Thursday, September 07, 2006
So, I had intended to get this post on-line over the weekend, but got caught up painting some of the rooms of the house with the wife and kid out - plus the whole Deion Branch thing distracted me a bit, but more on that later. I wanted to make sure that I got the rest of my season predictions up before kickoff tonight, so, without further ado...
As promised - The NFC North and then the rest of the NFL
NFC North - Not to knock Chicago, but this division is going to the Bears by default, isn't it. I mean, really, who else is there? Green Bay? Detroit? Minnesota?...I think not. The fabled "Black and Blue division" is now largely the "I'll be singin' the blues" division
1st - The Bears will take this division with around ten wins, although they could probably do it with eight considering the talent in the division.
2nd - I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the Vikings will find a way to be near .500, which I think is all a team needs to beat out -
3rd - Lions. If this Matt Millen is still the Lions GM after this season, I need to talk to the Ford family about a job with that company because it will officially be the hardest company to get fired from....well that, and president of the United States. That being said, I like what rookie head coach Rod Marinelli in the preseason and I liked cutting first round bust WR Charles Rogers.
4th - The Packers - Green Bay fans, I think it's time to polish the dust off the Magic Man and bring Don Majkowski back. Really, he can't be any worse under center than Favre has been the last couple of years.
NFC South - Along with the NFC East, the most likely division to produce more than one playoff team in the NFC with playoff hopefuls among three of the four candidates. My thoughts...this is the toughest division in the NFC, and maybe in football.
1st - Panthers - I think this division is going to come down to a dogfight between the Panthers and the Buccaneers, possibly with the division still up for grabs on the last day of the regular season. That being said, I wouldn't rule the Bucs out of the top position in the South.
2nd - Take a wild guess. The only reason why I gave the nod to Carolina over the Bucs is that I have more faith in Jake Delhomme to win in a shoot-out than I do in Chris Simms. Given another season of progress and maybe I call the two a toss-up.
3rd - Falcons - While think they have a legit shot at the playoffs and could win the division, I think that they're long-odds for the division with a grocery list of issues which include having the most overrated QB in the sport (who gave up on the team late last season - that stays with players), a receiving corps that was considered bolstered by the addition of...wait for it...Ashley Lelie, and an undersized defense playing in a very physical conference. Also, it's not exactly a vote of confidence in your starter when you're offered a first rounder in the off-season for your second string QB and you turn it down.
4th - Ain'ts - This team has a very outside chance at competing, but is more likely to be in a rebuilding mode. The new braintrust purged players perceived as problems and upgraded their offensive backfield with a new QB and a new addition to the running backs. That being said, this is a team that has a chance to have an unprecedented homefield advantage with many in New Orleans looking at the Saints as the distraction the city needs from the turmoil it continues to suffer. Unfortunately, that emotion I think will only carry them so far.
NFC West - Welcome to the junior varsity circuit. Seattle will probably remain pretty good, and avoid the curse of the Super Bowl loser missing the playoffs the following season, but that may be as much due to the fact that there is no one else in the division that is a lock to break even.
1st - Seahawks - In spite of some changes to the offensive line, this is a team that is still head and shoulders above the rest of its division, I'm just not convinced they will make the Super Bowl if they have to have healthy competition from the likes of the Panthers, Bucs, or even Dallas in the playoffs.
2nd - Rams - I think they'll be improved and that Scott Linehan will have them playing better than Martz did, I just think they're still a solid year away from returning to playoff contention.
3rd - Cardinals - For the two or three of you out there that actually check my blog now and then, you may remember that I thought highly of the Cards last year. I won't make that mistake again. They've got great talent at most of the skill positions - WR, RB. But they will either have an injury prone retread at QB, or a rookie, starting behind a suspect O-line. Edgerin James is not in for a good year.
4th - 49ers - I grew up when premier playoff games featured Lawrence Taylor led defenses lining up across from Joe Montana led offenses. Let's just say that the Niners still have a very long road ahead of them in order to return to anything even resembling those glory years...like, say, a winning record.
Wild Cards - Bucs and Eagles
NFC Champ - Cowboys
And now the AFC -
AFC West - This is an easy call. Denver. The other two legit contenders went through changes in the offseason that could legitimately impact their playoff chances, and the Raiders are just the Raiders. Lately they've been to their division what Detroit has been to the NFC North.
1st - Broncos - Shanahan, as little as I like him, or his team, is consistent. Year in and year out, he fields a contender in spite of castoffs like Jake Plummer in key positions. Plus, with talent levels dropping around the division, the team doesn't need to be as good as it's been in the past.
2nd - Chargers - While Rivers has looked good under center in the preseason, I'm not convinced he's going to do that for sixteen games in his first full season as the starting signall caller.
3rd - Chiefs - This is a team that is aging at all the skill positions except for starting tailback where they still have relative youngster Larry Johnson. Johnson will run with a chip on his shoulder, but he will be behind a very different line from last year which will be missing key components in clearing out the way for the running game. In spite of his hard running style, I don't see Johnson duplicating the averages per carry and game that he demonstrated last year.
4th - Raiders - Art Shell is not the answer. Aaron Brooks is not the answer. Hell, Jeff George isn't even a piece of the puzzle. For all his business accumen and early success as a head coach, Al Davis seems to have lost track of how to put together a successful team on the field.
AFC South - This division is like clockwork - Indy, then Jacksonville, followed by Tennessee then Texas. This might have been the easiest one to call.
1st - Colts - Peyton and crew will have yet another chance to implode in January. I'm sure they will take full advantage in their disturbingly Pavlovian way.
2nd - Jaguars - Still a piece missing, but they play hard-nosed football and should be good for a playoff push for the next couple of years.
3rd - Titans - Too much turmoil at too many positions to contend.
4th - Texans - might actually challenge to get out out of the basement this season. Have improved talent levels, and has a coach that might get something out of an underachieving bunch.
AFC North - Maybe the toughest division in the AFC right now with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati as legitimate contenders and an improving Browns squad. However, there are some big "ifs" associated with the division contenders.
1st - Bengals - IF Carson Palmer isn't a head case from the damaged knee.
2nd - Steelers - They could challenge for first IF Palmer isn't a head case and IF their running game doesn't have a drop-off from Jerome Bettis's retirement. IF Pittsburgh has to ride the arm of Roethlesburger all season, they might not even make the playoffs.
3rd - The toss-up. I believe it will be the Ravens. They might even make the playoff run interesting IF McNair has anything left in the tank. IF the Ravens ground game returns to the form it showed two years ago, McNair might not need to have that much left in the tank to push the Ravens to a wild card bid.
4th - Browns - IF the Browns didn't have so many off the wall problems in the preseason, they might be improved this year. IF the veteran signees on the defensive line play to their reputations rather than age, the defense has a shot to keep the Browns in a lot of games.
AFC East - To paraphrase Mark Twain, the news of the New England's demise has been greatly exagerated. Miami is improved over last season, however, signing Duante Culpepper does not make a team with as many holes as Miami had last season go from pretender to contender in one season.
1st - Patriots - Sure, no Branch, but in an offense where even the ball boy catches thirty passes in a season, I'm not that worried about who Tom Brady will throw to. He'll find whoever is open, whether it's Branch or Tony from the old neighborhood. All the pundits point to Miami's win streak at the end of the year when the 'Phins beat the Pats, but none of them seem to remember that the starting QB of that game was Cassel - his receivers included the inestimable Bam Childress, who was also the nickel corner in that game, and Doug Flutie drop kicked for three. In spite of going against what was primarily the team's second and third stringers, Miami was still fighting them off - with their own first stringers - at the very endof the game as Cassel came one bad pass away from sending the game into overtime.
2nd - Dolphins - I don't doubt that the Dolphins are much improved, but I don't see them as legitimately challenging for the AFC East crown this year. I'm guessing 8-8, or 9-7 and maybe a shot at a wild card spot if things fall right.
3rd - Bills - This was a hard call for me because, as much as I believe the Dolphins have improved and are only one season away from seriously challenging the Patriots for dominance in the division, I believe the Bills are still slipping, while things are getting better in the Meadowlands (albeit slowly). I don't think they have a good QB. They lack good receivers and their offensive line is poor. Add to that Dick Jauron, a somewhat middling coach, and you have a recipe for a potential basement dweller on your hands. Their defense will keep them in some games, but is likely to be fatigued by the end of the year.
4th - Jets - Let's face it, Mangini was brought in to clean up a mess, and it's likely to take more than a year to do it.
Wild cards - Jaguars and Dolphins
AFC Champion - Patriots
Will revisit this come playoff time. More on Branch later.
Posted by Kevin Smith at Thursday, September 07, 2006