Archive for September, 2011

Week Three Picks

September 24th, 2011 Comments off

Another NFL week, another opportunity for me to lead you in entirely the wrong direction. Here’s what not to expect.

Jacksonville (+3.5) at Carolina
Blaine Gabbert will get the credit (and maybe he’ll deserve some of it), but the likely reality for what I expect to be Jacksonville’s offensive emergence, after scoring 19 points over the first two games of the season, is that Carolina’s D can’t keep opponents out of the end zone and can’t take the ball away. Defensive ineptitude has been the main reason for the Panthers’ 0-2 start, and it’s likely to continue to cause Carolina problems throughout the season. It won’t stop the Panthers from winning a handful of games, however, because there will be those matches where Cam Newton and the offense are productive enough to compensate for the D. I expect this matchup with a travel-weary Jaguars squad to be one of those. Jags put up a fight, but the Panthers win it by a field goal.

Detroit (-3.5) at Minnesota
OK, you know what? I like the Lions. I believe in the Lions. Although I don’t think the Lions are quite ready to wrest the NFC North away from the Packers, I suspect they’ll earn a wild card berth in the playoffs. But I don’t really believe the Lions have proven a single damned thing with their 2-0 start. I’m just not ready to find Detroit’s wins over Tampa Bay and Kansas City impressive. On the other hand, I think the Vikings have proven quite a bit with their 0-2 start, not one bit of it good. The Vikings aren’t breaking the Lions’ win streak. Not this week anyhow. Detroit by a touchdown.

San Francisco (+2.5) at Cincinnati
Here’s a weird stat (I mean, I know it’s only week two, but let me have this one, will ya?): The Bengals are the only team in the NFL that has yet to commit a turnover this season. So that’s something, right? Probably not, but I’m gonna ride with it, mostly because the alternative is looking closely at this matchup, and that’s just not something I want to do at all. Cincy by a point.

Miami (+2.5) at Cleveland
An 0-2 start in the NFL is tough enough to overcome, but an 0-2 start when you’ve yet to play a road game? That’s absolutely killer. Miami’s season would be effectively over at this point even if the Dolphins weren’t in the AFC East. But they are. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily in the race for Andrew Luck, though. I expect the Fins will still find a way to win seven or eight games. This one, in which they face a Browns squad that can’t get much done even when Peyton Hillis isn’t suffering with strep throat (and passing it around the locker room), should be one of those. Dolphins by six.

New England (-7) at Buffalo
Look, I’m as impressed as anyone with Ryan Fitzpatrick. I think you have to count him as the second best quarterback in the AFC East (which ain’t so bad considering that the first best might be the greatest ever to play the game). And Buffalo’s 2-0 start makes me happy for the Bills, and happier still for their long-suffering fans. But let’s be honest here, OK? One gets the distinct feeling that a lot of teams are going to beat up on the Kansas City Chiefs this season. And although the second-half comeback and last-second win over Oakland last week were very impressive, they don’t change the fact that the Bills defense got carved up by Jason Campbell to the tune of 323 yards and two TDs. That doesn’t bode well for a team that’s about to face a quarterback who’s on track to shatter the NFL single-season passing record and an offense that’s poised to challenge its own single-season scoring record. It doesn’t bode well at all. The Patriots won by two touchdowns in each of their first two games this season. I’ll look for them to continue that streak. New England, 34-20.

NY Giants (+8.5) at Philadelphia
It looks like Michael Vick‘s gonna start for the Eagles. I’m not sure it matters. With the shape the Giants are in, the Eagles could go with Ron Jaworski under center and come out of this one with a decisive victory. Philadelphia by 10.

Denver (+6.5) at Tennessee
It’s a near certainty that one of these godawful teams is going to win this game. Yippee! Let’s have a party! I’m gonna go with the Titans both because they’re at home and because their offense doesn’t fumble the ball away ever other time they take the field. But you know what? Who cares? Tennessee by a touchdown.

Houston (+4) at New Orleans
Three weeks into the season, the Houston defense finally gets a real test. We’ll see if they’re up to it. We’ll also see if the Texans can overcome the negatives of a second consecutive week on the road. I’m guessing they’re not and they can’t. Saints by nine.

NY Jets (-3) at Oakland
Though they come in at 2-0, the Frat Boys really need a win here. This starts a three-game road trip for New Jersey, which spent the first two weeks of the season in East Rutherford. Next week, they’re in Baltimore. Two weeks from now, they travel to New England. Neither of those games will be easy. This one can be, but not if Mark Sanchez throws a bunch of picks. I suspect Sanchez will figure it out and the Frat Boys will manage a win, but I sure do hope I’m wrong. New Jersey by four.

Baltimore (-4) at St. Louis
I’m not sure what shocked me most, that Baltimore destroyed Pittsburgh in week one or that the same team looked pitiful in Tennessee in week two. I’m not sure either showing is indicative of who the Ravens really are, but I’m willing to guess that the first result is closer to reality than the second. Plus, the Rams can’t stop anything on defense, can’t score on offense. You may not know this, but that’s considered a bad combination in football — or, really, in pretty much all ball sports. So I’m looking for a Ravens win. It’s their second straight road game, so let’s figure they only come out on top by a touchdown.

Kansas City (+14.5) at San Diego
Honestly, what do you think I can tell you about this game that the spread hasn’t? Exactly. Chargers by 17.

Atlanta (+3.5) at Tampa Bay
The Falcons are tied with the Colts and the Dolphins for the second most points allowed over weeks one and two. The Colts and Dolphins (like the Chiefs who have surrendered by far the most points in the league) are 0-2 teams. The Falcons are a Michael Vick concussion away from being in the same boat. And still I expect them to win this game. Why? Partly because I think the Falcons are better than their defensive play so far this year. And partly because until I see evidence to the contrary, I have to believe that the Buccaneers have no ability to stop the run. Atlanta by four.

Arizona (-3.5) at Seattle
I’m not impressed with either of these teams. And the fact that the Cardinals are playing on the road for a second straight week, and coming off a tough loss in Washington, makes me very hesitant to take Arizona. But I simply can’t take Seattle. Just. Simply. Can’t. Cardinals by a field goal.

Green Bay (-4) at Chicago
Eleven. That’s how many sacks Jay Cutler has taken this season. In two games. And, no, it’s not like they all came in one match. Cutler went down five times in the Bears’ week one win over Atlanta, and half a dozen times in last week’s loss to the Saints. That’s a result of weak offensive line play. And that’s gonna spell doom for Cutler and the Bears this season. The Packers’ D, meanwhile, has logged seven sacks so far this season. That’s an impressive number. I can say that, because I’m not Jay Cutler. Of course, come late Sunday, Cutler may well wish he were me. I suspect this one’s gonna be way uglier than the spread implies. Packers by 13.

Pittsburgh (-10.5) at Indianapolis
This must have looked like ratings gold when it was slotted in. The best laid plans and all that. Steelers by a million (or, you know, something short of that but way more than ten and a half).

Washington (+5) at Dallas
Well, Tony Romo is all kinds of tough. You can’t take that away from him. Tough isn’t the same as good, of course. But, uh, I’m not sure that matters in this, the weekend’s second dog of a prime time matchup. The Native Americans aren’t coming out of Dallas with a win no matter who starts at quarterback for the Cowboys. Dallas by three.

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Week Two Picks

September 18th, 2011 Comments off

The reality is, I don’t really know anything this week that I didn’t know last. And that was pretty much nothing. So, you know, here’s what you really, really, really shouldn’t expect.

Oakland (+4) at Buffalo
Tommy Kelly is right: The Raiders clearly are not the Chiefs. For one thing, the Raiders aren’t as banged up as the Chiefs. For another, the Raiders have the personnel on defense to bring considerably more pressure than the Chiefs did last week. That’s meaningful, I suppose. Thing is, all it ultimately means is that one can safely assume that the Bills won’t be running away with a 41-7 victory over another AFC West team. And I think we could have made that assumption without Tommy Kelly’s help. The problem for the Raiders is that, unlike the Chiefs, they’re not at home. They’re doing the 1 p.m. East Coast game thing that’s typically deadly to West Coast teams. They’re also playing on the shortest possible week — diving into an early Sunday game following a late Monday nighter. Also, it’s worth noting that while the Bills probably aren’t a Super Bowl contender, they’re also not at the same place as the newly rebuilding Denver Broncos. I’ll take the Raiders to cover, but the Bills straight up. Buffalo by a field goal.

Green Bay (-10) at Carolina
Cam Newton had a hell of an NFL debut, didn’t he? Now let’s see what he (and, you know, the rest of the Panthers) can do against the defending champs, a team with one of the best defenses in the league and that’s playing on 10 days rest. I don’t expect the results to be quite so impressive. I have a hard time picking road teams to win by double digits, so I’ll go with Green Bay by nine.

Kansas City (+8) at Detroit
The results probably can’t get any uglier for the Chiefs, but the outlook for 2011 sure doesn’t appear to be getting prettier. And now Kansas City has to travel to Detroit to face the Lions’ crushing defensive front. I don’t think I can bear to look. Lions by 14.

Cleveland (-2) at Indianapolis
Getting two points at home. From the Browns, a team that took it on the chin from the Bengals in their own building a week ago. That’s how bad things are looking for the Manningless Colts. You’ve gotta wonder if there’s any way things could get more depressing in Indy. Oh, I know. What if the Colts actually lose by a touchdown? That should do it.

Tampa Bay (+2) at Minnesota
OK, so the Vikings started strong against the Chargers last week. They still managed to lose. More important, their new quarterback looked downright awful. And while the Bucs dropped their home opener to the Lions, their young quarterback held up well against an outstanding pass rush. So, I don’t know. I kinda like the visitors here. Tampa Bay by three.

Chicago (+6.5) at New Orleans
I won’t argue that beating the Falcons in Chicago wasn’t impressive. It was. But I’ll believe the Bears can take that show on the road against a team as good as the Saints (who, by the way, are playing on 10 days rest) when I see it. Saints by a touchdown.

Jacksonville (+9) at NY Jets
The Jaguars aren’t quarterbacked by Tony “Meltdown” Romo. So they’ve got that going for them, which is relatively meaningless. Frat Boys by 12.

Seattle (+14) at Pittsburgh
You’ve gotta kinda feel bad for the Seahawks. It’s their second straight week playing on the road and they have to go in to Pittsburgh and face an angry, angry Steelers squad. I expect to see bloodshed. Pittsburgh by 20.

Baltimore (-6) at Tennessee
I don’t care that the Titans are at home, I’m not sure six is half enough. The Ravens aren’t the Jaguars. And the Titans sure as hell aren’t the Steelers (by which I mean they’re not as good as the team the Ravens destroyed last weekend). Baltimore by 14.

Arizona (+3.5) at Washington
I’m not sure last weekend’s result revealed much about either of these teams. The rebuilding Native Americans took advantage of the injury-depleted Giants. And the Cardinals barely held off the rebuilding Panthers. I guess all I can take away from either result is that I continue to view the Arizona defense as highly suspect. So with that in mind, I’ll take the home team here straight up, though I’ll look for the Cardinals to keep the margin to something like a point or two.

Dallas (-3) at San Francisco
OK, Jerry, so if that disaster in New Jersey Sunday night was “one of the best games” you’ve ever seen Tony Romo play, why on earth is the guy continuing to start for your team? Seems like a reasonable question to me. I’m fairly certain the Cowboys will be able to overcome their own lousy quarterback play and beat the all-new 49ers, but I wouldn’t put money on it. Dallas by a field goal.

Cincinnati (+3.5) at Denver
Ooh, look. It’s a giant circus of awfulness. The Bengals are playing on the road for a second straight week. The Broncos are playing on short rest. I expect the result to be some incredibly sloppy football. I’ll take the home team, and assume they can beat the Bengals by at least four. But it’s all gonna come down to which direction the fumbles bounce in and the reality is that there’s just no way to account for that in advance.

Houston (-3) at Miami
The final score may have been unappealing edging toward ugly, but I actually thought the Dolphins showed some very positive signs on Monday night. And I don’t think the Texans’ blowout victory over the Colts revealed anything in particular about Houston. I’m going to cautiously take the home team in this one, even though it worries me more than a bit that they’re playing on short rest and may have trouble shaking off their discouraging start. Dolphins by a point.

San Diego (+7) at New England
In the wake of Monday night’s record-setting performance by the Patriots offense, the big question going around was, are the Pats that good or are the Dolphins that bad? I rather think the answer is neither. I mean, look, Tom Brady and company overcame what one still has to suspect is a very good defensive unit (particularly in the secondary) to log all those yards and put up all those points. That’s something. But the New England defense still appears to be missing a solid pass rush. It’s possible that one will emerge as the season goes on and the reinvented unit truly comes together, but the inability to get to the quarterback remains a problem until proven otherwise. That said, I didn’t see anything in San Diego’s narrow win over a tired-looking Minnesota squad on Sunday that made me think the Chargers the force to be reckoned with that they’re perennially considered heading into NFL seasons. And I’ll say this: Donovan McNabb managed to accomplish nothing against San Diego last week and his team still had a chance to pull off an upset on the road. If that’s the level at which the Chargers are playing, how are they likely to fare against Brady’s team? Not well, right? I’m not giving a touchdown, because San Diego always finds a way to play New England tough. But I do like the Patriots to come out on top. Let’s say by four.

Philadelphia (-2.5) at Atlanta
The Falcons absolutely have to win this game. Seriously. In week two. I mean, it’s not like they can’t recover from an 0-2 start, but on 0-2 start including a loss that could cost them home field in a bigger game come January would be more than at bit problematic. I think the Eagles are the better squad here, but I’m gonna take the home team with its back against the wall over the squad playing its second straight road game. Falcons by three.

St. Louis (+6.5) at NY Giants
And the annual parade of games that no one cares about and no one would watch if they weren’t on Monday night begins. Hooray! New Jersey by a touchdown.

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Week One Picks

September 10th, 2011 Comments off

If you’ve been here before, you know this is the part where I warn you not to put too much stock in my picks. That’s always extra true in week one, because, look, I don’t know what’s really up with any of these teams. No one does. We know what we think we’ve seen in the pre-season. We know where teams were at the end of last season and what they did (or didn’t do) to improve in the off-season (such as it was). But no one knows anything for certain until we see how it all plays out on the field. So here are some guesses, which are even guessier than my usual guesses, at what you almost certainly shouldn’t expect to see on Sunday and Monday.

Pittsburgh (+1.5) at Baltimore
As ridiculous as it may be to put an entire season on a single week one game, you kinda get the sense that the Ravens have to win this game if they’re gonna have a chance to win the NFC North title. And the thing of it is, with Lee Evans less than 100 percent and the Ravens O line a bit on the shaky side, it’s hard to know if Baltimore has the tools to get the job done. I’m gonna take the Ravens, but it’s mainly because they’re at home and they have to know how much they need this game. But there’s a reason Baltimore’s only giving a point and a half to the visiting division rivals, and I won’t be shocked if the Steelers are 1-0 and the Ravens 0-1 come Sunday evening. Baltimore by a point.

Atlanta (-2.5) at Chicago
I’m not entirely sure I understand why the Falcons are only giving two and a half here. I mean, I know the Bears D should be able to slow down the Falcons offense some, but the Chicago offense still features Jay Cutler playing behind a questionable line. And there’s only so much time any D can spend on the field before it starts to wear down. Atlanta by a touchdown.

Cincinnati (+6.5) at Cleveland
I may not be sold on the Browns, but I’m certain of this much: The Bengals stink. Cleveland by 14.

Indianapolis (+8.5) at Houston
Yeah, Kerry Collins should be able to step right in and run an offense that was built for Peyton Manning. That’s a realistic expectation. Texans by 10.

Tennessee (+2) at Jacksonville
There are high school games being played this weekend in which the schemes will look sophisticated compared to what these two squads are capable of bringing to the field at this point. Jaguars by four.

Buffalo (+5.5) at Kansas City
The Chiefs didn’t do enough to improve in the off-season. The Bills have too far to go for this lockout-shortened off-season to have made a significant difference. I think Buffalo’s losses on offense offset their gains on D. And I expect it to start to show immediately. Kansas City by a touchdown.

Philadelphia (-4) at St. Louis
I’m inclined to agree with the folks who say its going to take the reinvented Eagles some time to start functioning as a team and playing up to their talent level. Then again, I’m not sure the Rams are quite ready either. Josh McDaniels is a talented play caller, but you won’t see the evidence of that this early in the season. And the St. Louis defense may appear to be heading in the right direction, but I don’t think it was going to get there in 2011 with or without the lockout. Look for the Eagles to win this one handily (though I don’t expect a blowout) and the folks in Philly to point to the win as evidence that the Eagles are coming into the season fully formed and ready to take the league by storm. (Next Sunday night’s stop in Atlanta ought to be enough to correct that perception.) Philadelphia by six.

Detroit (+1.5) at Tampa Bay
As I mentioned earlier this week, I continue to have my doubts about Tampa Bay, particularly on defense. I am, however, sold on the Detroit D. I think the Lions will give the Bucs’ offense fits and the Detroit O will be able to accomplish enough against a questionable Tampa Bay D to come away with a close win. Lions by four.

Carolina (+6.5) at Arizona
The Panthers have a long, long way to go — and they’ve had no time this short off-season to make any real progress in getting there. Cardinals by nine.

Minnesota (+8.5) at San Diego
I like Donovan McNabb. Always have. And I hope he succeeds wildly in Minnesota. But it’s not gonna happen at this point in the season, behind an offensive line with more than it’s fair share of issues, against the Chargers’ defense. San Diego by 12.

Seattle (+5.5) at San Francisco
This game could be an early indicator of which team is gonna finish last in what might be the NFL’s weakest division. So that’s some excitement there, football fans. I suspect those forced to watch this tilt will end up wishing the lockout hadn’t ended. San Francisco by a field goal.

NY Giants (-3) at Washington
The Giants may (or may not) be falling apart, but the Native Americans are in pieces. New Jersey by a touchdown.

Dallas (+5.5) at NY Jets
Thanks so much, NFL, for forcing me to spend my opening Sunday night energy rooting for one of the league’s most overrated quarterbacks. Not that me cheering from my couch is gonna help Tony Romo or the Cowboys very much. Frat Boys by 13.

New England (-7) at Miami
Seven? Why? Because it’s gonna be hot? Let’s be realistic here, shall we? New England by 17.

Oakland (+3) at Denver
Before you go to bed, take a few minutes to admire all the talent the Oakland Raiders will be wasting this season. Then, you know, go to bed, because that’s about where the interesting aspects of this game end. Raiders by a field goal.

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Season Opener Pick

September 8th, 2011 Comments off

Just tonight’s game for now. I’ll get to my hopelessly uninformed (come on, already, it’s week one) picks for the rest of week one tomorrow or Saturday.

New Orleans (+4) at Green Bay
I’ll say this: I’m bothered by the fact that the Green Bay players apparently didn’t feel like they needed to get together to practice as a group during the lockout. I mean, OK, they’re the champs and all — and the rest probably did them good — but every season is a new season in the NFL. And so here the Packers are opening their season with a game against a serious challenger for the conference title and at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to preparation. Will that make the difference in this game? Probably not. My guess is that both of these teams are ready to go. Certainly, both come into the game with high-powered offenses. And I suspect both defenses are as ready to go as you can get in a short pre-season (which might not be very ready). So, all things being nearly equal, I’m going with the home team. But I’m not giving four. Green Bay by a point.

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2011 Season Predictions

September 7th, 2011 Comments off

I start every football season by pointing out that there’s virtually no way to predict what’ll happen in the NFL in a given week, let alone across the breadth of a 17-week season (and, you know, a seeded playoff system that doesn’t even start for another four months). And then I make my silly little predictions anyway. Why? Because it’s fun for me. (And, you know, I correctly predicted the Super Bowl champion last year. Just a matter of dumb luck, of course, but I still did it.) So there.

So let’s see how wrong I can be this time around, shall we?

Regular Season Records
I’m still not engaging in the absurd exercise of predicting final records. I’ll give you a range of wins I think each team is capable of. Where I’m right, I’ll know my hedge was successful. Where I’m wrong, it’ll be the fault of injury, or the team, or something – just, you know, not me. Because how could it be me?

AFC East

New England Patriots, 12-15
The Patriots probably had no business finishing 14-2 last season, but they did, mostly because of Tom Brady and the offense. That offense may have improved in the off-season (such as it was) or it might have simply been sharpened up a bit. The reinvented defense appears to be much stronger than it was last season – though there are quality concerns at safety. Seems like a winning formula to me.

New York Jets, 7-11
The Jets made some splashy moves in the off-season, but they did it all at skill positions. New Jersey is dangerously thin on both lines. That may not hurt the defense too badly, but it could become a serious problem on offense, particularly for a team with a quarterback who’s prone to making mistakes under pressure. If wear and tear don’t become an issue, the Jets will contend for a wild card spot. If they do, the Jets will get to start planning early for the draft and a rebuilding year.

Miami Dolphins, 4-7
The Dolphins are going to have a few games this season where they look brilliant, offset by quite a few where it’s clear they’re inept. Look for them to go into the 2012 season looking very different, with a new coach and a new quarterback.

Buffalo Bills, 2-5
The Bills made some defensive improvements in the short off-season, but they failed to improve their O line. That’s bad news for Ryan Fitzpatrick – and quite possibly for Andrew Luck, too..

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens, 10-12
The Ravens offense is in flux. Joe Flacco may be coming into his own, but he’s gonna have to prove throwing to a different receiving corps than he’s had in seasons past. Fortunately for Baltimore, Flacco has Ray Rice and an outstanding defense to lean on. If he and the receivers can get more and more comfortable as the season wears on, the Ravens could go into January as the AFC’s hottest team. If not, they’ll be watching the playoffs on TV.

Pittsburgh Steelers, 10-12
Super Bowl hangover? Who knows? I honestly don’t expect to see much of that. The lockout gave everyone’s body a chance to recover, and the Steelers should be able to reap the benefits both of that down time and of the fact that they’re one of a small number of teams who were fairly complete coming out of last season, which means the short pre-season shouldn’t hurt. Pittsburgh remains thin on its offensive line, and sooner or later that’s gonna pose a serious problem. But not this season. T his season, they’ll bully their way into contention. Yet again.

Cleveland Browns, 6-8
In another division (say the AFC West) the much improved Browns might actually be a contender. In the AFC North, well, there’s only so far Colt McCoy can carry a team. The new D needs more time to come together than it got thanks to the lockout. And with bullies like Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the division, it’s going to be hard for a one-sided team to keep up. Next season.

Cincinnati Bengals, 2-5
Another contender to secure the services of Andrew Luck in 2012. Poor, poor Andrew.

AFC South

Houston Texans, 9-12
Oh, god help me, I’m picking the Texans to win the division. Because I’m just exactly as stupid as everyone else, apparently. And, yeah, it was easy to be stupid like that when Houston’s best hope was to come in second to Indianapolis. But then Peyton Manning went and didn’t heal in time for the season to start, so now picking the Texans means picking the Texans. Chances are, it’ll end in tears.

Indianapolis Colts, 4-9
It’s all about whether the reports that Peyton Manning will miss the season are true. If Manning’s out, the Colts have to rely on late off-season pickup Kerry Collins. That’s a difference between a guy who can will your team to victory and a guy who can’t even will the ball out of the hands of opposing DBs most of the time. If Manning can play at some point, it’s a matter of when, at what level, and how deep a hole Collins has dug for him before his return.

Jacksonville Jaguars, 3-6
Releasing David Garrard frees up some cap space for the Jags, but it doesn’t solve any problems. The Jaguars’ issues are that they have a mediocre offense and a defense that can’t get to the passer. That’s not a good combination. Maybe their next coach will be able to figure that out.

Tennessee Titans, 3-6
I knew the Titans picked the wrong off-season to quit everything. That is: New coach, new (the way a car with 100,000 miles can sometimes be “new” to me) quarterback, new systems. No time. Look for a few wins down the stretch to put a silver lining on an otherwise dismal season..

AFC West

San Diego Chargers, 11-14
The Chargers’ defense looks even scarier than usual heading into this season. Could be one of those Ds that carries a team into late January. Maybe later. Or the offense could get in the way, and a slow start could ensure that the bulk of the playoffs are spent on the road, which always spells doom for San Diego. Either way, the Chargers are winning the AFC West.

Kansas City Chiefs, 8-11
I was one of a relatively small group of people who predicted the Chiefs would have a strong 2010 season. This year, I’m one of a larger group of folks who suspect the team may not have done enough to improve in the off-season. They did add some offensive firepower, however, and maybe that’s all they needed. We’ll see..

Denver Broncos, 5-8
John Fox can turn this team around fast. But no one can turn it around fast enough to compete this season. Next year, maybe. And almost certainly by 2013. But not now.

Oakland Raiders, 4-7
As usual, the Raiders added some nice talent in the off-season and lost some significant talent at the same time. The team has weapons, and (probably) a better quarterback than they’ve had in a few years. But it’s still hard to see it all coming together. I think Oakland takes a step back, maybe two.

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles, 11-14
The dream team thing only holds up as long as … well, it doesn’t hold up at all. This ain’t basketball. Whatever the Eagles are – let’s just say a team with lots and lots of talent in very visible positions – it only holds up so long as Michael Vick stays healthy. That means the offensive line is gonna have to step it up, but quick. If that happens, and if Vick can avoid taking stupid risks (no evidence yet that he’s capable of that), then the Eagles could be bound for Indianapolis on February 5.

Dallas Cowboys, 7-9
The Cowboys’ defense should win a few games on its own. But, then, Tony Romo, playing behind a crumbling offensive line, should manage to lose a few as well. Which of those things happens most often will determine on which side of .500 the Cowboys finish.

New York Giants, 5-8
Too many injuries, too much turmoil, and a quarterback who thinks way too highly of himself. It’s gonna be a long season for the New Jersey Blue Jerseys.

Washington Native Americans, 2-6
Rebuilding year. That’s it.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers, 12-15
The defending champs actually managed to improve in the off-season. Not a ton, mind you, but they didn’t really need to improve at all. They looked like champions going into last season (said so right here) and they look like champions again heading into this campaign. The only things I can see derailing the Packers are injury and pure weariness.

Detroit Lions, 9-12
The Lions are for real. I’m pretty sure the last time anyone was able to say that, Barry Sanders was on the team.

Chicago Bears, 3-5
The Bears are thin on both the offensive and defensive lines. Show me the last team that succeeded going into a season with that kind of problem.

Minnesota Vikings, 2-5
At least the Vikings are out from under Brett Favre. So that’s nice, right?

NFC South

New Orleans Saints, 11-13
I’ve been back and forth on whether I think the Saints or Falcons are gonna win the NFC South. And I’m only settling on the Saints because the Falcons won the division last year – so I figure, you know, it’s probably New Orleans’ turn. I think the Saints are a better team than they were a year ago – and they might even be better than they were in 2009. That might not be enough to ensure a win in what I expect to be a season-long battle for this division, but it might.

Atlanta Falcons, 11-13
The Falcons, like the Saints, appear to be a better team than they were a season ago. I’m not convinced the defense is where it needs to be, which will likely prove to be a problem come January, but the offense has added some serious talent. And if the points are there, all the defense will need to do through much of the regular season is protect leads.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 6-10
I want to believe in the Bucs. I really do. But right now I’m only halfway there. Offense. That’s the half I believe in. Defense, I’m gonna have to see for myself.

Carolina Panthers, 3-6
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Cam Newton and all that. It’s still the start of a rebuilding process for the Panthers.

NFC West

St. Louis Rams, 8-10
Either the Rams or the Cardinals are gonna win the NFC West. And lose in the first round of the playoffs. How very exciting for one of them.

Arizona Cardinals, 8-10
I’m not anti Kevin Kolb at all. In fact, given the way things shook out in Philly, I really hope Kolb works out to be a stud. Thing is, I haven’t seen any significant evidence to suggest that he will. I also haven’t seen any real evidence that the Cards can play D. If it turns out Kolb is what the Cards believe, and if Arizona somehow discovers a defense, the team should be able to win the division. If not, it’s another season of mediocrity.

San Francisco 49ers, 4-6
Everything is new in San Francisco. That’s a good start. But not in a year without an off-season.

Seattle Seahawks, 3-5
The Seahawks went and got themselves a new quarterback in the off-season. That should be good practice for the 2012 off-season, when they go looking for yet another. Andrew Luck might just be the guy.


Sure, why not? Because, you know, I totally predict now who’s gonna be playing well in January. Can’t everyone?

1. New England
2. San Diego
3. Houston
4. Baltimore
5. Pittsburgh
6. Kansas City

1. Green Bay
2. Philadelphia
3. New Orleans
4. St. Louis
5. Atlanta
6. Detroit

Wild Card Playoffs

Houston defeats Kansas City
Pittsburgh defeats Baltimore

New Orleans defeats Detroit
Atlanta defeats St. Louis

Divisional Playoffs

San Diego defeats Houston
New England defeats Pittsburgh

Green Bay defeats Atlanta
Philadelphia defeats New Orleans

Conference Championships

New England defeats San Diego

Philadelphia defeats Green Bay

Super Bowl XLVI
New England defeats Philadelphia, 35-17

So there you go. Exactly the way the NFL season won’t go. Now you don’t even have to watch. Lucky you.

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