On the eve of the NFL season expectations for team (via the fans/players/media) are always high (except in Oakland, Denver and possibly Detroit). Fans are breaking out their team jerseys, blankets, grills and "beverage" hats. Every fan has their thoughts on who will win each division, conference and of course the Super Bowl, and I am no different.
Here are my division picks. I used a highly secretive and dangerous mathematical equation to come up with these "you can put it on the board" picks. Not really, just some common sense mixed with a very big ego (or so i've been told) and a belief I know a little something when it comes to sports.
I think the Dolphins have that special quality teams need to be succesful and that starts at the top with their head coach Tony Sparano and of course Bill Parcells. Chad Pennington knows how to win a game and more importantly not lose one. The Patriots are everyone's favorite, but I question their running game and offensive line. Tom Brady will be Tom Brady, but throw for 50 touchdowns.
I really like the Jets, especially with Mark Sanchez and think they will be a nine win team and will make noise early, but fade late. The Bills have the potential to be really good, but the problem isn't Terrell Owens, it's Dick Jauron. Until they get a new head coach, the Bills will be in trouble.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the class of the division, maybe the class of the AFC and have done nothing to change that thought since they raised the Vince Lombardi trophy last February. The Bengals have the potential to have a very good offense and an athletic defense. Carson Palmer, Chad OchoCinco and Chris Henry could put up huge numbers.
The Baltimore Ravens again are led by Ray Lewis and a defense that will make plays and swarm to the ball. The loss of Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard and Rex Ryan (all to the Jets) will hurt. The Browns have a new coach in Eric Mangini but lack the talent to make too much noise this season.
The Colts will be the class of this division this year, but the retirement of Tony Dungy, Tom Moore and Howard Mudd will bring the rest of the division closer to Peyton Manning and company. Houston has quietly built a very solid defense led by Mario Williams and DeMarco Ryans and with the offense led by Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton they could challenge the Colts sooner than people think.
The Titans will always be a team to contend with because Jeff Fisher is a great coach. But one has to question if Kerry Collins can reclaim the magic he had last year and how will the loss of Albert Haynesworth effect the defense? The Jags are a team that needs another playmaker other than Maurice Jones-Drew. David Garrard has to show he is the man there otherwise he and head coach Jack Del Rio will be looking for a new home next year.
The Chargers are the best team in this division by far. Phillip Rivers was rewarded with a nice new contract after two years in which he showed toughness, leadership and the ability to take pressure off the running game. Even with LaDanian Tomlinson having a sub-par year, the Chargers offense will be balanced and the defense will welcome back Shawn Merriman.
The Raiders are a team that has talent with Darren McFadden, Kirk Morrison, Thomas Howard, Zach Miller and JaMarcus Russell but have to put it together. When I started my predictions I said with the Dolphins it starts at the top, and with the Raiders the same can be said, except the opposite. The Chiefs and Broncos are re-building, with the Chiefs being closer to winning than the Broncos.
I think this division is a lot closer than people think. The Eagles have a lot of play makers on the offensive side of the ball, but they also lost a leader on defense in Brian Dawkins and the architect behind that defense, Jim Johnson. It will be interesting to see how Michael Vick will be used and how Donovan McNabb will react. The Giants added some depth to their defense but the question remains, who will be the number one target for Eli Manning?
The Cowboys have a brand new stadium but they also have the same questions that plagued them last year and some new ones. Can Tony Romo win after November 30th? Will Wade Phillips be back as the head coach? Is Roy Williams a true number one wide receiver and can they re-sign DeMarcus Ware? The Redskins spent a ton in free agency (what else is new right?) but will it translate onto the field? Not this season and look for a coaching change.
The Packers are the most complete team top to bottom in this division, maybe the NFC. Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings lead a loaded offense that is four deep at wide receiver. Maybe the best offseason addition in the NFL was Dom Capers becoming the Packers new defensive coordinator and installing his 3-4 defense. The Bears paid a kings ransom for Jay Cutler. They now have the quarterback who along with their defense, feel can lead them back to the Super Bowl. But the question remains who will be catching the ball from Cutler?
The Vikings added a 40-year-old Brett Favre to "solve" their quarterback issues. That would be great if it was 1999 not 2009. Favre is on the downside of his career and said today that he doesn't think he can play all 16 games. If the Vikings miss the playoffs head coach Brad Childress will be joining Favre mowing his lawn in Hattiesburg, Miss next spring. The Lions will not go winless again this year. They have enough talent to win at least six games. Calvin Johnson is the best wide receiver in the NFL except no one pays attention because he is playing for Detroit.
The Falcons have a budding star in Matt Ryan who, along with Michael Turner and Roddy White, welcome Tony Gonzalez to an already explosive offense. The Falcons defense wants to do a better job stopping the run and put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Panthers have a great one two punch with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart as the running backs and Steve Smith returns as the main wideout. Julius Peppers is not happy that he got franchised but signed the $16 million dollar contract anyway is looking to leave after the season.
The Saints have Drew Brees throwing the ball to anyone who can catch it. Marcus Colston, Lance Moore, Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas are the Saints main weapons on offense but they need tight end Jeremy Shockey to live up to his reputation. The Saints added Darren Sharper and Malcom Jenkins (via the draft) to new defensive coordinator Gary Williams attack style defense. The Bucs have a new coach, new attitude and a lot of new faces. They will not run the "Tampa 2" defense and instead will rely on smaller linebackers and bigger defensive tackles.
St. Louis Rams
The Cardinals have one of the best passing offenses in the NFL. The question is can they run the ball? They have Tim Hightower and rookie Beanie Wells ready to try and answer that question. Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston each caught over 1,000 yards and Kurt Warner had an MVP caliber season, but Warner is a year older and coming off hip surgery. The defense will play a hybrid 3-4 and looks to build off a strong postseason showing.
The 49ers will be a team to watch. Mike Singletary will make sure they play hard until the final whistle. They have quarterback issues (still) and still need to sign their number one pick Michael Crabtree, but the defense is led by the best inside backer in the NFL (Patrick Willis) and will hit you in the mouth. If the Seahawks can stay healthy they will make some noise in this division as well. The Rams are rebuilding and have a long way to go before they can contend, even in the weak NFC West.
Super Bowl Prediction:
Green Bay over San Diego
Sports ran-Dumb Thoughts:
Derek Jeter is the A.L. MVP for the 2009 season. What more can this guy do? He has played much better defense then people give him credit for and captains the AL's best team (record wise). He just tied Lou Gehrig's all-time Yankee hits record and has been nothing but the definition of class (on and off the field) since he has been in the major leagues.
The question was asked this week where does he stand in regards to the all-time great Yankees? I say fith behind Ruth, DiMaggio, Gehrig and Mantle.
The N.L. MVP is Albert Pujols. He is the best player in the game and the best hitter I have ever seen. He is also in the "Derek Jeter" mold of classy and a player you would be proud to have your kids look up to.
USC's Freshman quarterback Matt Barkely more than lived up to his billing against San Jose St. This week USC travels to Ohio St. and will play in front of 100,000 people (including close to 10 five star recruits) and for some reason I dont think Barkley will bat an eye. This kid will win a Heisman before he leaves USC and most likely a NCAA National Title.
Michael Jordan should have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame by himself. He globalized the sport on his way to six NBA titles. I miss watching him play and I am looking forward to hearing his speech.
Thanks for taking the time to hang out in my locker room and remember, what happens in the locker room, stays in the locker room!
E-mail Joe @ firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit his blog site: http://joeslockerroom.wordpress.com