Why is Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin's picture featured here? Because I couldn't get one of Big Ben. And even if I could, the picture would have nothing to do with my final day of the preseason predictions for divisional placement. It's just that the Steelers won the Super Bowl. I'm not saying they will repeat.
But the final day before the season starts with the Steelers-Titans is the best day to make "preseason predictions" because we now have all the information necessary to at least justify the goofy predictions we will make. We all know that no matter where we place teams, our placements will mostly be wrong. But we do it anyway.
I will now, starting with my beloved AFC East, make my predictions with a brief explanation.
AFC East: 1. Patriots 2. Dolphins* 3. Jets 4. Bills
Certainly, I believe the Fins have the ability and talent and coaching to repeat winning the division, hard schedule, Brady's return, or not. But as I've said in other articles, this is the Patriots last shot at winning the division and going to the Super Bowl for a while, plus they believe the division was "stolen" from them last year.
Actually, there is very little difference in the Pats and Fins schedules: while the Fins have the Steelers and Chargers (whom they almost always beat), the Pats have the Ravens and Broncos. I like the Fins chances against the Steelers better than I do the Pats chances against the Ravens, quite frankly.
But if either one falters, expect the Jets to take advantage. In any other division (except the AFC North) the Jets could land a wild-card spot.
Further, until Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez can prove to me that they are legit, I can't place the Jets higher than third. Forget it, Bills...spending that money on a prima dona receiver while trading your best offensive lineman just because profit is all you guys care about while you all decide whether you are staying in Buffalo, is no way to make the playoffs after ten years of missing them.
Ralph Wilson's crew is NOT serious!
AFC North: 1. Steelers 2. Ravens* 3. Bengals 4. Browns
Just like last year! Really bold, this prediction! But anyway, it comes down to trusting the Steeler D over the Ravens O. The Bengals can surprise only if Palmer stays healthy.
Since we still don't know who Mangini will chose as the Browns QB, this prediction of the Browns for last place might be off...NOT! The Browns might surprise this year, but will still finish last, IMHO.
AFC South: 1. Colts 2. Titans 3. Jaguars 4. Texans
As with the Pats, the Colts have one more shot at going back to the Super Bowl before age finally catches up with Peyton (as it will with Brady). Plus, they continue to fill vacant spots with good talent, thanks to Polian. I'm picking the Titans to push them the most because Jeff Fisher is a better coach than either Del Rio or Kubiak.
I'm picking the Jags over the Texans (who have been given too much love by the pundits, I think) because at least the Jags will have a better defense. The Texans won't, and if Schaub gets hurt again, it'll be 7-9 or worse again for the Houstonites.
AFC West: 1. Chargers 2. Raiders 3. Chiefs 4. Broncos
The Chargers win by default. The Raiders will surprise everyone, but they still aren't very good (this pick is NOT based on the Seymour trade!), but they are scrappy. The Chiefs might surprise, but they are still a couple of drafts by Pioli away from playoff status.
I can't imagine ruining a playoff-calibre team quite so well as McDaniels has managed to screw the Bronocs, but their defense should be better at least...and they better be because they'll be on the field a lot.
NFC East: 1. Eagles 2. Giants* 3. Redskins 4. Cowboys
Eagles over Giants just because it appears Giants have had one too many injuries and controversies lately (plus I have a funny feeling they are going to regret cutting Tyree), and Redskins over Cowboys because at least the Skins haven't made any stupid moves yet (in fact it looks as if getting Haynesworth was worth it after all), and because the Pokes deserve last place since they are screwing everyone with their stupid scoreboard BS.
Romo is the most over-rated QB maybe in NFL history!
NFC North: 1. Packers 2. Vikings 3. Bears 4. Lions
Hah! I simply cannot get on the Favre bandwagon, and Aaron Rodgers is a better QB, period. I know the Vikes D will be outstanding, but they are going to have to be, what with Mr. Interception leading their team.
Further, I am not on the Jay Cutler bandwagon, either. Overall, the Packers have shown me more than either the Vikes or Bears. But I could be wrong. The Lions will win a few games this year, but anyone expecting them to be the 2009 version of the 2008 Dolphins refuses to see that the Lions may have cleaned out players, but have not done the requisite front office house cleaning.
When they get their Bill Parcells, let me know.
NFC South: 1. Saints 2. Falcons 3. Bucs 4. Panthers
This is mostly based on the tried and true NFC South formula...last to first and first to last. I guess too the Saints were way impressive during preseason.
Of course, the Falcons are good enough to win the division (and should become an elite team in the next decade—them and the Dolphins...the south will rise again!), but I am not yet sold on their defense.
The Bucs could easily be last and the Panthers much better than what I have them here. But the Panthers have this weird up-and-down tendency, and this could be another down year.
NFC West: 1. Cardinals 2. Seahawks* 3. 49ers 4. Rams
I'm giving Warner and his travelling wide receiver show another shot at first only because I am not yet convinced the Seahawks can overtake them, but Hasselbeck, TJ and the rest could if Wisenhunt's crew gets overconfident in a division that is still a bit weak.
The Niners could (as they always seem to, surprise and be spoiler) finish second, but is Shaun Hill for real? I don't think the Rams cleaned house enough, and, I don't trust Mark Bulger to do much other than hand off to Steve Jackson.
* denotes wild card teams.