Having no structure in my life is apparently not a good thing. Other than a move to Los Angeles, I can't really say I've accomplished much this summer. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and with the light only a few days ahead, it's become too blinding to ignore. That's right, football season is here. The epitome of structure in the world of sports, the NFL season is about to begin and will hopefully kick me back into some sort of productive writing routine.
So with that, let us begin with what else... NFL predictions for the upcoming season. Now as I mentioned, no routine has severely reduced my productivity, which includes keeping up with what's been going on through training camps and preseason games. But I'm sure that you, my reader(s), will understand...
1. New England Patriots (12-4) - So... how do you follow up the most memorable one-loss season in the history of the NFL? Well, playing in the AFC East will help cure a lot of their ills. They're a little older, and teams are a little wiser playing them, but the Patriots are still the class of the division and should coast to another division title and first-round bye. Tom Brady could dominate this division with one leg, which coincidentally, he might have to do...
2. Buffalo Bills (8-8) - Dick Jauron still only has one winning season in his entire coaching tenure. Until proven otherwise, I can't possibly go above .500 with this team. I do like the talent they have, but their quarterback is still developing and who is going to line up opposite Lee Evans? If the pattern holds, the Bills will start slowly, then come on strong at the end of the season to save Jauron's job yet again.
3. New York Jets (8-8) - Yes, yes, Brett Favre is the quarterback. I get it. Where was he during the OTAs though? And through training camp? And in the first preseason game? Oh yeah, that's right, he just got there. I don't care who you are, it takes some time to adjust to a new system, and Favre isn't exactly getting younger. Was he taking care of himself this offseason? Is he in shape? Is he going to wear down? Too many questions to rank this team any higher than this.
4. Miami Dolphins (5-11) - Whoever invented the term "rebuilding" is a genius because it allows teams that you know are going to stink a free pass on the season. Low expectations are always welcomed by new coaching staffs. Chad Pennington, when not injured, should be serviceable, and I'm hoping (for fantasy purposes) that Ricky Williams stays on the right side of crazy, but there are plenty of holes on this team that will take some time to fill in. They won't be filled in this season...
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) - I actually feel like the Steelers will be better than this record, but when I went through the season schedule, somehow this is what I came up with. But the potential is there, with plenty of offensive weapons at Big Ben's disposal. In a division with plenty of question marks, the Steelers look like the most solid of the bunch.
2. Cleveland Browns (8-8) - When weighing my quarterback options for my fantasy draft, I saw Derek Anderson sitting there among the top-ranked at his position. His ceiling is quite high, with an assortment of receivers all capable of breaking games wide open. But this is still Derek Anderson we're talking about. He couldn't beat out Charlie Frye to start last season, faded terribly at the end of the year, and still has Brady Quinn looking over his shoulder. Add in a defense that still hasn't stopped anybody... yeah, .500 seems about right.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9) - Where to begin with this team... Well, they brought Chris Henry back, so there's that. Chad
4. Baltimore Ravens (6-10) - Kyle Boller, Troy Smith, and Joe Flacco? And I thought the Bears' quarterback competition was depressing. Add in Willis McGahee already being nicked up, Todd Heap being a complete disaster last year, and Ray Lewis and Co. all being a year older and this team looks like it has a long season ahead...
1. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) - Anybody who thinks Peyton Manning would miss any regular season time obviously doesn't follow Peyton Manning. Even after his Super Bowl MVP performance, questions about his "clutchness" continue to persist, especially after losing to the woefully undermanned Chargers in the playoffs and watching erratic younger brother, Eli, duplicate his MVP performance. Peyton wants to establish his greatness by breaking every record he can, including consecutive games played. He won't sit out a game unless the coaching staff literally straps his down during warmups.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5) - At some point, the Jaguars are going to knock off the Colts to claim the division, right? I mean, we've been talking about this for years now, but every year the Colts hang on for the title. David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew form an impressive offensive combination to go along with a defense that just drafted even more linemen. I still don't know who's going to catch the ball, but they'll have enough firepower to claim the top wild card spot.
3. Tennessee Titans (9-7) - For the second year in a row, I have the Titans at 9-7 and I'm not entirely sure why. At the same time, Jeff Fisher has this team playing solid football every year and I'm not entirely sure how. Of course the season, as the last couple, will depend on how far Vince Young has come. Now in his third season, it's time to show what he's made of.
4. Houston Texans (6-10) - "Everybody believes the Texans are building a team the right way, but they're not there yet." I wrote that in last season's prediction post. I see no reason to change that this time around...
1. San Diego Chargers (12-4) - Behind Norv Turner, this team made great strides towards the championship... wait, let me read that again... I'll tell you, I never expected to type those words in my life, but there they are. This team scraped its way to the AFC Championship game, getting by the Colts and playing the Patriots tight. Now everybody is back healthy and has had a taste of what to expect. They're a trendy pick to represent the conference in the Super Bowl, and it's tough to argue, although the Merriman injury does raise some concern.
2. Denver Broncos (9-7) - Can we officially scratch off the "Genius" label from Mike Shanahan's business cards? Other than frustrating fantasy owners, Shanahan hasn't done much with the talent he's accumulated these last few years. Jay Cutler may be ready to take the leap, but this team is a far cry from the dominating team of several years ago. So why do I have them making the playoffs? Well, it's tradition to see the Colts destroy this team in the first round, and I don't like to mess with tradition...
3. Oakland Raiders (6-10) - JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden. It sounds like a great combination... in a year or two. The duo will go through some growing pains their first season together, but it's an interesting story to follow. If they both live up to the hype, the Raiders may be a force in the not-so-distant future. Of course, they'll have to upgrade from the Ronald Curry and the player formerly known as Javon Walker at WR.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (5-11) - I thought the Chiefs were going to be one of the worst teams in the league... and then they manhandled the Bears first unit in the first preseason game. That did not give me confidence in my own team, but it did remind me that the Chiefs at least one offensive weapon in Larry Johnson. If he's healthy, he should carry the team behind a questionable offensive line. But one player won't carry a team beyond a handful of wins.
1. Dallas Cowboys (12-4) - If the Cowboys don't easily control the division (and conference) this season, somebody is going to get fired, and it's not going to be Jerry Jones. The Cowboys have weapons at every position and a defense that can play with any team. I think their only weakness may be Jessica Simpson.
2. New York Giants (9-7) - Now the hard part begins... The team went 10-6 last year on their path to the Super Bowl but now as the crowned champs, opponents will be gunning for the Giants every game. Has Eli really shaken off all the inconsistency issues, or was the title run just a lucky consistency peak in his ever-fluctuating football career? I'm leaning towards the latter...
3. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8) - It's a shame that this division is so stacked because the Eagles would most likely win either the NFC North or West. However, being stuck in the East, the Eagles have a tough hill to climb. If Donovan McNabb can stay healthy, they can beat any team in their division, but he'll need his receivers to stay healthy as well, which hasn't been the case so far.
4. Washington Redskins (7-9) - They say not to make too much of the preseason, and that's good advice for Redskins fans, as Washington has been trounced in their last two games. Washington is looking for big things from Jason Campbell, but much like the Eagles, it will be difficult to accomplish much when even a decent team is still the fourth best in this division.
1. Minnesota Vikings (10-6) - Adrian Peterson and the defense alone will win the division for the Vikings. Anything Tarvaris Jackson gives them will be a bonus. Bernard Berrian on turf will help, although don't expect to include him on the run blocking... They didn't get Brett Favre, but as long as that wasn't a huge distraction, the Vikings should claim the division title.
2. Green Bay Packers (9-7) - So... what's new? In what might be the most closely examined Packers season in a long time, Aaron Rodgers takes the helm as somebody other than #4 takes the snaps for the first time in what's seemed like the last 74 years. Somehow, even as a backup, Rodgers has had two season-ending injuries in the last three years, which is something that probably makes Packers fans nervous. But they do have surprise star Ryan Grant in the backfield and a solid defense, in addition to 4 games against the Lions and the Bears... I think the Packers will be just fine...
3. Detroit Lions (7-9) - Mike Martz is gone... so now who do they blame when things don't go well? Jon Kitna is suddenly the senior quarterback in the division, but that doesn't necessarily inspire confidence in duplicating his numbers from the last few seasons. He's a nice quarterback, but when Tatum Bell is atop your depth chart (even though Kevin Smith should get most the carries), it's not a good thing.
4. Chicago Bears (5-11) - You would think it pains me to list the Bears this low, but I'm hoping that low expectations softens the trauma that I'm most likely about to feel this season. Kyle Orton at quarterback. Rookie Matt Forte at running back. Five #4 receivers running routes down the field. A defense that can no longer tackle. Fantastic... The only exciting part of this team is Devin Hester, and they're reducing his returns this year to keep him fresh as a receiver. How much energy does it take to watch punts sail out of bounds?
1. New Orleans Saints (11-5) - Is Reggie Bush an elite running back? That's the question of the season for the Saints, and at the moment, the answer is "no". However, they do have a plethora of receiving options, including Jeremy Shockey. This makes me, the owner of Drew Brees, very happy. However, there were holes on both sides of the ball for this team last year, and I'm not sure how well the defense has been fixed. But the offensive firepower alone should be able to control the division.
2. Carolina Panthers (10-6) - With a healthy Jake Delhomme, a healthy Jonathan Stewart, and an unsuspended Steve Smith, this team will have plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Reports have Julius Peppers back to his old ways, which will be a welcomed sight to Panthers fans. However, I feel that there are still more questions (see: injuries, suspensions) for Carolina than New Orleans, which is why I'm putting them here, claiming the top wild card spot.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7) - Yet another team linked to the Favre drama this offseason. Like the Vikings, the Buccaneers failed to acquire the veteran quarterback. However, unlike the Vikings, there is no Adrian Peterson in the backfield to pick up the slack. They do have Jeff Garcia, who just continues to plug along and prove his doubters wrong. While it may not be exciting, it has been efficient. But I just don't see this team climbing over the two above it.
4. Atlanta Falcons (3-13) - This team was awful last season and is now throwing in a rookie quarterback from Day 1 to lead the team from the abyss that Michael Vick left them in. Yeah, good luck with that. Falcon fans are hoping that the "throw him into the fire" approach will have Matt Ryan follow the path that Peyton Manning took, but even Manning struggled the first season. Michael Turner will help, but it'll be time for great patience in Atlanta.
1. Seattle Seahawks (8-8) - I've obviously saved the best division for last here... It's a shame that any of these teams have to make the playoffs, but that's the situation we're in, so I'm going with the team with the most experienced head coach and quarterback. Seems logical enough. Seattle will probably end up with a better record simply because of the teams in their division, but there's always one awful division that gets people worked up about the playoff structure, and I'm going with this one.
2. Arizona Cardinals (5-11) - Anquan Boldin is upset. Edgerrin James is older. Matt Leinart can't find the field. Sounds like a great recipe to the season. How much of a leash is Kurt Warner going to have? Will Boldin become a distraction? Will the Arizona Cardinals ever stop being the Arizona Cardinals? By this prediction, I'm apparently saying "not this year".
3. St. Louis Rams (5-11) - Well, Steven Jackson made it to camp, so that's a plus. But this team completely fell apart last season, with or without Jackson, and I don't know if they've really improved themselves that much. Marc Bulger is still accurate when healthy, but how long will he hold out? Torry Holt is older and the other side of the field needs to find a replacement for Isaac Bruce not named Drew Bennett... They did add Chris Long to the defense, but the left side of the defensive line has a lot of miles on their collective tires.
4. San Francisco 49ers (5-11) - Remember when everybody was on the Frank Gore bandwagon as a top fantasy football pick? Yeah, funny how things change. Of course, Gore is the least of the 49ers problems this season, as here we find yet another inspiring quarterback competition between J.T. O'Sullivan, Shaun Hill, and the immortal Alex Smith. Really, do I need to say anything else to explain why I have this team with only 5 wins? Okay then...
AFC Wild Card Round
Indianapolis over Denver - Just because it's what's meant to be...
Jacksonville over Pittsburgh - The Jaguars have the defensive players to contain the Steelers offense and their offense will find just enough points to get out of Pittsburgh with a win.
NFC Wild Card Round
Minnesota over New York Giants - With a stud defense and home field advantage, the Vikings dethrone the Giants and the questions about Eli start up once again.
Carolina over Seattle - Somehow, the wild card Panthers gets a better draw than the division winner Vikings. Carolina cruises to an easy victory.
AFC Divisional Round
San Diego over Jacksonville - The Chargers return to the AFC Championship game with an instant classic over the Jaguars.
New England over Indianapolis - Wow, the AFC matchups are just so much more intriguing than the NFC. The Patriots squeak by the Colts, closing out Tony Dungy's career.
NFC Divisional Round
Dallas over Carolina - The Cowboy defense smothers Steve Smith and pressures Jake Delhomme into key mistakes. The offense finishes the job.
Minnesota over New Orleans - They say a good defense always beats a good offense. That, for no other reason, has me going with the Vikings.
San Diego over New England - On one hand, we have the questions surrounding the Patriots' aura of invincibility being irreparably damaged. On the other hand, we have questions about an injury to Shawne Merriman. I'll go with concern about one player over concern for the entire team.
Dallas over Minnesota - Yes, the Vikings' defense is good, but so is the Cowboys' and the Vikings are still being run by Tarvaris Jackson. Dallas will do just enough to contain Adrian Peterson and ride back into the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLIII
Dallas over San Diego - As I went through the entire season schedule, team by team, game by game, I could not find any obvious weakness or flaw in the Cowboys makeup. They have the offense, they have the defense, they have the special teams, they have the playmakers. They are a complete team that should easily handle the NFC and then cause Norv Turner to revert back into Norv Turner while facing his old team. The Chargers make it one step closer than last season, but have to settle for runner-up. Of course, this all looks silly if Merriman is hurt more than he's letting on. They'll still claim their division, but they won't be able to run through the AFC playoffs, much less the Super Bowl, without his talent lining up on every down.
So with that being said, feel free to go bet on anybody other than Dallas and San Diego with complete confidence...