NFL Season Preview: Patriots, Saints To Meet in Super Bowl XLIII
There’s no need to ask—we are more than ready for some football.
As a matter of fact, I’ve had the Monday Night Football theme song stuck in my head for seventy-two straight hours.
It’s impossible to accurately describe NFL’s opening day. No other professional sport compares.
For an almost-thirty-something like myself, it’s like Christmas morning, Thanksgiving dinner, and my birthday all combined to make one tremendous pseudo-holiday.
The best part is, it lasts for an entire weekend.
But before the weekend starts (and it can’t start soon enough!), we need to get some predictions out of the way.
The Patriots looked terrible in the preseason. They have issues in the secondary. They’re getting old at some key positions. Tom Brady didn’t play a snap in the preseason due to injury.
The Jets traded for Brett Favre, improved their offensive line by acquiring Alan Faneca, spent a butt-load of money on Calvin Pace, and traded for Kris Jenkins to shore up the middle of their defensive line.
The Jets are the only legitimate competition in the AFC East for the New England Patriots. Legitimate only in comparison to the rest of the division.
The Patriots, even with their issues, are still going to run away with the AFC East. They have an easy schedule, a rested quarterback, and the best head coach in the NFL.
Predicted Winner: New England Patriots
The Bengals and Ravens are barely worth mentioning, so we'll barely mention them.
The Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers finished with identical 10-6 records last season. The Steelers made the playoffs on tiebreakers.
It’s going to be close again this season, but Braylon Edwards, Donte’ Stallworth, Kellen Winslow, and Derek Anderson are primed to get over the Pittsburgh hump.
Predicted Winner: Cleveland Browns
Ladies and gentlemen, the toughest division in football.
The Titans and Texans would be in the mix to win any division other than this one. The Colts are the Colts. The Jaguars are a team on the way up. It will once again come down to these two teams.
We all know about Peyton Manning and his weapons, but it was David Garrard who earned my respect with his performance against the Patriots in the playoffs last season, despite a distinct lack of weapons.
The Jags went out and got Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson to help rectify that issue. But Jerry Porter’s been hurt, and Troy Williamson is really good at dropping footballs. Jerry Porter will give David Garrard a weapon he can rely on.
Troy Williamson is just lucky to be employed...and he might not be for much longer.
It comes down to this: The Jags are good; the Colts are still better.
Predicted Winner: Indianapolis Colts
Remember when the AFC West was the most dominant division in the NFL?
Not. Any. More.
The Denver Broncos have an abomination of a run defense. The Oakland Raiders have an abomination of a run defense and a potentially even worse passing offense. The Kansas City Chiefs are just an abomination.
That leaves the second-best team in the AFC from last season, the San Diego Chargers.
Shawne Merriman’s shredded knee may hurt their chances of winning a Super Bowl, but nothing short of an absolute catastrophe will stop them from winning the AFC West.
Predicted Winner: San Diego Chargers
AFC Wild Card Teams: Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers
The second-best division in football features the best team in the NFC last season, the Super Bowl champion from last season, and the team that overcame more adversity than any professional sports team in recent memory to make a surprising and inspiring run to the playoffs.
The Giants have issues.
As if losing Kawika Mitchell, Michael Strahan, Gibril Wilson, and Jeremy Shockey during the offseason wasn’t bad enough, they following it up by losing their best defensive player in Osi Umenyiora early in the preseason.
The Eagles bring a healthy Donovan McNabb back to the table and expect to be near the top of the division again. The Redskins look like a team that’s primed to take a step back, as they have a first-year head coach, a new offensive system, and a young quarterback.
Wade Phillips and Tony Romo are regular-season gold. Just don’t talk to them about the playoffs...
Predicted Winner: Dallas Cowboys
Brett Favre is gone, and with him went the chances that the Packers were going to repeat as NFC North champions.
Chicago is seriously considering fielding a team without a single NFL quality quarterback, wide receiver, or running back. Good luck.
Jon Kitna once again believes he’s leading a 10-plus-win football team. Rod Marinelli thinks that Jon Kitna is the best quarterback in the NFC. I think they’re both completely insane.
That leaves the Minnesota Vikings, who, in my opinion, are primed for a deep playoff run.
Predicted Winner: Minnesota Vikings
Tampa Bay won the division last year, but only because the Saints decided to take the year off.
The NFC South was awful last season.
It seemed like the Panther played a different (and worse) quarterback every week. The Falcons were a well-documented mess. The Saints were the most baffling team in the NFL.
Tampa Bay was able to take advantage and win the division with a measly nine wins. I can't imagine that happening again.
I just can’t look at Tampa Bay and New Orleans and make any type of rational argument against the Saints running away with this thing. So I won’t.
Predicted Winner: New Orleans Saints
If the NFL ever made a rule change allowing the best six teams in each conference to make the playoffs, regardless of division, I’m pretty sure nobody from the NFC West would ever see a playoff game again.
Arizona, San Francisco, and St. Louis should all be ashamed of themselves. For the last couple of years, the Seattle Seahawks have been trying to give the division away–but nobody wants to take it.
Don’t expect that to change this year.
Predicted Winner: Seattle Seahawks
NFC Wild Card Teams: Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants
AFC Wild Card Round: Jaguars 31 - Browns 24, Chargers 28 - Steelers 14
AFC Divisional Round: Patriots 28 - Jaguars 19, Colts 31 - Chargers 28
AFC Championship: Patriots 42 - Colts 38
NFC Wild Card Round: Cowboys 24 - Giants 10, Eagles 31 - Seahawks 7
NFC Divisional Round: Saints 35 - Eagles 21, Vikings 21 - Cowboys 14
NFC Championship: Saints 34 - Vikings 17
Super Bowl: Patriots 35 - Saints 34
About a month ago, I predicted that the Chargers were finally going to surpass the Patriots and win the Super Bowl.
But that was before Shawne Merriman announced that four different doctors told him he shouldn't play this season because his knee was completely destroyed.
Without Merriman, the Colts all of a sudden become a much tougher matchup for the Chargers. I just don't think they can get past Peyton Manning without Merriman harassing him for four quarters.
The Patriots have an easy schedule and should be well rested and confident going into the playoffs.
The Saints will benefit from two things:
1) Wade Phillips and Tony Romo can't win in the playoffs.
2) Tarvaris Jackson isn't good enough yet to get the Vikings to the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl itself will be an offensive spectacle, eventually won by the team of this decade, the New England Patriots.
Offensive POY: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson is going to run for a ton of yards this season. Assuming he can stay healthy, he has the potential to do some extremely special things.
Defensive Player of the Year: Mario Williams, DE, Houston Texans
Mario Williams is going to silence the “they should have drafted Reggie Bush” crowd once and for all this season. Though, in fairness, it’s not a very big crowd anymore.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
He’s already the best receiver in Philadelphia, and given their injuries, he’s going to see a ton of balls thrown in his direction. Plus, he’s as good a kick returner as they come.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jerod Mayo, LB, New England Patriots
It takes a special type of rookie to open the season as a starting inside linebacker in a Bill Belichick defense.
NFL MVP: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
How do you follow up a 50-touchdown season? The Patriots play an extremely easy schedule, are looking at thirteen extremely winnable games, and they love to throw the ball.
He won’t throw 50 again, but 40 isn’t out of the question.
Sean Crowe is a Senior Writer and an NFL Community Leader at Bleacher Report. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His archive can be found here. You can find everything he writes, including articles for other publications, here.
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