It has been a long off-season (and an even longer time since I have written an article), but the time of year (and unemployment) have given me this opportunity to extol my football knowledge to the masses. If you are unfamiliar with my work, and you probably are, I will enlighten you…
My name is Steve, and I’m pretty good at picking which teams will win football games. In my endless amounts of free time, I do nothing but watch football games and highlights, read football stories and stats, play football video games, and, apparently, write football columns, or at least attempt to. Through my extensive research of, experience with, and mad obsession over the greatest sport of our age, I shall do my best each week to get you to the top of that office pool while entertaining you with my witty comments.
Enough about what I do and on with the picking.
Last season was perhaps one of the craziest seasons I’ve seen in my years as a football fanatic. Tennessee was good without McNair and New England was only fair without Brady. The Vikings led their division, while the Colts didn’t. The Dolphins rose from despondency to AFC East leader, while Dallas was left without even so much as a Wild Card spot. The Arizona Cardinals (that’s right, I’m not making this up) went to the Super Bowl, while Detroit was, well, they were in Detroit.
All this makes this season’s first week of games all the harder to predict. Great players have returned, but can their presence displace those teams who filled the ranks while they were gone? Other greats have retired, or been traded (to Oakland? eww), come out of retirement (again), or just not even signed a contract to show up at 49ers camp, MICHAEL CRABTREE. But I digress. You don’t care what I think about prima donna wide receivers and their self-indulgence. What you do care about, is winning. And that’s exactly what I want to talk about.
Thursday, 8:30 PM EST
Tennessee Titans @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Oh, the memories of “terrible” towels being hilariously stepped and danced on only to have that hilarity come back double in a disappointing playoff game against a rookie quarterback wearing a purple uniform. Karma. But does stepping on the towel have the same effect as breaking a mirror? Tennessee was the AFC top dog at the end of the regular season last year only to be unhorsed by a team that’s named after a poem. Where was that Music City Miracle when you really needed it? Needless to say, Tennessee is missing Albert Haynesworth, and is still unsure of the placement of infamous mama’s boy Vince Young.
Though they can expect their linebackers to play well, the loss on the D-Line will be sorely missed. The Steelers, however, have almost all the same people as they did at their Super Bowl party, including (Madden-cursed) Troy Polamalu. Seriously, why do people still agree to be on that thing? Big Ben is as big as ever, especially after proving he was better than someone who never played football before on national television. Needless to say, Pittsburgh looks as good as ever, and Tennessee doesn’t look that bad. In fact, the first game of the new season may turn out to be one of the closest games of the year. But who has more Super Bowl XLIII rings? Be on the lookout for amazing games from Polamalu and linebacker Lawrence Timmons (taking the place of Larry Foote). The Pittsburgh D is in championship form and looking to make an unsure Tennessee offense flounder.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST
Miami Dolphins @ Atlanta Falcons
This is going to be another close one, folks. Both of these teams went to the playoffs last year after showing vast, vast, improvement from the year before. It will be interesting to see which one of them can keep it up this year, and this game will be the litmus test in a round of…chemical testing. Will Matt Ryan be a great quarterback or the greatest quarterback, as ESPN, NFL Network, and Sports Illustrated have already dubbed him? He’s a veteran now, and that makes all the difference in a young offense.
And don’t forget Michael Turner, spurned by the San Diego Chargers only to be one of the best rushers of the 2008 season. Plus, they acquired Tony Gonzalez, one of the best tight ends of all time, making their offense all but unstoppable. Miami was good last year because, for once, they had a good quarterback whose name didn’t rhyme with San Marino, a small country on the Italian peninsula. In fact, Chad Pennington was, statistically, one of the best QBs of all last season. The only other thing Miami had going for it, however, was the Wild Cat offense. Well, guess what every defense around the league has been practicing to stop. Did you say the Wild Cat? You did say the Wild Cat, didn’t you? The one trick pony just died like Plaxico Burress’s hopes of never going to jail. Miami’s new free safety, Gibril Wilson, is looking to help improve the team’s pass defense, but just hitting Tony Gonzalez won’t be enough to bring him down…or stop Atlanta’s drive to victory.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens
his one should be a laugher. The Ravens are coming off one of the most surprising seasons in their history and a 4-0 preseason. They beefed up their run game by putting Ray Rice in the No. 1 slot, and last year’s rookie wunderkind, Joe Flacco, is now a veteran gunslinger. Also, they have a pro-bowl center in new acquisition Matt Birk and perhaps the greatest rookie right tackle in Michael Oher. And on top of all that, they have Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and a healthy Terrell Suggs (now playing mostly in the defensive end position) which makes their defense all but unbeatable. Kansas City, your only hope (Matt Cassel) just broke his knee and then you fired the only man keeping you afloat. Next, you’re going to tell me you fired Herm Edwards. You did? You’re doomed.
P.S. The Ravens are stupid if they don’t pick up David Tyree.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers were able to do as well as they did last year because they never played anyone good. When they finally met a good team in the Arizona Cardinals during the worst birthday Jake Delhomme ever had, they stunk out loud. Jake needs to hope DeAngelo Williams, Steve Smith, and Mushin Muhammad are invincible, as their health will determine the outcome of the Panthers’ season. The Eagles only ever seem to prove themselves more worthy than ever of winning the “Always a Super Bowl Bridesmaid, Never a Bride” Award. Someday, Philly, you’ll grow up and have a ring like the big kids.
Seriously though, you guys might actually get a chance this year, what with a healthy McNabb, an always impressive Brian Westbrook, and picking up Michael Vick? Your offense is gearing up to be named best in the league. Let’s just hope no one ever catches on to Andy Reid’s bear-baiting ring.
Denver Broncos @ Cincinnati Bengals
Oh wow, a “Who’s the Worst Team in the AFC” game the first week? That’s just unheard of. Though I’m always inclined to say Cincinnati will be the most terrible, at least they have a good quarterback, and receivers that don’t pretend they’re 8…or 5. If you’re smart you'll let Cedric Benson take all the carries. If Chris Henry can keep his nose clean between now and Sunday, Carson Palmer will have no trouble dissecting the John Lynch-less Denver defense. Okay, so maybe Kyle Orton is a good quarterback, and sure, he has Jabar Gaffney to throw to, but Denver is falling apart as I write this. Their one ray of hope is Brian Dawkins, recently traded from the Philadelphia Eagles, but he can’t do everything himself, can he?
Minnesota Vikings @ Cleveland Browns
Favre. Enough said. Want more? It’s the Browns we’re talking about here. Their coach only got ahead by resting on the laurels of those who came before him and then stealing everything that wasn’t bolted down on his way out the door. Also, who is Cleveland’s starting QB? You don’t know either? That’s what I thought. Listen, with Favre, Minnesota actually has a chance to pass the ball, well.
Add that to Adrian Peterson’s freakish ability to run it and you have one hell of a potent offense. Plus, they still have Jared Allen at defensive end, and that’s enough to make any quarterback wet himself. The Browns are dysfunctional, led by a coach who has no ethics, and they still don’t know who is going to be calling the shots on the field, Derek Anderson or Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Not that either choice is exceedingly appealing.
New York Jets @ Houston Texans
Rex Ryan, please shut up. Everyone knows, if you’re considered a genius as a coordinator, then that part of the team you eventually coach will fail. Bryan Billick was an offensive genius for the Minnesota Vikings. During his tenure with the Ravens, they had no offense. Marvin Lewis, a defensive genius for the Ravens, now has no defense with the Bengals. So, that means that, Rex Ryan, yet another Ravens defensive genius, will have no defense with the Jets. Just in time to go up against one the most consistent quarterbacks in the league (Matt Schaub) who has nothing to lose and everything to prove with a receiving corps that the Jets only wish they had. Woo hoo, so you have Mark Sanchez. He only played one season at USC, which makes him overrated. Jericho Cotchery and Chansi Stuckey have proven to be randomly explosive and then randomly detrimental.
And you have two good defenders, Bart Scott (inside linebacker) and Jim Leonhard (saftey). Scott is no Ray Lewis, and Leonhard, though great, is not Ed Reed. The Texans have Matt Schaub throwing, Steve Slaton running, and Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter catching (and let’s not forget the always dependable Owen Daniels at tight end). That offense is amazing. That and they have Mario Williams and a newly acquired Cato June. Looks like someone is ready for their first playoff appearance.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Indianapolis Colts
Really, is this a question? The Jags went 5-11 last year. And now Maurice Jones-Drew’s health has come into question? Kiss your run game goodbye, and that was the only thing you could count on. So, maybe you have Tory Holt, and I hope he works out for you, I really do. It’s just that, as I look over your depth chart, I don’t recognize a single name in your O-line, or your entire defense.
I feel sorry for David Garrard, one of the most underrated QBs in the league, and Jack Del Rio, the league’s most forgotten coach, but you did get rid of Fred Taylor for seemingly no reason. And this is the Colts we’re talking about. They have Dallas Clark, and Reggie Wayne, and PEYTON MANNING!!! MANNING SMASH!!! They also have four-ring kicker Adam Vinateri, one of the league’s best rushers in Joseph Addai, and perhaps the best center ever in Jeff Saturday. And don’t forget, Dwight Freeney will crush you if you stay in the pocket even a millisecond too long.
Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints
Please. So what if you have Larry Foote and Matthew Stafford? You’re the Lions. If you weren’t terrible the Earth would crack in half. Besides, the Saints might actually have a defense this year. Plus, they have Drew Brees, and Reggie Bush, and Marques Colston, and Jeremy Shockey. And I think it goes without saying that any defense can stop the Lions.
Winner: New Orleans
Dallas Cowboys @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Karma, karma, karma. Tampa fired John Gruden for no reason and then let one of the best, most experienced quarterbacks slip into the depths of free agency, only to be signed by, ugh, the Raiders, and replaced him with a back up’s back up? The only thing the Bucs’ offense has going for it is having players named after T.V. shows and movies (Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle and Michael Clayton at wide receiver). Ooh, Kellen Winslow. He was so good he had…three touchdowns last year. They deserve to lose.
Sunday, 4:30 PM EST
San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals
As much as I want the best for Mike Singletary, there’s just no way his team, in the midst of rebuilding, can beat the NFC Champions. At least not with Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquon Boldin still there. Although they could try to exploit that Madden double-curse, the 49ers defense still needs vast improvement, and the only half-decent player on their offense is Frank Gore. Seriously, the best player they have on their whole team is Mike Singletary, and he’s not allowed to do anything but moon the rest of the guys. The Cardinals have a much better defense than last year and the same hot offense. Look out.
Washington First Americans @ New York Giants
I figured no one would notice if I gave one of the most disappointing teams in recent memory a more politically correct name. Maybe it will be good luck, out from under the weight of the Curse of the ACLU. But seriously, they still have Jason Campbell as their quarterback. That’s like having JaMarcus Russell as your quarterback when you had a chance to use Jeff Garcia. Wait, a team did that? Well, they’re done. Besides, the Giants have a Manning. That’s right, a Manning. That’s like having nuclear weapons when your enemy’s buildings are made of paper. Let’s face it, Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El are great receivers, but if you have no one throwing to them, they’re just wasted. Washington also has Clinton Portis, an amazing running back, but with no offensive line, he won’t go anywhere. At least, not against a Giant D.
Winner: New York Giants
St. Louis Rams @ Seattle Seahawks
Apparently, Seattle is going to be good. Or, so I’m told. They have Jim Mora, Jr. coaching. That’s a good start. They have a healthy, Matt Hasselbeck to throw (and whine) better than ever. They picked up amazing possession receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the off-season. Plus, they still have Nate Buleson and Julius Jones, and their defense will be consistent with Marcus Trufant and Lofa Tatupu. The Rams, however, picked up Kyle Boller to play when Marc Bulger hurts his pinky finger. Now, I actually like Boller, and I think he got a raw deal in Baltimore, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Not with those trainers, anyway.
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST
Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers
Two teams destined to be better than last year. They have to be, don’t they? Chicago has a quarterback, and Green Bay had a distraction-free camp. Green Bay just looks all-around better. And by better, I mean they look awesome. Look for Ryan Grant to have a massive game, and a massive season, and for a seasoned Aaron Rodgers to throw like his old mentor to Donald Lee and Donald Driver. Look for the Packer defense to crush with their big secondary and even bigger linebacker corps. Jay Cutler might be good, but he doesn’t have anyone to throw the ball to. And, is it possible to stop a Packer offense when you only have one good defensive player (Brian Urlacher)?
Winner: Green Bay
Monday, 7:00 PM EST
Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots
This is your first game, Bills? Good luck, sincerely. Here’s some Discrete Math for you. If “A,” then “B.” In your case, if “the Pats have a healthy Brady,” then “give up now.” The Patriots have all the ingredients to make it to the Super Bowl this year, including the best quarterback under age 38, Tom Brady. Tom Brady still has Randy Moss and Wes Welker, both of whom only ever seem to get better and better. Their defense is a bit in shambles, but it’s more a “changing of the guard” than a “get the hell out of Dodge.” The Bills have Trent Edwards, a worthy QB, but his only weapon is T.O., the most annoying player in history. Owens is a great receiver, no one can deny that, but is the off-the-field cost worth the on-the-field reward? On top of that, Edwards still has no line to speak of, and the Bills defense is still deplorable, so it’s your best bet to bet against them.
Winner: New England
Monday, 10:15 PM EST
San Diego Chargers @ Oakland Raiders
I think I’ve dropped enough hints along the way to let you know that the Oakland Raiders will be this year’s “2008 Lions.” They fired their offensive coordinator just as everyone was learning the plays, their coach beat someone up, and they’re using the most overrated, untalented quarterback I’ve ever seen instead of Jeff Garcia, one of the most talented quarterbacks I’ve ever seen. Fare thee well, losers. Not that I think San Diego is going to be good this season. Their only hope on defense just got arrested for choking out Tila Tequila. Maybe he can get some advice on dodging the bullet from Ray Lewis and Ben Roethlisberger. I wouldn’t ask Plaxico Burress though.
Winner: San Diego
Maybe, when the glorious time comes, when everyone has their wits about them again, the NFL will be at equilibrium with the universe and all will be well in the world. In the mean time, all we can do is sit back and pick who will win the games, and which 49er wide receiver draftee will remain without a paycheck becasue they're greedy, MICHAEL CRABTREE.
By the way, at the end of each article, I’m picking which teams, based on past performances and future prospects, will be in the Super Bowl this year. As of right now, New England Patriots v. Green Bay Packers looks to be the most sure thing, with New England coming out on top of another close one. Then Tom Brady will have four rings and he can retire...at 32.
Stephen Bands is a shiftless bum and has been ever since he bought an $80,000 piece of paper that said he had graduated from UMBC—the #4 ranked public university in the nation, tied with Stanford and just behind Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth—with a Bachelor of Science degree. He should’ve just gone to ITT Tech.