"Who Wants It More?" It was the center of an ad campaign last year, and despite the fact that your average viewer saw this phrase around 16,587,273 times (a rough estimate), it still resonated by the end of the season. Why? Because it fully expressed the intangible feeling at the center of any champion: the hunger, the lust for victory.
Last year, the New York Giants wanted it more than anyone else, and walked away with the Lombardi Trophy. This year, the simple question is...who wants it next?
2008 NFL Preview
American Football Conference
1. San Diego Chargers (First in AFC) – Phillip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Cromartie, Shawn Merriman…this is the year the San Diego Chargers take the division and win a playoff game. But they have shown time and again that they cannot pull everything together…the playoffs this year will prove that yet again.
2. Denver Broncos– Not very excited about the rest of this division? Neither am I. The Broncos manage to get in second place, though really, any of the three non-Charger teams in this division could conceivably take this spot. But take this to the bank…the only representative from the AFC West in the playoffs will be the Chargers.
3. Kansas City Chiefs– Brodie Croyle will be at least a passable quarterback, and LJ is still a force (though that status is in serious jeopardy). But something tells me this team will be nothing more than mediocre at best…especially in the brutal AFC.
4. Oakland Raiders– Good luck stopping the run…in a division with LT, LJ, and the run-happy Broncos. Look for Darren McFadden to have a quality rookie season (though he will not be the best rookie RB…he comes later), and for JaMarcus Russell to continue to underperform.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (Fourth in AFC) – In his second season, Coach Mike Tomlin will coach the Steelers back to the playoffs as Big Ben and Willie Parker anchor a surprisingly nondescript team in a tossup division. A first round exit is inevitable.
2. Cleveland Browns (Fifth in AFC) – The Browns finally have a respectable team, and if Derek Anderson comes down from last season, they have Brady Quinn to pick up the slack (not that I’m that confident in Quinn, but he can at least play well enough to keep the team on a playoff track, if he has to). Their D-Line will be greatly improved with the additions of Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams, and the Browns will reach the playoffs.
3. Baltimore Ravens– I like Joe Flacco. I really like Joe Flacco. But he’s a rookie QB in the NFL, and with Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and somehow-still-a-possible-starter Kyle Boller above him, he won’t get much time without injuries. This is pretty much the definition of a “rebuilding year”, and there’s just too much against the Ravens to forecast a playoff spot.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (Worst record in NFL) – Chaos. That’s the word that best describes the Bengals right now…chaos. Chad Johnson may or may not play for the team, Rudi Johnson can’t take the burden of this team much longer, and their defense is quite vulnerable. Welcome back to the basement, Cincinnati.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (Second in AFC) – The only thing keeping the Jags from the best record in the AFC is the toughest division in the NFL. They have the most solid defense in the league, a quality running back still searching for his first ring, and a passing game led by David Garrard that will be one of the best in the NFL. The Jacksonville Jaguars have all the pieces to make a deep run in the playoffs…a run that, I believe, will take them all the way to Tampa in February.
2. Indianapolis Colts– In this ridiculously challenging AFC, something had to give. And with the Browns in a weak division and the Jets led by Brett Favre, someone had to slip. This year, that will be the Colts. Peyton Manning will still be one of the top QBs in the NFL, no doubt about that. But injuries to Marvin Harrison, Bob Sanders, and Dwight Freeney will be too much to handle for this aging team. They may make one more run…but it won’t be this year.
3. Houston Texans– The Texans have been the trendy “dark horse” team for about 2 years now, and this year is no different. With Matt Schaub taking snaps, Mario Williams leading the D, and Steve Slaton being the 2nd best rookie RB (still not the best though…), the Texans are a couple of upsets away from the playoffs. But they still need more time…
4. Tennessee Titans– When your QB, your leader, says he considered retirement after his second season in the NFL, that does not inspire team confidence. In the toughest division in the league, the addition of Jevon Kearse will not be enough to keep the Titans out of the cellar. After this season, Vince Young may need to retire…
1. New England Patriots (Third in AFC) – The NFL has a proud tradition of Super Bowl hangovers for the losing team. For the Pats, going 10-6 or 11-5 will count as a hangover after going 16-0 in the previous regular season. The AFC East has improved greatly in the offseason, and they won’t roll over like last year. Plus, with the losses of the likes of Asante Samuel, Donte' Stallworth, Randall Gay, and Junior Seau, the Patriots will have to hope that it takes Brett Favre a few weeks to get used to the AFC…or they might not even win the division.
2. New York Jets (Sixth in AFC) – Now lead by traitor new acquisition Brett Favre, the surprisingly solid Jets turn into a playoff-caliber team. But they’re still in the AFC…and the Bills will be clawing at their heels. If it was anyone else, I’d take the Bills and leave the Jets window-shopping in January. But with #4…J…E…T…S…JETS JETS JETS!
3. Buffalo Bills – This team will be almost as affected by the Favre trade as the Packers themselves…led by the Stanford-Cal stalwarts Trent Edwards and Marshawn Lynch, the Bills will be knocking at the door of a playoff spot. In the NFC, this team could get to the Super Bowl. In the AFC…they miss the playoffs by a hair.
4. Miami Dolphins– Well, they won’t be drafting first next summer. And for Parcells’ new team, that’s an upgrade. But Chad Henne is not going to suddenly improve the Dolphins by that much, and I don’t expect much out of this team.
In other Dolphin's news, the over/under for the amount of weeks it takes Ricky Williams to violate the NFL's substance-abuse policy is set at 3.5 (not seriously). That might just be the most entertaining part of the Fins' season.
Wild Card Round
(6) Jets over (3) Patriots – This will be where Favre really works his magic. The Pats, still skittish from the loss to Eli Manning and the Giants, will fall to one of the greatest, most clutch quarterbacks in NFL history…at home.
(4) Pittsburgh Steelers over (5) Cleveland Browns – In the third matchup between these two teams, the Steel Curtain will hold fast over the offensive Browns and expose the weaknesses in their defense to reach the next round.
AFC Divisional Playoffs
(1) Chargers over (6) Jets – Aaaaaand…this is where the Favre magic comes to a screeching halt. Coach Norv Turner, Tomlinson, Rivers and co. will come through in the playoffs, taking out the Jets in a close game to reach the AFC Championship.
(2) Jaguars over (4) Steelers – The Jags breeze past the Steelers to reach their third AFC Championship game…this game will not pose much difficulty for Jacksonville, as Pittsburgh wears themselves out trying to stop the Jaguars on both sides of the ball.
(2) Jaguars over (1) Chargers – Once again, the Chargers will fall just short of the final destination, as Fred Taylor, assisted by Garrard, Derrick Harvey, and a very solid team, finally reaches the Promised Land: the Super Bowl. Rivers’ flaws as a quarterback, previously hidden by the rest of the Pro-Bowl caliber Chargers’ offense, will be exposed by the Jags’ defense, and Tomlinson will turn in a rare substandard performance as Turner is denied his shot at a championship.
Jacksonville Jaguars (First Super Bowl Appearance)
National Football Conference
1. Seattle Seahawks (Fourth in NFC) – There are only two things I am sure of in the NFL this season. Firstly, that the San Diego Chargers will win the AFC West. And secondly, that the NFC West is by far the worst division in the NFL. Even without Shaun Alexander, the Seahawks, led by Matt Hasselbeck and new additions T.J. Duckett and Julius Jones, will take this weak division…and promptly lose in the playoffs.
2. St. Louis Rams– See Denver Broncos. Substitute “Charger” for “Seahawk”. Really, it’s that simple…because outside of Stephen Jackson, the Rams have nothing to be that enthusiastic about.
3. Arizona Cardinals– If this team didn’t have the one of the worst defenses in the NFL, their offense alone could carry them near the wild card. But with their QB issues (Matt Leinart is unreliable, but do you really want to place your franchise in the hands of the new Vinny Testaverde, Kurt Warner?) and consistently bad defense, the Cards will, like always, miss the playoffs.
4. San Francisco 49ers – The only reason I don’t think the 49ers will end up with the worst record in the NFL is because I’m a Niners fan. I’ll be completely honest on that point. But Alex Smith is not a good quarterback, Frank Gore can’t do everything, and their offensive line closely resembles the early-Houston Texans. The 49ers will be lucky if they match last year’s win total.
After this year, they’ll need to do some serious reevaluating of their team…firing Mike Nolan, bringing back Eddie DeBartolo (not going to happen, but would be nice), and dropping Alex Smith (preferably replacing him with the likes of USF's Matt Grothe, Kansas' Todd Reesing, Missouri's Chase Daniel, or whoever loses the Browns battle) would be a nice start.
1. Minnesota Vikings (First in NFC) – Any lingering doubts that the Vikings could win the NFC North were erased when Brett Favre jumped ship. As Tarvaris Jackson comes into his own and Adrian Peterson has an MVP season, the Vikings and their brutal run defense will easily take the NFC North. Their only noticeable weakness, passing defense, won’t be a problem playing in a conference with only 3, maybe 4 dangerous QBs.
2. Green Bay Packers – This will simply be too much pressure for Aaron Rodgers to handle…and Mike McCarthy (along with Packers GM Ted Thompson) will take the fall for his inability to lead the Pack to the playoffs (especially when Favre finds success in the Big Apple). The team has a solid defense and Rodgers isn’t going to be terrible…but in the end, the Packers will be just on the outside looking in when the playoffs roll around.
3. Detroit Lions – Central Florida’s Kevin Smith, who will be the best rookie RB in the NFL this season (there he is), will be the only bright spot for an otherwise painfully average Lions team who still has extreme questions at quarterback.
4. Chicago Bears (Worst Record in NFC) – As if their offense wasn’t bad enough, the ambiguity over who will start for the Bears (Rex Grossman or Kyle Orton, neither of which is that good) only further muddles the situation. Devin Hester will still be nearly unstoppable, and Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs will anchor an aging defense But that defense can’t hold the line much longer without some major help from the offense. So, in the end…you’re looking at the worst team in the NFC…Da Bears.
1. Atlanta Falcons (Third in NFC) – Yeah, you read that right. The Atlanta Falcons will win the NFC South. Why? Two reasons. First of all, the team that finished in last in the NFC South has finished in first every season since 2003…and in this unpredictable season, I see no reason to go against a history that, frankly, was unpredictable from the beginning.
And secondly, I believe that Matt Ryan will be the best rookie QB in a long time and help lead the Falcons to the division title and keep this strange streak alive another year.
2. New Orleans Saints (Sixth in NFC) – Look for the Saints to rebound from their horrible disappointment last season by clinching a Wild Card spot. Drew Brees will have a return to form while Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush will begin to play their roles well. With the holes in their pass defense partially plugged, the Saints will be able to make the playoffs, barely squeaking past Rodgers’ Packers.
3. Carolina Panthers – I am REALLY tired of picking the Panthers to do something every year and watching them fail. Two years in a row I picked them to win the Super Bowl, and last year I had them in the NFC Championship game. I don’t need to be reminded how those all ended. Unless Jake Delhomme plays like he did during his Super Bowl season, the Panthers will float around .500 and miss the playoffs.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Sorry Jeff Garcia, but the Bucs aren’t going anywhere. Garcia won’t be able to replicate his magic from 2007 and Warrick Dunn won’t be an amazing running back (in other words, nothing will change with him). As the defense finally shows some holes, John Gruden will watch his job slip away by the end of the season. But he shouldn’t worry…Green Bay will have a job opening. Here’s to 2009 for the Bucs…
1. New York Giants (Second in NFC) – For some reason, everyone seems to forget that the Giants are the team holding the Lombardi Trophy. They are the defending champs, and the loss of Michael Strahan won’t be enough to keep the Giants from a division victory and at least one playoff victory, especially with the addition of Mario Manningham as an attractive target for reigning Super Bowl XLII MVP Eli Manning.
Just a thought...how must Archie Manning feel now that both of his sons have won what he was never able to win? I know that he is a very proud father, having raised not one but 2 Super Bowl champion quarterbacks. But at the same time, there has to be some nagging feeling in the back of his mind...
2. Dallas Cowboys (Fifth in NFC) – Let me start my Cowboys preview with this…I have zero confidence in Tony Romo. It’s not that I don’t think he’s a good quarterback…it’s just that I firmly believe that Tony Romo cannot lead a team deep into the playoffs, and definitely not to the Super Bowl. Pac-Man Jones won’t have a huge immediate impact and Zach Thomas, though he will improve the team, won’t be enough to patch up the issues this team showed in the playoffs last year and the Cowboys will underachieve, only earning a wild card playoff spot.
3. Philadelphia Eagles – Not even Campbell’s Soup can help Donovan McNabb this season. DeSean Jackson is going to be a star in the NFL, but the Eagles have too many holes to be a serious threat this season. They’re going to miss Kearse and Takeo Spikes, and their defense won’t excel at the level necessary to get them into the postseason.
4. Washington Redskins – Jason Campbell is the quarterback of the future, but he doesn’t have much whatsoever to help him, and the Skins will be average at best, closely mimicking the Ravens.
Wild Card Round
(3) Falcons over (6) Saints – Another division rematch will let Matt Ryan lead his Falcons to a redemptive victory in Atlanta, stunning the football world as the Falcons advance to the Divisional Playoffs.
(5) Cowboys over (4) Seahawks – No matter how much the Cowboys underachieve in the regular season, this won’t be a difficult win for “America’s Team” over a Seahawks team that will only be in the playoffs because of their residence in the NFC West.
NFC Divisional Playoffs
(1) Vikings over (5) Cowboys – Adrian Peterson will run all over the Cowboys’ defense as Jared Allen and Michael Boulware make short work of Romo, Owens and the Cowboys to reach their first NFC Championship game since 1999, carrying none of the baggage (Mike Tice, Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss) that marked the Vikings of old.
(2) Giants over (3) Falcons – As tempting as it is to take Ryan and his Falcons over the defending champs, I think it’ll just be too much for a rookie QB to lead his team into New York and topple Eli Manning and the Giants, who will continue their quest to defend their title into the NFC Title Game.
NFC Championship Game
(1) Vikings over (2) Giants – This game is a rematch of the 1999 NFC Championship Game in which the New York football Giants demolished the 16-1 Vikings 41-0. Somehow, I have the feeling that anyone left in the Vikings organization from that season will try and motivate the team to perform just a little better than they did in 1999. This time, Peterson performs well, but it's Jackson who takes charge, leading the Minnesota Vikings to their first Super Bowl in 32 years, setting up a rematch from Week 12 of two teams who have never won the Super Bowl…
This also sets up another historic matchup, as David Garrard and Tarvaris Jackson become the 4th and 5th African-American quarterbacks to lead their teams to the Super Bowl (Doug Williams, Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb). This would perfectly set up history, as one of them would become only the second African-American QB to win the Super Bowl, joining Williams of the Washington Redskins, MVP of Super Bowl XXII (1988).
Minnesota Vikings (5th Super Bowl Appearance; 0-4 in previous appearances)
Most Improved Player of the Year – Tarvaris Jackson (QB-Minnesota Vikings) – This one will be painfully obvious once Jackson leads his team to the Super Bowl.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Glenn Dorsey (DT-Kansas City Chiefs) – Dorsey will be one of the lone bright spots for an otherwise lackluster Chiefs team.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Matt Ryan (QB-Atlanta Falcons) – Ryan leading his Falcons to the NFC South title and a playoff victory will easily earn him this award.
Coach of the Year – Mike Smith (Atlanta Falcons) – From outhouse to penthouse, Smith will earn accolades for the Falcons turnaround.
Defensive Player of the Year – Osi Umenyiora (DE-New York Giants) – Umenyiora will be a huge reason for the Giants’ success, anchoring the champs’ defense in place of the retired Strahan.
Offensive Player of the Year – Matt Ryan (QB-Atlanta Falcons) – Ryan will deserve MVP for the work he’ll do for the Falcons, but as a rookie, the voters won’t give him everything…so he’ll have to settle for this award.
NFL MVP – Adrian Peterson (RB-Minnesota Vikings) – Though Peterson won’t win Offensive Player of the Year, his amazing season with the NFC Champion Vikings will be enough to earn him Most Valuable Player honors. Call this a retroactive Heisman.
Super Bowl XLIII
Tampa, FL - February 1, 2009
Jacksonville Jaguars (AFC) vs. Minnesota Vikings (NFC)
The Jaguars and Vikings will enter the NFL’s biggest stage ready for glory, having bested the top teams in their respective conferences, in a rematch of a Week 12 matchup. Though once again the NFC will be considered far inferior to the AFC, the Jaguars, with the memory of the Patriots’ defeat in Super Bowl XLII fresh in their minds, will not take the Vikings lightly.
No matter the teams’ records, it will practically be a home game for the Jaguars, a Florida team playing in a Florida stadium. This will be difficult, but not impossible, for the Vikings to overcome. Veteran Fred Taylor will be the sentimental favorite (similar to Jerome Bettis from Super Bowl XL), but will have a difficult time dealing with Jared Allen and the Vikings, with the best run defense in the NFL. Allen will have a standout game, stopping Taylor in his tracks and causing Garrard to rush his throws, rendering them inaccurate. Both Garrard and Jackson will become quarterbacks thrust into the spotlight, and though neither will tank the game, this matchup will be about the running backs: Taylor and MVP Adrian Peterson.
The Jaguars’ run defense won’t be enough to stop Peterson, and once he has opened the floodgates, Jackson will be free to play well enough to keep the Jags on the retreat. I don’t expect much from Jerry Porter, and Michael Boulware will be enough to take care of Troy Williamson. In the end, once the Jaguars’ run has been stopped, the burden will be too much for Garrard to bear, and their offense will collapse as their defense struggles to contain Peterson and not forget about Jackson. The Jaguars will keep this game close, but ultimately, the Minnesota Vikings will break a Super Bowl losing streak dating all the way back to Super Bowl IV and lasting through four losses by winning their first title over the Jacksonville Jaguars, giving the NFC consecutive victories in the Super Bowl for the first time in 13 years.
Final Score: Minnesota Vikings 28, Jacksonville Jaguars 20
Super Bowl MVP – Jared Allen (DE-Vikings) – Allen will become the first defensive player to win MVP since Dexter Jackson, a safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in Super Bowl XXXVII, and the first defensive end since Richard Dent of the 1985 Bears in Super Bowl XX.
Super Bowl XLIII Champions
By JAMES HILL III
© August 14, 2008