Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.
Miami at Atlanta (-4)
The Dolphins, last year's surprise AFC East champions, may find the road to a division title a bit more bumpy, what with a healthy Tom Brady in New England, an eager Terrell Owens in Buffalo, and Brett Favre out of New York.
That doesn't mean the 'Fins don't expect to repeat, despite the rigors of the AFC East slate, as well as contests with the Colts, Chargers, Titans, and Steelers, all playoff teams in 2008.
"That's right," said Ricky Williams, from the comfort of his bubble-windowed, 1979 Chevrolet Vantastic, nicknamed the 'Van Wilder,' as Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit' fills the stereo speakers. "We've got goals. There's no reason to believe we can't repeat as champions. Heck, expectations are so high that the 1972 Dolphins are pulling for us to lose.
"One thing is for sure. With Bill Parcell's micro-managing, and Tony Sparano coaching, we will be well-prepared. 'Sparano' may sound a lot like 'Soprano,' but Coach Tony's got no connections to the mafia, or garbage collection. He'll never wake up in bed next to a horse's head, but he does have an office in the stadium next to a horse's ass."
The Falcons and rookie quarterback Matt Ryan tasted success last year, earning a wildcard berth with an 11-5 record. Obviously, the goal this year is to surpass last year's accomplishments, a task that won't be easy in the competitive NFC South.
"We shocked the world last year," says Ryan. "This year, we're the worst-kept secret in the NFL. We're 'out of the closet,' so to speak. Not that there's anything wrong with that."
Last year, the Dolphins found success running the "Wildcat" formation, a ploy which opponents will be expecting this year. To keep opponents guessing, Miami will run the formation less often, but with greater attention to detail, an offensive philosophy Sparano calls "More Pounce For the Ounce."
Ronnie Brown rushes for a score, and Chad Pennington plays mistake-free.
Miami wins, 22-17
Washington at NY Giants (-6½)
In the offseason, Eli Manning signed a $97 million contract extension, making him the highest paid quarterback in the NFL.
Meanwhile, upstate and up the river, Plaxico Burress was sentenced to two years in prison for felony weapons charges stemming from an incident in which he shot himself in a nightclub. Burress was the key to the Giants' big-play offense, and Eli Manning hopes someone will step up to fill that void.
"Obviously, we lost some firepower when Plaxico went rogue," said Manning. "I visited him in the slammer, which really made his day, and it showed. So much so that my first words to him were 'Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?' Luckily, he did have a pistol in his pocket. It was made of soap, though."
When free agency opened this winter, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder did his best "Pacman Jones at a strip club" impression, tossing money at the shapely Albert Haynesworth to the tune of $100 million over seven years. We're all well aware of the appetite of the 350-pound former Titan; it remains to be seen, however, whether Snyder can "eat" $100 million if Haynesworth doesn't return the desired results.
Is rookie wide receiver Hakeem Nicks the answer to the G-Men's need for a big-play receiver? The Giants seem to think so, or maybe it's just wishful thinking, thus Nicks' nickname "The Dream."
More importantly, though, is the return of defensive lineman Osi Umenyiora, who will lead a very good New York defense. And, in New York, defense is key. Why? Because it allows Manning to post stat lines like 9 completions on 21 attempts for 130 yards, a touchdown, and 2 interceptions...and still win.
New York wins a low-scoring affair, 17-13
San Francisco at Arizona (-6½)
Can the Cards rekindle the magic that led them to the cusp of a Super Bowl victory last season? Kurt Warner seems to think so; after flirting with the 49ers, Warner resigned with Arizona.
"Kurt is the key to this team's fortunes," said Larry Fitzgerald. "He's in great shape. You know, Matt Leinart may have utilized mixed martial arts in his training, but Kurt's most famous for his mixed marital arts skills. It's a little-known fact, but Kurt used to be married to a man. Then, all of a sudden, his 'wife' grew her hair, got pretty, and became a woman. It's those kinds of dramatic transformations that make this team special. We went from a middling 8-8 team in 2007 to the Super Bowl last year."
The 49ers and first-round pick Michael Crabtree have remained at an impasse for months in contract talks, with the two sides nowhere near reaching a deal. Crabtree and his agent are demanding a ridiculously lucrative contract, while the 49ers have refused to budge, saying Crabtree's draft position doesn't warrant such a deal.
And speaking of "warrant," Crabtree's cousin and former bail bondsman, David Wells, has been "advising" Crabtree in contract talks.
"There's a difference in 'asking' for money," said 49er backup quarterback Alex Smith, "and 'axin' for money. Clearly, when you bring in a jive-talking, jack-booted, chicken-necked bail bondsman into contract talks, you're 'axin.' What kind of advice can Wells give? Ten percent up front and the rest when Crabtree shows up? It doesn't work like that. Contract negotiation is a game of give and take. When San Fran signed me, they gave me a lot of money, and I took it."
The Cards have their own disgruntled wide receiver in Anquan Boldin. But there's a difference in Boldin and Crabtree—Boldin's in uniform, and he's a pro. Boldin takes advantage of the double- and triple-teams on Fitzgerald, and grabs 10 catches for 125 yards and a score.
Arizona wins, 30-24
St. Louis at Seattle (-7½)
Jim Mora, Jr. takes over for the retired Mike Holmgren in Seattle, and he's not the only new face in town. Seattle acquired free agent wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh in March, then the 'Hawks signed free agent running back Edgerrin James in August. The new additions are expected to make an immediate impact on a Seahawks offense starved for scoring threats.
"Personally, I'm thrilled to have those guys," says Matt Hasselbeck. "T.J.'s a serious red zone threat, plus he's an Oregon State alum. It never hurts to have one more reason to say 'nice beaver.'
"As for the Edge, there was a time when he was the 'gold standard' for running backs. And I'm not talking about dental work. He's led the NFL in rushing before. From what I see in practice, he's still got it. And that includes impeccable timing. He left the Colts and they won the Super Bowl the following year. The Cardinals went to the Super Bowl, and he left the following year. So, it seems the sooner we get rid of him, the sooner we'll return to NFL prominence."
Seahawks win, 31-13
Chicago at Green Bay (-3½)
The outlook for the Bears improved as soon as Jay Cutler arrived from Denver via a trade.
Word around the league is that the unhappy Cutler got out of Denver so fast he got the bends. But upon arrival, and after adjusting to a new time zone and life at sea level, Cutler could not hide his excitement at becoming a Bear.
"I'm not sure what excites me more," said the sleepy-eyed Cutler. "Being a Bear, or not being a Bronco. I'm just happy to be appreciated, although I have no idea what it's like to be appreciative. I am to football what Kanye West is to music. Or maybe I think I am to football what Kanye thinks he is to music."
Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, one year after replacing Brett Favre, will now have to face the former Packer quarterback, at some point this year.
"Twice, if he doesn't retire early," says Rodgers. "Look, I know my one year as Green Bay's starter doesn't even compare to Favre's tenure here. You won't see me using the word 'legendary' in reference to myself. However, I do reserve the right to name my new ice cream shoppe venture the 'Legend Dairy.'
"As for Jay Cutler, I think it's great he's in the NFC North. He'll force defenses to adapt to his style. Myself? I've already adapted to his style. I've developed a dislike for him already."
Cutler and Rodgers could develop a personal rivalry much like Cutler had with Philip Rivers. That is, assuming Rodgers is immature enough to engage in the type of childish rivalry that was Cutler vs Rivers.
Bears win, 30-27
Buffalo @ New England (-10½)
Tom Brady is back under center for the Patriots, and no one is happier about that than Brady himself. After a year spent rehabbing his left knee, as well as catering to every whim of his pregnant wife, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, Brady is healthy and ready to lead the Patriots back to the playoffs.
"Don't hate me because she's beautiful," said Brady. "And don't hate me because I'm 'hussy'-whipped. I'm chomping at the bit to get back on the field. Domestic life has its advantages, but I'd much rather be facing a 240-pound blitzing safety than a 170-pound lactating Brazilian."
The Bills are relatively the same team from last year, with one major addition: Terrell Owens is now a Bill but still a pill. Some may know him as the most dominating force in football. Still others, like 49ers, Eagles, and Cowboys, may know him as the one player whose skills at disrupting a secondary are topped only by his skills at disrupting an entire team.
"To say Terrell is a good teammate is like saying Marshawn Lynch is a good driver," said head coach Dick Jauron. "But don't worry, before signing him, we did a thorough background check, including academic records, where we discovered that T.O. failed chemistry in high school and college. After processing all the information gathered, we decided to ignore it and sign him anyway. I got a little reminiscent, because it reminded me of the Bills process in hiring me back in 2006."
The Bills will throw a lot to Owens, because they'll have to, especially after falling behind 14-0. The Pats suffer a scare early in the third quarter when Brady goes down without being hit. He remains on the ground for 10 minutes before the training staff determines that it was simply a contraction.
New England wins, 34-17
San Diego at Oakland (+9)
Oakland Raiders lore is replete with defining moments, including three Super Bowls, head-hunting defensive backs, the "Fumblerooski," non-consensual sex, stickum, mickey-slipping, amoral kickers, Ray Guy, owner ignorance, the "tuck rule," and outrageous contracts, to name a few. The instances of fame and those of infamy are practically equal.
That is, until July, when head coach Tom Cable slugged assistant coach Randy Hanson, thereby tipping the scales toward "infamy."
"This is a dark moment for this franchise," says Al Davis, lying in a vat of age cream, which, much like being a fan of the Raiders, takes years off your life. "Frankly, I'm shocked that this happened. Not that someone got punched, but shocked that it wasn't me that got punched."
Now, the Chargers aren't immune to unlawful acts of physical violence. Last week, star linebacker Shawne Merriman was arrested on charges of choking and restraining his girlfriend, reality icon Tila Tequila, star of MTV's A Shot of Love With Tila Tequila.
"Shawne's no stranger to off-the-field troubles," says Norv Turner. "It's a tough situation. Who do you believe? The vacuous, talent-deprived reality star, or the temperamental linebacker who's been suspended for using a banned substance? Stories indicate that Shawne was just trying to keep Ms. Tequila from driving home intoxicated. I think, eventually, the truth will come out is some type of out-of-court settlement."
San Diego wins, 27-14
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