The 2008 season is almost over. We have one of the most surprising Super Bowl teams of all time (Arizona) to compete for the title against a Super Bowl stalwart (Pittsburgh).
With the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, free agency and draft coming up, is it way too early to predict the 2009 NFL season?
Of course it is, but that isn't going to stop me.
1. Steelers—The Steelers are going to be good for a long time. Big Ben is a great quarterback for this team and coach Mike Tomlin is an excellent leader. They will probably be coming off of a Super Bowl victory as well, so expectations will be high.
2. Ravens—The Ravens will be a competitive team, but they are going to lose some players to free agency. The growth of Joe Flacco will be the key to the Ravens' success.
3. Browns—The Browns have weapons galore. Brady Quinn has the potential to be pretty good and he has a solid WR and TE to throw to. They need a young running back to complement (or replace) the aging Jamal Lewis, though. It will be interesting to see how Eric Mangini handles this team.
4. Bengals—I appreciate the fact that they have not fired Marvin Lewis yet. He has the right approach to the game. If he could just get a defense, and stop losing players to injury, the Bengals could be competitive. Oh, and they need to keep at least one of their two stud receivers.
1. Colts—This team will always be competitive with Peyton Manning handling the quarterback position. By the end of his career he will be considered one of the all-time greats. The rest of the team needs to stay healthy, but there's no reason they won't be in the thick of the playoff hunt yet again, even with a new coach.
2. Texans—This is my sleeper pick for the AFC playoffs. I believe that this is the year the Texans put it all together. Their young defense is nasty and the offense has playmakers. They have put together some great drafts lately, and if that trend continues they will be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.
3. Titans—This is my pick for Most Likely to Slide. This team will not be as good next year. Kerry Collins had a career year and I do not expect that to happen again, while the loss of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to Detroit may cause trouble.
4. Jaguars—This franchise could be in for a pretty bad streak. They have underachieving players and do not seem to be in position to make any Earth-shattering moves. Another disappointing season awaits.
1. Chargers—The AFC West is going to be pretty bad next year, I think. The Chargers will once again be the cream of the crop. Ditching LT would be a HUGE mistake, though.
2. Broncos—The Broncos will be competitive in their division, but the reality is that the division will not be very good. I do not buy the idea of a 32-year-old head coach, either.
3. Chiefs—This team could be substantially better than last year. I think firing Herm Edwards is a bad move, but Pioli's entrance is a good one.
4. Raiders—As long as Al Davis is around, this team will continue to be one of the worst in the NFL. Sorry, Raider fans, but it's true. Too many upgrades are needed for this team to even be close to competitive.
1. Patriots—As much as I hate to say it, the Patriots will be back to their rightful spot as AFC East champions. This team is too good with Brady back, and Belichick is truly a genius. New England is deep and they draft well. As long as Belichick runs the show, this should be their spot.
2. Dolphins—This team made huge strides this season and I believe they will continue to do so next year. They are being built in the right way, thanks to should-have-been-Coach of the Year Tony Sparano. On a related note, I believe Tim Tebow plays here in 2010.
3. Bills—The Bills started quickly this season but faded late. The potential is there, but can they last an entire season? We will see, but it's doubtful they can compete with the Patriots or Dolphins.
4. Jets—Sorry, Jets fans, but next season will be pretty bad. Rex Ryan is a good hire, but it will not come together next season. The need for a quarterback is glaring.
AFC PLAYOFF SEEDS:
AFC Championship Game- Patriots vs. Steelers
Super Bowl Representative- Patriots
1. Vikings—I believe in this team's defense. I also believe that Tavaris Jackson can become a good quarterback, and running back Adrian Peterson will remain a beast.
2. Packers—This team will win a few more games, but it won't be enough. Aaron Rodgers should have done more then enough to silence his critics, but the team's defense needs to pick it back up.
3. Bears—Kyle Orton should be this team's quarterback, end of story. This team needs a big-time receiver to be successful. The defense will continue to make plays, as will the special teams, assuming Devin Hester finds a solid role.
4. Lions—They have to be better after going 0-16. There's no other outcome. Drafting a smart quarterback is a good second step (the first was hiring Schwartz), but building from scratch will take 2-4 years
1. Panthers—Keeping Jake Delhomme is a good idea. He had one horrible game, but you should not ditch a fairly effective QB because of that The running game will continue to be dominant, as will Jordan Gross and Julius Peppers if they can be re-signed.
2. Saints—My sleeper pick in the NFC. Drew Brees is a phenom. This team reminds me in many ways of the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams. They need to tighten up the defense, and then they will dominate next year.
3. Falcons—This team will continue to be very competitive, but I do not see playoffs in 2009. The South will be one of the toughest divisions in football next year, and one great team will be left in the cold. It could be this one, but look for them to compete for that sixth seed in the playoffs.
4. Buccaneers—Firing Jon Gruden was stupid. He is still a brilliant mind who led this team to many successful seasons. Be prepared to be the South's doormat for a few years, especially with a new head coach with such a short resume.
1. Cardinals—This team will be as high as a kite headed into next season, and I believe they will achieve great things, even without Anquan Boldin. Kurt Warner should come back for one more year; Matt Leinart would benefit greatly from his tutoring once more.
2. 49ers—This team will be competitive next year. They need to fix the passing game a bit, but this team has what it takes to do some good things. I really like Frank Gore.
3. Rams—I think the Rams now have a good, fundamentally sound coach to go with some talented players.
4. Seahawks—It is rebuilding time. Gone are the days of NFC West dominance for this team. It will take a few years for them to become competitive again.
1. Giants—The Giants will once again be the class of the East. They need a big play receiver, which I believe they will get. They could be the Super Bowl favorites with a few good moves.
2. Eagles—As long as Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid are a part of this program, they will be in the hunt. Those that say they should go really need to reconsider their stance. It feels like they are always in or near the NFC championship.
3. Cowboys—My Most Likely to Slide pick for the NFC. I have never seen a messier team. Romo's practice habits and status as a "celebrity" quarterback are being brought into focus. T.O. may have very well worn his last Dallas star. Wade Phillips, what have you done to America's Team?
4. Redskins—I think this team has some good talent. I question the coaching. We will see if they can get some steam heading into the season. If they can, I believe they will make noise. Jason Campbell could be around for a long time.
NFC PLAYOFF SEEDS:
NFC Championship Game: Panthers vs. Eagles
NFC Representative: Panthers
Super Bowl: Carolina vs. New England, with Carolina winning the rematch in a close game.