I am an NFL addict. And no, addict is not too strong a word. You should see me during the offseason. I watch the NFL Network with the same intensity of a man who watches the home videos he made with the ex-girlfriend who just broke up with him. I go through withdrawal symptoms like night sweats, body aches, and visions of Clinton Portis dancing in my head. I basically turn into Pookie from New Jack City.
And I use every opportunity to talk like Peter King, even when I'm watching Dancing With The Stars with my 70-year-old grandmother.
"OK Grandma. Here's the three things you need to know about Shawn Johnson. She's the best athlete in the history of the show. She's an Olympic gold medalist so the pressure won't bother her. And her cha-cha-cha to Michael Jackson's P.Y.T. is one of the best dances of the season."
"That's nice Keith. Now when the commercials come on I want you to help your grandma find her dentures. I've lost my dang teeth again!!"
Now that the greatest sport in America is back, I can gladly get my weekly fix.
And without further ado, here's my 10 bold predictions for the upcoming season.
The Washington Redskins will miss the playoffs and Jim Zorn will be fired at the end of the season.
As a Redskin fan, I have to mention my team first. After watching last night's game, and seeing Ben Roethlisberger break the all-time record for most pump fakes, I'm convinced the addition of Albert Haynesworth will give us the pass rush we desperately need. Big Ben had all the time in the world to throw the ball last night because Tennessee couldn't get near him.
Now that we have Haynesworth occupying so much space, Phillip Daniels, Andre Carter, and our electrifying rookie Brian Orakpo should be able to get considerable pressure on the quarterback. I love our defense and I expect it to, once again, be amongst the league's best.
But our biggest problems will come from the other side of the ball. Last season the Redskins were the fourth worst scoring team in the league (16.6). Did we improve in the offseason? No. We still don't have a proven No. 2 receiver. Our offensive line has more mileage than a 1967 Chevy. I'm afraid our infinitely likable quarterback (Jason Campbell) will be running for his life like one of those kids in the new Rob Zombie Halloween movie. It doesn't help that we play in the brutal NFC East and that we play the toughest second-half schedule that we've had in years.
I predict an 8-8 season resulting in team owner Dan Snyder firing Jim Zorn and signing Mike Shanahan to the richest coaching contract in NFL history.
The New York Giants will win the toughest division in football.
I predict that three teams will make the playoffs out of the NFC North primarily because the teams in the NFC East will beat the hell out of each other and because the NFC East play a tougher slate of games than the NFC North. The last two seasons, no team in the NFC East finished with a losing record. I predict the same thing this season. There will be an 8-8 team, a 9-7 team, and two 10-6 teams. And the team that will win the division will be the New York Giants.
I have never been much of an Eli Manning fan. In fact, I used to joke that if you looked up the word Eli in a dictionary it would say "someone who is not as good as his brother." I also hate the Giants receivers: Steve Smith? Domenik Hixon? Ramses Barden?
Sorry. Not interested.
I pick the G-Men to win the division because of their stout running game (Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs) and because I believe they have the best pass rush in the league. That defense was the biggest reason the Giants won the Super Bowl two years ago. With the welcome return of Osi Umenyiora to a defense that finished fifth a year ago, I expect New York to emerge as the last team standing in the league's roughest division.
The Houston Texans will win the AFC South.
Waiting for the Texans to explode is like waiting for Bruce Banner to get mad and turn into the Incredible Hulk. Eventually, it's going to happen. There's too much talent down in H-Town for it to not happen. When Matt Schaub is healthy, he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The weapons he has at his disposal makes fantasy owners weak in the knees.
Andre Johnson is arguably the best wide receiver in the game. Steve Slaton had a monster rookie season last year. Owen Daniels is a terrific tight end. Kevin Walter is one of the best No. 2 receivers in the league.
Last year the Texans were the third-best offense in the NFL. If Schaub stays healthy and if the Texans improve their turnover margin (last year's -10 was third worst), then I predict a division title for this young, hungry team. After teasing us with 8-8 seasons the past two years, now is the time for the Texans to get mad, turn green, and run over the AFC South.
Which I predict they will.
It will be a long season in Denver.
I was shocked when the Broncos traded Jay Cutler. He's a diva. He's arrogant. He's a spoiled brat. So freaking what? All the great players have ego issues. You simply don't trade the best young quarterback in the league because he's a diva! Just let him pout until he gets sick of pouting.
Kyle Orton is a decent quarterback and I feel that all of the blame for this season's failures will be placed on him. And that's not fair. The reason the Broncos suffered a catastrophic meltdown last season (they lost their last three games by a total of 58 points) is because their defense quit on the team (costing Mike Shanahan his job).
Did they improve their defense this off-season?
Well, their only marquee move was to sign 36-year-old free agent Brian Dawkins so I don't expect to see much improvement.
And did the Broncos piss off somebody in the NFL's front office? I was looking at their schedule the other day and a chill went down my spine:
October 4th (Dallas at home), October 11th (New England at home), October 19th (Monday night in San Diego), a bye, November 1st (at Baltimore), November 9th (Monday night at home vs. Pittsburgh), November 15th (Washington on the road), November 22 (home to San Diego), and Thanksgiving night (at home vs. the Giants).
Eight straight games against playoff contenders? What the hell? I ask again, did the Broncos piss off somebody in the NFL's front office?
Even if they had Cutler, that 8-game stretch would still kill them.
Jay Cutler will be the biggest athlete in Chicago since Michael Jordan.
Kudos to me for finding out a way to include "His Airness" in this NFL column on the weekend MJ gets inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame. I know, this prediction gets a big fat "duh!" But I can't get over how excited this city is to have him. I've never seen anything like it.
How long do you think it will take Lorne Michaels to bring back George Wendt to do the old "Da Bears" sketch on Saturday Night Live?
And how long is it going to take Devin Hester and Greg Olsen to become elite players?
One month? Two months? Immediately?
Few players in professional sports are worthy of the hype that they receive. Jay Cutler is worthy. He's only 26. He has the strongest arm in the league, an enormous amount of swagger, and runs a better bootleg than Al Capone. So enjoy him Bears fans because that dude is an amazing quarterback.
The Green Bay Packers will lead the league in scoring.
Last season, Aaron Rodgers rewarded the Packer Nation's faith in him by having a spectacular season (28 touchdowns, 4,038 yards, 93.8 passer rating). This season expect for him to be even better as a healthy Ryan Grant returns to his 2007 form. Last season, with Grant hobbled by hamstring issues, the Pack finished 6-10 including an embarrassing 1-7 record in games decided by five points or less. A healthy running game, led of course by Ryan Grant, will make them a much better fourth quarter team.
No other quarterback in the league has more targets than Aaron Rodgers. If you want to see an aerial show that doesn't involve the threat of a plane crash, stay home and watch the Packers. Rodgers will divide his passes between Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Donald Lee, and the exciting tight end Jermichael Finley.
Last season, Green Bay had one of the toughest schedules in the league. Not so this year. The Pack play the Lions (twice), the Bengals, the Browns, the Rams, the Bucs, the 49ers, and the Cardinals. Not only will they lead the league in scoring, Aaron Rodgers has a great chance to be league MVP.
Brett Favre's return to Lambeau will be the most hyped regular season game in NFL history.
The most hyped game in recent memory was on November 4th, 2007 when the 9-0 New England Patriots faced off against the 7-0 (and defending champions) Indianapolis Colts.
Brett Favre's return to Lambeau Field as a Minnesota Viking will dwarf that. It will also dwarf Michael Vick's return to Atlanta. The media will cover this game like its the Super Bowl. People will go crazy over it. And really, who could blame them? This Brett Favre tragicomedy is like a William Shakespeare play. It has all of the Shakespearean elements: greed, betrayal, revenge, envy. I have never seen anything like it before in all my years of following American sports.
The one thing that the NFL has over all the other sports leagues is that it has the best storylines. And no storyline could be better than the Super Bowl-winning, record-shattering quarterback, the single most beloved person in the history of the state of Wisconsin, going to the hated Minnesota Vikings. It's like a storyline straight from Vince McMahon. The only thing missing is Favre, walking out onto Lambeau Field with the sound system blaring "Loser" by Beck as his former fans yell obscenities at him.
Now that would be great TV.
The Oakland Raiders will finish with the worst record in football.
A terrible owner (Al Davis). A head coach (Tom Cable) who punches out his assistant coach. A franchise quarterback (JaMarcus Russell) who must convince the league that he's not a total bust. A respected defensive player who is refusing to show up after he was unceremoniously traded there (Richard Seymour). A schedule that has them playing the NFC East, a road game in Houston, and their final game against a Baltimore team that will be fighting for a playoff position.
Be afraid Raider fans. Be deathly afraid.
The Carolina Panthers won't make the playoffs leading to John Fox's dismissal.
As I was watching Jake Delhomme deliver the worst playoff performance in NFL history last December, I kept saying to myself: "I think his career is over."
I knew he would play quarterback again, but I knew his days as a top-tier quarterback were over. There have been plenty of instances in which an athlete was so horrendous during a pressure packed situation that it caused irreversible harm to his career and that player was never looked at the same. The biggest one that comes to mind is Nick Anderson of the Orlando Magic who fell off the face of the Earth after he missed four free throws in Game one of the 1995 NBA Finals.
Anderson, a solid player before that, was never the same again.
Jake Delhomme is in that boat. The man turned the ball over six times in a playoff game! Six freaking times! I don't think you can come back from that. I don't care that the Panthers have a phenomenal running game, Delhomme is a bigger basket case than Danny DeVito in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest!
I predict that Carolina, who has the second toughest schedule in the league, won't make the playoffs which will end John Fox's eight-year reign as head coach.
And who do I think will replace him?
Raleigh native Bill Cowher, that's who.
The New England Patriots will defeat the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl.
The Pats, with the welcome return of Tom Brady, will regain their 2007 form. I watched Brady when the Pats played the Skins in the preseason and he looked awesome. He looked healthy. He had his swagger back. He was accurate. Like all the great players, he has this uncanny ability to inspire his teammates to elevate their level of play. Say what you want about Bill Belichick, but he is the best coach in the league when it comes to preparation. The Patriots are always prepared and Tom Brady, who in 2007 had such an incredible killer instinct that I wrote about it in my blog, is motivated to show the world that he's back.
As far as the Patriots competition in the AFC is concerned, the Steelers running game has gone from bad to worse, the Titans looked poised to take a step back, the Ravens are missing a play-making wide receiver, and the Chargers are coached by Norv Turner.
As far as the Packers, their defense stunk last season. So what did they do? They went out and hired defensive guru Dom Capers who looks to install the 3-4 that has been so successful for him over the years. Remember the Packers play a lightweight schedule. And they didn't go through a dramatic makeover like the Vikings who are praying Brett Favre doesn't break down and the Bears who are still one offensive player away from being a contender.
What could be better than having a Super Bowl that features two of the most storied franchises in the NFL?
I tell you what. It'll be the perfect ending to yet another wild and wacky season.