The NFL season is now just mere days away, which means it's time to officially put on record what will in no way be an accurate reflection of the final standings for this year's football season... To do so, I went through the season game by game to determine what everybody's final record will be. For the most part, I came to the same conclusion as most others have, primarily that the AFC is clearly a better conference than the NFC. However, some of the records surprised me, such as the Titans 9-7 tally. Apparently, I'm sold on Vince Young without RBs or WRs. I didn't realize Texas Tech was on the schedule this year...
1. New England (13-3) - The best team in the division just got better in the off-season. With all their riches, it feels like they're due for some bad luck, but until that happens, Brady and a legit group of WRs will once again rule the division.
2. New York Jets (8-8) - Thomas Jones will solidify the running game, but with games against the Patriots and Ravens to start the season, Eric Mangini and Co. could quickly find themselves in an 0-2 hole. And how long until Kellen Clemens sees the field?
3. Buffalo (6-10) - J.P. Losman appears to be turning the corner in his development, with Lee Evans reaping the benefits, but youth populates the rest of the team, primarily on the defensive side. And it is still Dick Jauron manning the sidelines...
4. Miami (5-11) - New head coach. New aging quarterback. Running back who's having trouble beating out Jesse Chatman for the starting job... None of these seem to point to a successful season for the 'Fins, which will surely disappoint the talented defense.
1. Baltimore (11-5) - Steve McNair is a year older and Willis McGahee has to prove himself as an elite running back, but the defense alone should carry this team to a handful of wins. If McNair can manage the offense, a division title is there for the taking.
2. Cincinnati (11-5) - With Carson Palmer another year removed from ACL surgery, the offense will provide plenty of highlight-reel moments, which will work for the regular season... But again, the defense is questionable and could be the downfall when it matters.
3. Pittsburgh (9-7) - Ben Roethlisberger didn't nearly kill himself this off-season, which already puts him ahead of what was a miserable season last year. If he can return to form, they'll make some noise, but I'm predicting some stumbles along the way.
4. Cleveland (4-12) - Brady Quinn will be the starting quarterback by year's end. You know it. I know it. Romeo Crennel must know it. But they'll again struggle through the Charlie Frye era until Quinn is ready to guide the team to another high draft pick.
1. Indianapolis (13-3) - With nearly all their offensive stars back once again, there's no reason to believe that Peyton Manning is satisfied with a single championship. The defense will struggle again, but as long as Manning's blindside is protected, they'll pile up the wins.
2. Tennessee (9-7) - Year 2 of Vince Young's career finds him without several of the weapons that helped him during his rookie campaign. Young can't single-handedly carry this team like back in Texas, but he can lead them to the Titans' first winning record in years.
3. Jacksonville (7-9) - The defense is full of talent. But can Maurice Jones-Drew repeat his explosive rookie season? Can Fred Taylor stay healthy? Will a WR emerge to be the #1 guy? And of course, David Garrard over Byron Leftwich... I don't think it matters.
4. Houston (5-11) - Matt Schaub is no Vince Young. Ahman Green is no Reggie Bush. Regardless, both players should help stabilize an offense that often appeared in disarray. Everybody believes the Texans are building a team the right way, but they're not there yet.
1. San Diego (13-3) - Even Norv Turner can't screw up the most talented roster in the league, right? Handing the ball off to LaDainian Tomlinson would make any quarterback look good, but Philip Rivers continues his maturation and should earn another division title.
2. Denver (10-6) - Considering this team was placed in the hands of Jake Plummer last year, I'm shocked they reached nine wins. Now with Jay Cutler at the helm, the Broncos will go through some growing pains but will be better for it in the long run.
3. Oakland (5-11) - It won't be pretty, but it'll be an improvement... Lane Kiffin inherits an underrated defense to go along with a putrid offense. But an influx of quarterbacks and a potentially healthy LaMont Jordan will keep this team out of the cellar.
4. Kansas City (4-12) - I drafted Larry Johnson in fantasy football so his much-anticipated decline this season is now a certainty. Throw in the loss of two offensive linemen and the continued presence of Herm Edwards and the Chiefs are in for a long season.
1. Philadelphia (11-5) - This prediction is obviously greatly dependent on the health of Donovan McNabb. A healthy McNabb coupled with the explosive Brian Westbrook and an upgraded defense will lift this team over the other flawed teams in the division.
2. Dallas (9-7) - Consider me still skeptical of the Tony Romo experiment. After starting off with a bang, Romo faded at the end of the season, even before the botched hold in the playoffs. The defense is solid, but that offense concerns me for now.
3. New York Giants (7-9) - The off-field distractions are enough to pull this team together and overcome their deficiencies or excuse them for collapsing upon themselves in a fiery inferno... In either case, I'm sure Tiki Barber will have something to say about it.
4. Washington (6-10) - Whoever inherits this team after Joe Gibbs steps down is going to have his work cut out for him, as I think every draft pick until 2018 has been traded away. However, Jason Campbell continues to improve, but Clinton Portis is still crazy.
1. Chicago (10-6) - Last season's NFC champions appear to have upgraded both offensively (Greg Olsen and Devin Hester) and defensively (Adam Archuleta and Darvin Walker). So what could keep them from duplicating their 2006 success... one Rex Grossman, of course.
2. Detroit (8-8) - The offense should see continued improvement during their second year under Mike Martz. Having Calvin Johnson to throw to doesn't hurt either. But how many teams will the Lions be able to outscore, as the defense remains porous, at best.
3. Minnesota (7-9) - How can a team without a quarterback win seven games? I'm not entirely sure, but playing in the NFC North has to help. Expect a lot of handoffs to Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor and a defense that will keep games close.
4. Green Bay (5-11) - In what may (or may not) be his last season, Brett Favre inches farther and farther away from his Super Bowl days. A strong finish last season gives Packer fans hope, but a legitimate running game was a factor... and something they don't have now.
1. New Orleans (11-5) - The Saints will be hard-pressed to duplicate the offensive display from last year, but the personnel is in place to try. Drew Brees has a multitude of options to choose from, while Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister continue to control the ground.
2. Carolina (7-9) - This is a make-or-break season for Jake Delhomme, as his stock has declined the last several seasons. If he does falter, David Carr will take the reigns, which can't make the Panthers overly comfortable. Better hope for some long runs...
3. Tampa Bay (6-10) - After disappointing fantasy owners everywhere, Carnell Williams looks to rebound to his ROY form. Every little bit will help Jeff Garcia, now on his 4th team in as many years, as he and an aging defense battle Father Time for another season.
4. Atlanta (5-11) - The Ewing Theory potential here is astounding, but I'd feel more comfortable if it wasn't dependent on Joey Harrington. While I feel he'll perform better than expected, there's still that little question of to whom he's going to throw.
1. San Francisco (9-7) - I did not expect to see the 49ers here when I completed my picks, as I feel they're still a year away. But tucked away in the division of apparent mediocrity, Alex Smith and Frank Gore look to lead this team back to the playoffs.
2. St. Louis (8-8) - Torry Holt is dinged up. Isaac Bruce is old. Marc Bulger makes me nervous. But there's still Steven Jackson, who looks to carry the Rams (and countless fantasy teams) to the playoffs. In the awful NFC, eight wins just might do it...
3. Seattle (7-9) - Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander are both healthy again, but this isn't the same Seahawk team from seasons past. The offensive line slipped last year and they let Darrell Jackson head to the Bay. Despite the talent, I see a rough season ahead.
4. Arizona (7-9) - The first year under Ken Whisenhunt will show improvement, but there are still holes to fill before the Cardinals make the leap. Matt Leinart will continue to grow while throwing to one of the top WR corps. I'm just not ready to crown their asses yet...
AFC Wild Card Round
Indianapolis over Denver - In what has become an annual ritual, the Colts will once again send the Broncos home for the season.
Cincinnati over Baltimore - A stifled Bengals offense should still manage to put up more points than a tired Steve McNair.
NFC Wild Card Round
Chicago over St. Louis - January weather will force the Rams to go one-dimensional, which is a dimension the Bears can stop.
San Francisco over Dallas - In a flashback to the 90's, the 49ers will scratch out the win while the Cowboys again head home early.
AFC Divisional Round
San Diego over Indianapolis - The Chargers finally break through, knocking out the defending champions, in spite of the coaching...
New England over Cincinnati - Against a team with a formidable defense and a solid offense, the Bengals can't keep up and get sent home.
NFC Divisional Round
Chicago over New Orleans - Rematch of the NFC Championship on turf, Bush and Co. gain some speed... but so do Bears defenders.
Philadelphia over San Francisco - The 49ers run ends when pitted against not only the Eagles, but the Eagles fans in mid-January.
New England over San Diego - The Chargers get a step closer but still can't break through, as Brady won't be denied a second year in a row.
Chicago over Philadelphia - Either determined by an in-depth, position-by-position analysis of the teams... or a blindly homer-style pick...
Super Bowl XLII
New England over Chicago - In a rematch of Super Bowl XX, the Patriots walk away with their 4th title this decade. I normally tend to stay away from the overwhelming favorites going into the season, but I couldn't, in good conscience, select another team I believed was structured in a way to win it all this year. I still have an unshakable feeling that the Patriots will be faced with some adversity this season, but until it rears its head, I have to base predictions on the information at hand. And at hand, the Patriots are a superior team to Chicago, and every other team in the league. So for the second year in a row, my team ends the season with a loss on the grandest of stages and would be halfway towards becoming the Buffalo Bills...
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