really?? I’m sorry, but linebackers aren’t that tough to find. I’d rather take some unknown kid out of a small school in the 4th or 5th round, sign him for peanuts, and give him an opportunity to shine than guarantee this wackjob big bucks just because he played for almighty Notre Dame. I am sure that won’t happen though. I sure as hell pray that the Steelers don’t take him because if they do I will lose all faith in the intelligence of their front office.

 

 

 

 

Winning & Musing…..Volume 1.13

Welcome to the first W&M in nearly 6 months and the first edition of 2013. There are a few loose ends to tie up, plus some football playoff action to cover. Enjoy!!

 

 

 

laces-football-grassI went 3-4 in the last week of the Pigskin Picks of Profundity, making my final overall record 46-71-1. That’s a 39% winning percentage. In baseball that’d get me a batting title & a probable MVP, but in football it makes me about as successful as the Buffalo Bills. I’m already looking forward to next season when there’s nowhere to go but up.

 

 

I did slightly better with my college bowl picks, going 18-17 for a 51% winning percentage. Heck, 51% would get me elected President of the United States!!

 

 

p1_brentMuch too much has been made of ESPN talking head Brent Musberger katherine-webb-aj-mccarron-girlfriendfawning over Alabama QB AJ McCarron’s beauty queen girlfriend during the national title game. I happened to catch Musberger’s comments (Monday Night Raw was in commercial), and didn’t think he came across as anything remotely close to a creepy old man. He simply pointed out a lovely young lady. Have we gotten so eaten up by political correctness that we cannot give proper recognition to beauty when we observe it?? Shame on ESPN for “apologizing” for the comments. I got your back Brent…even if your employer doesn’t.

 

 

I have no issue with no one being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. The fact is that guys010311_HoF like Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Jack Morris, & Edgar Martinez were very good players but not Hall-of-Famers, and there was no way in Hell that known cheaters like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, & Mark McGwire were going to get voted in. Maybe someday…but not now. A case could conceivably be made for Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Tim Raines, & Dale Murphy, and I think that most if not all of that foursome will get elected eventually, but I won’t lose any sleep over them not getting in this time.

 

 

So I guess they resolved the NHL labor dispute and an abbreviated season will begin shortly. I still don’t care.

 

 

The NCAA football playoff cannot get here fast enough for me. I hadn’t planned on watching much of the BCS (emphasis on the BS) national championship game between Alabama & Notre Dame anyway because I generally need an underdog to root for and that game didn’t provide one, and as it turned out I certainly didn’t miss much. In contrast, just think of what might have occurred if we’d had a 4 team playoff between those two teams, Oregon, and either Florida or Kansas State. Surely Oregon would have given Alabama a little bit more of a fight in the title game…maybe.

 

 

I would be remiss if I did not address the huge letdown that was the 7-6 season for my hometown West Virginia Mountaineers. I hesitate to say the following but it is the honest truth. Before the season I told my Dad and I believe my nephew Zach that I thought the step up in competition from the Big East to the Big 12 would be a bigger deal for the Mountaineers than most seemed to be expecting and that I wouldn’t be surprised if they went 6-6. I kept that opinion on the down low because most folks in my orbit were caught up in the hype of a possible national championship run and a strong WV-Logo-and-Mountaineer2Heisman candidacy for QB Geno Smith. You may have noticed that the ‘Eers were not ranked in my pre-season Top 25, but other than that I just kind of kept my negative vibes to myself. Hindsight is 20/20 and I regret not shouting my prediction from the rooftops because I would have looked like a genius. I must admit that I was sincerely hoping I might be wrong and it looked like I could be after WVU began the season 5-0, including an impressive win at Texas. However, it is difficult to overcome a horrendous defense that ranks 117th in points allowed and makes every opponent’s pedestrian QB look like Johnny Unitas. Even after all that though I thought the Mountaineers would crush Syracuse in their bowl game for a variety of reasons, but I was way off base. Getting out of the Big East was surely a necessity, but in retrospect it might have behooved the powers-that-be to be a little more patient and wait for an eventual ACC invite, because it looks like it’s going to be a rough road for WVU in the Big 12.

 

 

The NFL coaching carousel is always entertaining. I think the KC Chiefs made a great hire in Andy Reid, who is a solid head coach who just needed a change of scenery. The firing of Lovie Smith by the Chicago Bears was mildly surprising, especially since the truth is that it doesn’t matter who the head coach is while headcase Jay Cutler is the QB. Cutler simply does not have what it takes to lead an NFL team to greatness. Lovie will land on his feet just like Reid did, and whoever hires him will instantly become better.

 

 

Speaking of the Chiefs…

They are “on the clock” with the first pick in April’s NFL Draft and all the “experts” seem to think they TCU v West Virginiajust won’t be able to pass up WV Mountaineer QB Geno Smith. As a lifelong Mountaineer fan I am here to give a friendly warning to the Chiefs…run. Trade the pick, choose a can’t miss offensive lineman, or roll the dice on USC signal caller Matt Barkley. Geno has bust written all over him. He reminds me a little bit of Akili Smith, who wowed scouts during his senior year at Oregon in 1998 with 3700 yards passing & 32 TDs, was taken 3rd overall in the 1999 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals (ahead of guys like Edgerrin James, Champ Bailey, & Ricky Williams), then proceeded to only throw for 2200 yards & 5 touchdowns over the course of the next four years. Yes most of the disappointment of this past WVU season can be laid at the feet of the Mountaineer’s porous defense, but Geno came up small in a lot of games and in some important moments. I have a strong suspicion that he’ll be a huge regret to any team that picks him very high in the draft.

 

 

I chose only half of the NFL’s playoff field correctly in my season preview last fall, but we still may be on track for my predicted Super Bowl matchup of Green Bay vs. New England, although at this point I would actually much prefer a Denver vs. Seattle game.

 

 

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.

2009 NFL Preview – AFC

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’ll take a look at the AFC first, and then I will post a look at the NFC in a few days:

AFC EAST

Miami Dolphins 11-5

Bill Parcells is large and in charge. And his head coach Tony Sparano seems like a true disciple. That’s a good thing. There’s a sense of stability in Miami that hasn’t been present for awhile, and in the NFL stability is usually a positive trait. The big question will be whether or not The Wildcat offense is something the rest of the league has figured out, or if the Dolphins can add enough new twists to keep it  fresh.

New York Jets                      10-6

The Jets are on the right path. I have a good feeling about rookie QB Mark Sanchez. Sure he’ll have some growing pains, but he can’t be any worse than what the departed Bret Favre was the second half of last season. New coach Rex Ryan is a defensive guru, so that side of the ball should see improvement.

New England Patriots       10-6

I can’t explain it, but I just sense the magic slipping away in Foxboro. I’m not convinced that Tom Brady is as healthy as desired, and a running attack featuring a three headed monster of Laurence Maroney, BenJarvis Green, and Fred Taylor just isn’t that overwhelming. I’m not saying New England will be a bad team, but I think they are in for much more of a dogfight in their division than most folks seem to believe.

Buffalo Bills                          4-12

No, I do not think that Terrell Owens is the savior this team needs. Though he’s been quiet thus far it is likely only a matter of time before he becomes the divisive force he’s been everywhere he’s played. Unfortunately for the Bills they are not in a position of strength where they can withstand such distractions. Dallas and Philadelphia thrived despite T.O.’s antics. Buffalo will not. Plus, this division is just too tough. The Bills may be looking at 6 losses just within their own division, and then they have games against Tennessee, Atlanta, and Indianapolis. Dick Jauron is a decent coach with the misfortune of being hired by subpar teams. Time to update the resume again Dick.


AFC SOUTH

Indianapolis Colts               10-6

The Colts, much like the Patriots, have been the cream of the crop for a long time. Did you realize that Peyton Manning is 33 years old and a veteran of 11 years?? Chinks in the armor have slowly developed over the past couple of years, but they have merely downgraded Indy from elite status to extremely good. And some of these emerging concerns aren’t so much a function of this team getting worse, but a recognition of other teams’ improvement. This division used to be Indy’s for the taking, but it has gotten quite competitive. The Colts have a new coach and Marvin Harrison isn’t around for Manning to throw to anymore. However, at the end of the day I still feel like no one is up to the task of dethroning the kings just yet…..until they get to the playoffs of course.

Tennessee Titans                10-6

Speaking of dethroning, Tennessee did do exactly that last year to the Colts. But I don’t believe they can pull off another 13-3 season. The defense is always above average, but the loss of DT Albert Haynesworth in free agency will have an impact. On offense the question is whether Kerry Collins, who up until last season had the aura of career backup, can continue his magic carpet ride. And what about Vince Young?? He all the sudden became a headcase in 2008 which is what allowed Collins to emerge as a star. The running attack is solid with the fleet of foot Chris Johnson and the bruising (and apparently sober) Lendale White. Whomever ends up being the QB has a few folks to throw to now thanks to the additions of free agent WR Nate Washington and first round choice Kenny Britt.

Houston Texans                  9-7

I keep waiting on the Texans to break through, but they continue to be just so-so with occasional flashes of potential. I’m not sure Matt Schaub is the answer at QB, and another receiver is needed so defenses can’t just key on Andre Johnson. Steve Slaton proved all the talking heads who said he wasn’t feature back material wrong, but I do believe the running game would benefit from adding a big battering ram for goal line and short yardage situations. Defensively this team just seems to be missing a piece or two. Being in the same division as Indianapolis and Tennessee doesn’t help matters, but that’s out of anyone’s control. The best game plan in Houston might be to sit tight and continue to improve one player at a time until that inevitable day when Peyton Manning retires.

Jacksonville Jaguars           7-9

I think the Jags will be slightly better than last season, but not much. The team took significant steps to improve the offensive line, and I’m of the opinion that that is the vital foundation of any good football team. RB Fred Taylor absconded to New England in a desperate attempt to win a ring, so Maurice Jones-Drew (some people call him The Space Cowboy, some call him The Gangster of Love) is the man now, and that’s probably a good thing. Veteran wideout Torry Holt will bolster the receiving corps along with a seemingly rejuvenated Troy Williamson who is determined to shed the “bust” label with which he has been saddled. There are two threads on which Jacksonville’s season hangs. The first is the defense. They are usually among the league’s best, but dropped off noticeably in 2008. The other is QB David Garrard. Once upon a time Garrard had a Randall Cunningham vibe. Last year it was more like Richie Cunningham. Nothing has happened this offseason to make me believe a momentous turnaround is on the horizon.


AFC NORTH

Pittsburgh Steelers                        11-5

Full disclosure…..I am a lifelong diehard Steeler fanatic. Admittedly it is hard for me to be completely objective when talking about my team. But I’m going to give it the old college try and leave it up to the reader’s discretion as to whether I’m on point or completely delusional. The Steelers are the defending Super Bowl Champions…..but let’s look deeper. They won last year despite having what was almost unanimously regarded as the league’s toughest schedule. They won despite both star RB Willie Parker and first round draft choice Rashard Mendenhall having major injuries and having to rely on third string RB Mewelde Moore. They won despite having an offensive line that no one was expecting to be very solid. So, extrapolating some logic from those statements, one could possibly surmise that with an easier schedule, both top runners healthy, and an offensive line that gelled better than anyone expected and now has an extra year of experience the Steelers might be even better in 2009. But not even I am willing to go that far. Defending Super Bowl champions haven’t had much luck the past decade or so, and this team did suffer some personnel losses. Will Limas Sweed validate being a high draft choice last year by stepping into the 3rd receiver role vacated by Nate Washington?? Will free agent signee Keiwan Ratliff be a suitable replacement for departed cornerback Bryant McFadden?? I’m not sure about the answers to those questions right now. Plus, the target is bigger than ever and one team in particular, the hated Ravens, will be gunning for the champs. But I get the sense that Mike Tomlin won’t let his team become unfocused, so to be honest I’m not all that concerned. I am predicting another banner year for the black n’ gold.

Baltimore Ravens                           10-6

The Ravens were oh-so-close last year. It’s rare when an 11-5 record doesn’t lock up a division title. QB Joe Flacco had a surprisingly proficient rookie season and the defense was as intimidating as everyone has come to expect. I don’t expect much of a drop off this year. It will be interesting to see how the departure of defensive coordinator Rex Ryan (the new head coach of the New York Jets) affects the chemistry. My guess is not much, atleast not in any measurable dynamic. I suppose a sophomore slump is possible for Flacco, but it is unlikely. Ray Lewis isn’t getting any younger, but he’s still got a couple great years in the tank. In almost any other division in the league Baltimore would be a runaway choice to come out on top. They just have the misfortune of playing in the same division with the only defense better than theirs.

Cincinnati Bengals                          8-8

A lot of folks derisively call them The Bungles, and it is a richly deserved bad reputation. They’ve had a lot of issues both on and off the field. Carson Palmer is theoretically healthy and fully recovered from past injuries which should help tremendously. Still, questions…and doubts…abound. I personally don’t believe that Laverneous Coles is an upgrade or even an even swap for departed receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh, and when your team is relying on underachieving Cedric Benson to carry the rushing load that’s a bad sign. The team drafted an OT with the 6th overall pick in the draft, but first he held out until late in the pre-season and then he broke his foot in practice, so there goes that idea. Long removed from the Super Bowl hay days of Boomer Esiason, Chris Collinsworth, and  Icky Woods, the modern day Bengals just seem snakebitten. I really like coach Marvin Lewis, who had much success as a defensive coach in Pittsburgh, Washington, and most notably Baltimore.  But I’m not sure even the re-animated corpses of Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry combined could polish this turd. It’s a testament to the talent of Palmer (and having Oakland, Kansas City, Detroit, and Cleveland – twice, on the schedule) that I’m even predicting a .500 finish.

Cleveland Browns                          6-10

I’m a Steelers fan so I hate the Browns, but I missed them when they were gone from the league for a few years. I was glad when they were reborn. But holy cow have they been dreadful since that triumphant return. They just can’t seem to find even a glimmer of hope, a small buoy in a raging sea of mediocrity. Atleast the Bengals have Palmer. The Browns pinned all their hopes a couple years ago on Notre Dame alumnus Brady Quinn. I never thought Quinn was that good even in college, and he hasn’t been good enough to seize the reins for the Browns. If you aren’t good enough to be the clear cut starting QB for such a bad team then you aren’t good enough period. New head coach Eric Mangini is a Bill Belichick disciple, which has been proven to mean diddly squat. Former Browns coach Romeo Crennel was a Belichick guy too, and that didn’t work well at all. Mangini himself was run out of New York, although I think maybe the Jets pulled the trigger a bit prematurely. Maybe some guys are meant to be really well respected coordinators and aren’t necessarily head coach material. Being in the same division with the Steelers and Ravens is just brutal.


AFC WEST

San Diego Chargers           14-2

Predicting the best record in the NFL for San Diego is as much about the atrocious division they play in than anything else. There are probably even a handful of college teams that could beat the three other teams in this division this season. San Diego has been a rather good team the past few seasons, and I don’t expect that to change. Yes, Ladainian Tomlinson has lost a step. But that’s like saying it’d take Mike Tyson 5 rounds to knock out Michael Spinks rather than the 1 round it took him 20 years ago. So what?? Shawne Merriman should be fully healthy now, so the defense will be better than it was in 2008. Philip Rivers just signed a fat contract, which might make him lazier but instead I believe it’ll make him relaxed and more effective. Vincent Jackson needs to step up and be the go to receiver many have thought him capable of being, and big time TE Antonio Gates needs to stay healthy. I truly believe that last year’s 8-8 season was a mirage, a one time off year that can be attributed to injuries to a few key players. That is unlikely to happen two straight seasons.

Denver Broncos                  8-8

The Josh McDaniels era hasn’t exactly gotten off to a rousing start…..and they haven’t even played a game yet. McDaniels is another of the aformentioned branches on the Belichick coaching tree, one that hasn’t proven very fruitful thus far. I don’t think this guy is going to change that fact. The whole Jay Cutler debacle was an inauspicious launch for the new regime, and even though Cutler undoubtedly acted like a petulant child the blame must be shared by coach McDaniels. I understand wanting “your guy” as a new coach. I get it. But it wasn’t as if Cutler was a bad quarterback. It’s not even like the Broncos were a bad team. They were 8-5 last year and then lost the final 3 games. If they would have won the last game they would have been in the playoffs. The biggest issue was the defense, which ranked near the bottom in most categories. The coach obviously miscalculated what bringing in QB Matt Cassel, whom he had worked with in New England, would do to Cutler’s psyche. Cassel didn’t even end up with the Broncos, but that didn’t matter. The damage was done and Cutler whined his way out of Denver and into a pretty decent gig with Chicago. The Broncos?? Well…they ended up with Kyle Orton. It’s akin to having Russell Crowe lined up to star in your new movie but he drops out and you end up with Keanu Reeves. This will not end well. They did draft what most considered the top RB in the draft in Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno, and he’ll be backed up by Correll Buckhalter and Lamont Jordan. Not a flashy running attack but it should be effective. I atleast like this trifecta more than New England’s. Some pieces were added on defense thru the draft and free agency, but I don’t see any real difference makers. In 2008 the Broncos finished with a .500 record, and I’m generously predicting the same record in 2009, which begs the question…why exactly did they fire Mike Shanahan??

Oakland Raiders                 5-11

Al Davis is still alive and kicking, and that is bad news for the once mighty Raiders. Seriously, what has happened to this team?? It is one of the premiere franchises in the NFL…..infamous, successful, bold. But the aging and apparently crazy Davis has turned them into a laughing stock. The man is 80 years old. Someone needs to make him retire. I’m just not impressed by anything the Raiders have to offer. They have a new coach. Whatever. They have Jamarcus Russell as the QB of the future and brought in Jeff Garcia to be a mentor and capable backup. Sorry…..still doesn’t stir anything within my soul. Even Darren McFadden is an overhyped RB who’ll get you 2 yards but just look flashier doing it than most other backs. They didn’t draft anyone inspiring either. It’s just more of the same from a team that seems to have no direction.

Kansas City Chiefs              3-13

Speaking of no direction, that brings us to the Chiefs. All you need to know about this team is that their new head coach is apparently going to attempt to be the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator too. The man is clearly a control freak and in over his head. The jury is still out on Matt Cassel, the newly acquired starting QB. Cassel wasn’t even a starter in college at USC, where he backed up both Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. Last season he got his opportunity with the Patriots after Tom Brady went down with a knee injury. I get the fact that almost anyone is an upgrade over Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen, but the fact is that we are talking about a guy who shined for only one season and that happened to be with one of the best supporting casts in football. The road to hell is paved with the short lived careers of football players who were really good for a year or two. Running back Larry Johnson has seen his production dramatically curtailed the past two seasons, and he is on the threshold of 30, the age when rushers traditionally begin a steep decline. Perennial all-pro tight end Tony Gonzalez got tired of losing and demanded a trade, so he’s now in Atlanta with the Falcons. There just isn’t much good news for the Chiefs. If Cassel proves himself more than just a one year wonder, and if Johnson has a career renaissance or possibly Jamaal Charles steps into that spot and breaks out, then maybe this team can do better than last season. But my gut instinct is that improvement will not manifest itself until next season.