With team previews beaten into our heads all summer leading up to Thursday's season opener, I’m here to offer you not what “might” happen, but instead what WILL happen.
AFC East Champion
New England Patriots – Best quarterback in the league? Check. Best wide receiver in the league? Check. Best head coach in the league? Check.
Sure, the Jets are the “sexy” pick, but does anyone really see Bill Belichick playing it conservative after failing to go 19-0 last season? This should be one of the easiest divisions to win, and the Patriots will dominate from day one, with or without hidden cameras.
AFC North Champion
Pittsburgh Steelers – Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is coming off his best career season and the Steelers’ running game will get a major boost from first round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall. Head coach Mike Tomlin is establishing himself as one of the best coaches in the league.
Their schedule is brutal and could potentially be the one thing that holds them back. The other contender in the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns, are depending on too many one-year wonders (Derek Anderson, Jamal Lewis, Donte Stallworth). The Cincinnati Bengals decided to mail in their season before it began when they re-signed trouble making receiver Chris Henry.
AFC South Champion
With a top five defense and the two-headed rushing attack of Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, along with newly signed quarterback David Garrard, the Jags will finally become the team everyone thought they would be last season.
If there were ever a season for Jacksonville to overtake the Colts, it has to be now, when Peyton Manning is less than 100 percent healthy.
AFC West Champion
San Diego Chargers – The injury to Shawne Merriman could be devastating, but being the macho-man that he is, Merriman decided to play the 2008 season hurt. Maybe he could’ve given that same advice to LaDainian Tomlinson during last years AFC Championship game.
With a healthy Tomlinson and the continued development of quarterback Phillip Rivers, the Chargers will emerge from their division, but will face surprised competition from the Oakland Raiders. One other AFC West prediction sure to go right: Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan officially finds himself on the hot-seat when his team finishes last this year.
AFC Wild Cards
Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets – The Colts will just miss winning the South and behind the 2008 rushing leader Joseph Addai, will have no trouble securing a playoff spot.
The Jets, led by their “not-so-talked-about” quarterback Brett Favre, will claim the last playoff berth but will be the first team to fall in the post season. Let the Brett Favre retirement saga begin all over again.
New England Patriots – I would love to have Jacksonville here, but knowing how smart Belichick is, I just can’t see him being out-coached by Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio.
NFC East Champion
Dallas Cowboys – The most talented team in the NFL will come out guns blazing in the NFL’s most competitive division. Quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Terrell Owens will become the next great quarterback-receiver duo.
Power running back Marion Barber will finish as Fantasy Football’s best player by reaching the end zone 25 times.
NFC North Champion
Minnesota has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, most notably new defensive end Jared Allen, and as long as 2007 rookie of the year Adrian Peterson stays healthy, they should run away with the top spot in the North.
The Packer’s will regret their handling of the Favre situation when Aaron Rodgers falters early and fans drop their support for him. You heard it here first: rookie quarterback Brian Brohm will be starting by season’s end.
NFC South Champion
New Orleans Saints – Forget 2007, this is the year the Saints click on all cylinders.
Drew Brees will be the MVP of the league, wide receiver Marques Colston will record over 1,500 yards receiving, and Reggie Bush will shed the “bust” label that has been associated with him since his rookie year. They practically stole Jonathan Vilma from the Jets, as he makes their defense a whole lot better.
NFC West Champion
Seattle Seahawks – Did I say the North was the worst division? The NFC West sure puts up a decent argument. Seattle has recently been bitten by the injury bug (Deion Branch, Bobby Engram) but will find ways to win with underrated quarterback Matt Hasselbeck leading the charge.
The ‘Hawks have dominated this division forever it seems, yet experts continue to pick Arizona as their sleeper team. The Cardinals are going no where with old man Edgerrin James in their backfield. The St. Louis Rams need to develop a defense before they can even be mentioned.
NFC Wild Cards
Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles – No way the Eagles play like they did early last season. Donovan McNabb will return as one of the best quarterbacks in the league and will make rookie receiver DeSean Jackson a contender for rookie of the year honors.
Washington has a good balance of talent on the offense and defense, and the addition of Jason Taylor (if he can stay healthy) is a major boost to their defense. Quarterback Jason Campbell has the play-makers around him to succeed and Clinton Portis will continue to prove he is still capable of taking over games.
Sorry New York Giants fans, the loss of defensive end Osi Umenyiora for the year leaves you as the last team to miss the playoffs.
Dallas Cowboys – The ‘Boys won’t have any trouble dismantling each team that tries to stop them in the NFC. Get your popcorn ready Dallas fans, Terrell Owens is leading going back to the Super Bowl.
Dallas Cowboys– Why not? They have a bruising running back in Marion Barber, a stud quarterback in Tony Romo, and a play-making receiver in Terrell Owens. With soon-to-be head coach Jason Garrett running the offense, 2008 is the year the Cowboys return to the good ol’ days.
Coach of the Year
Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints) – He will lead his team through any and all natural disasters that come his way, and with an offense that will put a lot of points on the board, Payton will be the hands-down winner.
Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints) – Brees has so much talent around him, this award should be more obvious than it initially appears.
When (not if) running back Reggie Bush breaks out this year and receiver Marques Colston cements himself as the best player at his position, Brees will have no trouble piling up the necessary stats. The addition of tight end Jeremy Shockey is one more reason to believe Brees is primed for a huge year.
Offensive Player of the Year
Marion Barber (Dallas Cowboys) – Yeah, they invested a first round pick on rookie running back Felix Jones, but Barber is in the prime of his career and should see his role in the offense become more and more important as the season goes on. He should score 25 touchdowns (as mentioned above) and help take the spotlight off of teammate Tony Romo.
Defensive Player of the Year
Adalius Thomas (New England Patriots) – After signing a mega-free agent deal after the 2006 season, Thomas was relatively quiet for all the publicity he received. Not this year, as Thomas will become a tackling machine and will score three touchdowns by himself. Expect no less than 15 sacks and interceptions combined.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Darren McFadden (Oakland Raiders) – This pick was too easy. 150-year-old team owner Al Davis is paying McFadden too much money not to be the focal point of the offense, and despite being listed second on the depth chart behind teammate Justin Fargas, will be the starter by week four and won’t look back.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Jerod Mayo (New England Patriots) – Belichchick loved him so much that he reached for him in the draft, selecting the former Tennessee linebacker 10th overall. Yet, I bet Bill knows something about Mayo the experts don’t.
Look for him to be counted on heavily throughout the 2008 campaign and become a leader of the defense by next season.