Fall means the end of warm weather (and it wasn’t even warm this year in Southern Wisconsin—once again, global warming has let me down), the end of swimming (the only exercise I enjoy, although I’m not sure if taunting my son with threats of getting dunked counts as exercise), and the end of Big Brother (it is so depressing that Natalie is not only still there but is the current HOH, that it makes me want to tear off my shirt a la Jessie in disgust, only resisting out of fear of pulling my rotator cuff).
Perhaps worst of all, the start of fall brings about my birthday, which grows more and more depressing every year. It’s one thing to get old—after all, it’s sort of inescapable—but it’s another thing to be old and not be able to afford to have a mid-life crisis. I’d like to do the Vegas thing, but on my budget, I’d be lucky to do the Dubuque thing.
How old am I? Old enough that when it came time for the Red Robin staff to sing to me over the weekend—I hate telling anyone it's my birthday, but it's the only way to get that free desert—our waitress first announced to the other, highly disinterested patrons, that "Jeff is turning 21 today!" because ha, ha, I'm obviously so decrepit that just suggesting that I'm merely 21 is a laugh riot. I fumed until they brought me my free birthday sundae, which lightened my mood considerably.
What saves me from contacting Michael Jackson’s Propofal hookup every Autumn is football.
God, how I love football.
Not as much as my dog loves to lick himself in the middle of the night, keeping my wife and I awake in the process, but still quite a bit.
So here are my fearless predictions for 2009. I hope to do better than last year, when I predicted New England and Dallas would meet in the Super Bowl. Last I checked, neither team even made the playoffs.
Remember when Saturday Night Live had that all-star season back in 84-85 with a cast that included Billy Crystal, Martin Short, and Christopher Guest?
Remember that the nearly-talentless Gary Kroeger was also in that cast? Well, Kroeger got no respect.
Similarly, the NFC North has received little respect in the last few years.
Either all of the teams have been bad-to-mediocre or one team has towered over the rest.
This year, I like the Packers, Vikings, and Bears all to finish with very strong records. The Bears and particularly the Packers should have better defenses, and the Bears and Vikings (with some fly-by-night dude whose name eludes me at QB) will have much improved quarterback play.
And hey, the Lions might even find a way to win a game!
In the end, I like the Bears to squeak out a division title. They’ve got the easiest schedule of all NFL teams (closely followed by the Vikings and Packers), Jay Cutler has a chance to be the best Bears QB in memory, and Matt Forte is a stud running back.
Last year the NFC East was arguably the best division in football, with no team finishing worse than .500. But every team has nagging questions coming into the 2009 campaign, none more so than Philadelphia: How will Michael Vick fit in? How much will the death of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson hurt? And can Brian Westbrook stay healthy?
Fortunately for the Eagles, they remain the best team in the division, particularly after the Giants’ Plaxico Burress got sent to jail and the Cowboys sent Terrell Owens to the NFL’s equivalent of Siberia, the Buffalo Bills. Say what you want about both men, but their play made their teams better. With the Redskins about as threatening as the cast of iCarly, look for the Eagles to take the division.
This is an interesting division. Again, a year ago, no team finished worse than .500, and that team was the loaded-with-talent New Orleans Saints. Defense was the problem in 2008 with the Saints and will continue to be so in 2009.
Although I like Atlanta’s trio of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, and Roddy White, not to mention their offseason acquisition of Pro Bowl TE Tony Gonzalez, the team has never posted back-to-back winning seasons, and I’m not looking to bet against a 43-year-old streak. And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be the biggest mess in the NFC.
That leaves the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers, who looked so horrible in last year’s playoff loss to the Falcons. The Panthers, led by the always-mediocre Jake Delhomme. The Panthers, who went 0-4 in the 2009 preseason. The Panthers, who have DeAngelo Williams and Steve Smith. Yes, the Panthers.
Now here’s a bad division. Seattle, if Matt Hasselbeck can stay healthy, should be better. San Francisco could emerge, but just like HD Radio, people have been talking about it for years and it has yet to happen (the 49ers do have the most entertaining head coach in the league in Mike Singletary, so they’ve got that going for them). Look for Arizona to repeat. Easily, if 50-year-old Kurt Warner stays upright.
Back in 1992, I took in my first and only Lollapalooza concert. The main stage featured great acts like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam. The side stage featured acts like The Vulgar Boatmen and Sweaty Nipples.
The AFC Central is like the 1992 Lollapalooza lineup. Baltimore and Pittsburgh represent the main acts, while Cincinnati and Cleveland represent the side stage disasters.
I think Pittsburgh, especially if their offensive line can protect Ben Roethlisberger and if Big Ben can focus on football in the face of off-field distractions, looks like the team to beat in the AFC.
As for Cleveland and Cincinnati? Ohio should be thankful they can lay claim to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, into which I believe Sweaty Nipples are due to be inducted in 2017.
Perhaps no division will be more closely watched than the AFC East. Does the return of Tom Brady make the Patriots the best team in the league again? Can Terrell Owens save the Bills from irrelevance? Can the Jets’ Mark Sanchez become this year’s Joe Flacco or Matt Ryan? Can last year’s surprise team, the Miami Dolphins, repeat as AFC East champions?
I said it today when my daughter tried to draw Elmo on the living room wall and I’ll say it in response to those four questions: “No, no, no, no!” But I wouldn’t bet against Tom Brady taking the Patriots on another deep playoff run.
The only interest I have in this division is for fantasy purposes: In my fantasy draft, I let elite quarterbacks go (you know you’re in Wisconsin when Aaron Rodgers goes second. Not in the second round or second among quarterbacks, but second overall) and got stuck with Jacksonville’s David Garrard, a scary thought considering he’s throwing to the washed-up Torry Holt and the awful Troy Williamson.
I also took a flyer on Colts rookie running back Donald Brown, whom I like, particularly if Joseph Addai gets injured again, which appears about as likely to happen as Kevin winning Big Brother 11 (by which I mean very likely). And I have the Titans defense, which has been solid, if unspectacular. (I never take a defense until I absolutely have to.)
Oh, in reality? The Titans will repeat as division champs.
Last but not least, the AFC West. Oh, wait, I meant “last AND least.” Thanks to Denver’s inevitable collapse, San Diego should finish much stronger than last year’s 8-8 record. Oakland might be an interesting sleeper in much the same way that the CW’s revamped Melrose Place might win a Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting. Kansas City could be almost as bad as Denver. Which will be bad.
Wild cards: Minnesota and Indianapolis.
Conference champions: Chicago and Pittsburgh.