Every year, I make my picks for the NFL season. I often see narratives that others don't, or correctly predict the direction of a team.
Last year, I correctly highlighted the New Orleans Saints before the season, after the Saints had finished 8-8 in 2008. I had the nagging thought that the Saints had the talent to win the Super Bowl, yet lacked an "it" factor.
The Saints seemed like a talented team that was "mentally weak" as Ron Jaworski says, but as we now know, the Saints overcame their erratic performances and won the Super Bowl.
In May of 2008, I correctly picked the Miami Dolphins to contend, after Miami was reeling from a 1-15 showing in 2007. People called me crazy, while the folks at ESPN still refuse to acknowledge it.
It grinds my gears when someone says "no one" picked Miami or "only Dolphins fans" picked Miami. If push comes to shove, they'll say I was just lucky or that the NFL is easy to predict.
Yet, I also correctly predicted the collapse of the St. Louis Rams in 2002, that Steve Spurrier would flop as coach in Washington, the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl in 2002 (a lot of good that did) the resurgence of the Dallas Cowboys in 2003, and the Patriots repeat as champions in 2004, amongst others.
Let's just say that a Bill Parcells team is safe bet, even if Parcells has been the enemy of Al Davis (read about that in Sean Payton's book).
Though it was an awesome achievement for me to pick Miami, it lacked some luster. The reason why is that I thought the same thing about Atlanta, but was unwilling to defend both.
I must admit, however that I have had my share of whiffs, but I have also had my share of proverbial home runs.
So now that I have finished gloating, I expect the 2010 season to be a changing on the guard in many cases, even if the Colts will likely win the AFC South once again.
I look for teams that are functional in the three phases of the game: Offense, defense, and special-teams.
I don't want to dissertate (yes, I concocted a verb) on the matter, but yes, special teams is as important as the offense or defense, and it's precisely because, fans and media alike take it for granted.
Special teams however is a catch-22. Unless you're Al Davis, the paradigm has been an avoidance of kickers and punters in the first and second rounds of the draft, while few teams (if any) target players (or pay them) that specialize in coverage.
It's not because special teams is less important, it's because the expectations and evaluation process for special teams players is different than it is for offense and defense.
Yet, field position will directly affect and dictate clock management; play calling, which is affected by the strengths and weaknesses of personnel; and in effect, the physical attrition of personnel.
And when all clubs are hindered by salary caps, someone will get low-balled.