I don't know about you, but I am going nuts waiting for the NFL season to finally start. This is probably the most fired up I've been about it in years. This is partly due to my Niners having a good team, and partly due to the NFL marketing machine and Fantasy Football combined.
Honestly, does any sport do a better job of teasing you and getting you excited to the point of spontaneous combustion than the NFL?
Even though the season technically ends with the Superbowl, that's also the beginning of the next season: THE OFFSEASON.
After the Superbowl hoopla dies down we immediately get into NFL Draft mode, where countless jerks like me watch hours of ESPN film breakdowns and read the captions that appear adjacent to the latest Mel Kiper Jr. mock drafts (who, by the way had the 49ers taking Alan Branch at #11 until a week before the draft. That was pretty accurate Mel, good job.)
Then, after the draft, we've got free agency, a few high profile arrests and subsequent media coverage, and minicamps.
Then we've got player holdouts, training camp, and team-by-team previews, and Fantasy Draft preparation.
At this point, a down of meaningful football hasn't been played and we're already talking about Michael Vick going to jail, debating the JaMarcus Russell holdout, Donald Driver's foot injury, Mike Tomlin's field and locker room presence, and if the Arizona Cardinals will finally get it right this year (and not necessarily in that order).
Then, there's the preseason schedule...
Four games in which the starters play a total of 4 and a half quarters, third stringers play their asses off but still perform like a team comprised of Chinese and Guatemalan Nationals, all while disgruntled season ticket holders are forced to pay full price.
We finally see the Charlie Batch to Nate Washington combo that we've been dying to see all spring and summer. Then we can watch Shaun Hill hand if off to Thomas Clayton for a nice gain (WHO???).
What a joke. It's almost painful. And yet, we still watch. I must've seen Sean Salsbury break down Brady Quinn's 4th quarter performance 4 or 5 times. That's in addition to the 2 hours a day I've been listening to NFL Radio on Sirius during my long commute to and from Sonoma State. The NFL has a hold on me-- on us, and we don't care. We're still down. (Of course, by we, I mean the male 16-35 year old demographic with too much time on their hands and 4 Fantasy teams).
Now, it's go time. It's T-Minus (as opposed to T-Mobile) 1 week and counting till we can put our various jerseys on and watch the first game of the season. Our fantasy boys that we've been salivating over for the last 2 weeks will finally earn some points, and someone will undoubtedly tear their ACL or pectoral muscle in the first game of the season, badly hurting their real team and somebody's fantasy team's chances for success. We'll get to see Bill Cowher and Tiki Barber as analysts, and wonder why both are not still coaching/playing in the NFL.
I for one, am a little too down.
Anyway, I don't want to beat any dead horses here, but I've just gotta get this stuff off my chest.
AFC West (predicted order of finish)
1) San Diego Chargers - The Chargers inexplicably fell short of the AFC Championship game and a Superbowl berth due to Marty Schottenheimer's buffoonery, so they hire the best guy out there to get the job done... Norv Turner?? Despite the foolish coaching hire, San Diego's offense is too explosive (Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, a wiser Philip Rivers, and the Vincent Jackson/Craig Davis combo out wide) and their defense is too quick. I see San Diego and their sweet new unis slugging it out with Baltimore in the AFC Championship game this year.
2) Denver Broncos - Jay Cutler will take some big strides this year. The strong armed Vandy alum will also make some mistakes, but new acquisition Travis Henry and his 9 illegitimate children along with a fired up Javon Walker make this a pretty potent offense. This is all assuming Henry keeps his health and his baby mamas don't start no drama. In addition, even though they lost rising star CB Darrent Williams to a senseless shooting, Dre Bly and Champ Bailey give the Broncs a near shutdown secondary. It's also nice that they get to feast on Oakland and Kansas City twice.
3) Kansas City Chiefs - Kansas City was praying to the football gods that Brodie Croyle was ready to play in this league. A disastrous preseason proved otherwise. I'm not sure if calling Damon Huard your starting QB is a team's worst nightmare, but it's definitely not a dream scenario. This along with a porous defense, a declining offensive line, and an overworked Larry Johnson will make this a long, long season for the Chiefs.
4) Oakland Raiders - The Raiders will be among the worst teams in football again this year. We'll find out for sure when they take on the Matt Millen's Detroit Lions in week 1. Even though Daunte Culpepper will vastly improve their offense (impossible for it to get any worse) and couple it to a playoff-ready defense, I'd say that 5-11 is the ceiling for this team. The JaMarcus Russell situation is a complete embarrassment, and it really exposes the Raiders for the truly mediocre, classless organization that it is. Al Davis has been completely senile for 5 years and somebody should put him in a home.
Baltimore Ravens - Baltimore is my pick to win the Superbowl this year. Of course my picks generally prove to be incorrect, but this one looks pretty good. The AFC is full of very good football teams, but none have a better defense than the Ravens. But what makes this year different is that they have a potentially explosive offense this year. Adding Willis McGahee to an offense that includes Todd Heap, Mark Clayton, a year wiser Demetrius Williams, and the still productive Derrick Mason, gives graybeard Steve McNair some good weapons. It's going to be good enough to make Baltimore fans forget that the Mark Teixeira-less Texas Rangers dropped 30 runs on the Orioles.
Pittsburgh Steelers - I don't know really why Pittsburgh will finish ahead of Cincinnati-- but I just know it. After a lame season that began with Big Ben and his motorcycle accident, and ended with an 8-8 finish, the Steelers appear to be rejuvenated with new head coach Mike Tomlin. I'm a bit concerned with Hines Ward's diminishing health and skills, but I just have a good feeling about this bunch; you just can't keep a good man (or team in this case) down.
Cincinnati Bengals - I don't know that the Bengals will disappoint, but I just don't see them doing that well in this division. Their defense is not very formidable, and I wouldn't be surprised if battering ram Rudi Johnson starts breaking down a bit. Of course, it's hard to bet against Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, and TJ Howzmazouli/House-Man-Douche/Whosyourmama, but I just think that they will suffer a lot of stupid losses. And by losses, I don't mean arrests and suspensions, but what's the over/under on Bengals arrests this season? I'd say 2.5.
Cleveland Browns - Yes, they're still down here. They're trying their best, but it will be yet another year with more losses than wins for the Dawg Pound. I love that they're spending big money on their O-Line (Steinbach, Tucker, Joe Thomas, LeCharles Bentley, etc.), but it will be a tale of the defense and poor quarterback play again. At least this year they'll be able to run the ball better with Jamal Lewis. But with Brady Quinn sitting on the bench for a few weeks, they're losing valuable development time. The Browns have weapons on offense with Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow, but they need to keep everyone on the field at the same time. This means keeping the two stallions healthy and keeping Charlie Frye out of the picture. Their pass defense and pass rush should be improved, but their dismal run defense won't be much better in '07.
Indianapolis Colts - Of course the champs are going to be number 1 in football's weakest division! I don't really have much to say about it. We know what Indy's about. They will score, Peyton's great, and Joseph Addai will be even better than he was last year. But the question is, will opposing running backs run up and down the field at will like they did last year? If they can, Indy will get knocked out of the playoffs early.
Houston Texans - That's right. They're coming in second. I'm thinking that Houston will finish 8-8 or perhaps 9-7. I don't think they'll make the playoffs, but I really think they'll be a decent team. Matt Schaub will be a top 15 QB this year, and he has some good receivers. I also believe that Ahman Green has enough left in the tank to be effective. Also, the Texans' defense, led by MLB DeMeco Ryans, has pride, purpose, talent, and will surprise some people. They may give up some big plays, but I like what they've got going on.
Jacksonville Jaguars - I wish I could say that they were better than this. I'm always pulling for underdog teams like this. However, I don't see their fortunes changing much this year. It's about time that they named David Garrard the starter and cut Leftwich loose. However, I don't see this season being all that successful. I don't really have any reasoning to back this up, but it's just going to be a tough-luck season for the Jags, even with Maurice Drew (I refuse to call him Jones-Drew. He was Maurice Drew at De La Salle, so he's Drew to me) bowling people over and scoring hella touchdowns for my fantasy team.
Tennessee Titans - The Titans will be awful. Their defense is atrocious, their only decent wide receiver is Eric Moulds (in his 30s) and they have a mediocre, unsettled RB picture. Vince Young will be yet another victim of the Madden curse, and will regress as defenses adjust and hit him hard after he scampers around. The Titans will wish they had Pacman Jones after week 3. The new Kenny Chesney CD will sell a million copies for every win the Titans get this year. Let it also be known that it is a disgrace that Coach Jeff Fisher hasn't been given a contract extension.
New England Patriots - The Pats are beastly. Although I want Baltimore or San Diego to make it to the Superbowl, it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see New England take it all. Their defense is improved with Adalius Thomas, and we all knew Asante Samuel wouldn't hold out all year. I'm just crying over here that he was forced to sign a... boo hoo... 1 year $7.2 million dollar contract... just terrible. What an injustice! Anyway, with the defense on board, and Laurence Maroney continuing to beast around, Tom Brady, his new illegitimate son with Bridget Moynahan, and his new arsenal of receivers will beast around constantly. However, Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth had better get healthy. I just don't see the two of them combining for more than 25 games. It's a hamstring here, an ankle there, and a brilliant play every now and then. Lucky for Brady, they've got Wes Welker.
Bold Prediction: Wes Welker will lead the Pats in receptions. He's quick, he's shifty, he catches the ball, and he's durable. Moss and Stallworth will draw a ton of attention, leaving little Wes to run quick slants out of the slot position. He'll soon become Brady's new best friend.
New York Jets - Coach Eric Mangini had Mozart blaring through loudspeakers during training camp. That's a little weird. But, Mangenious (not Man-gina mind you) can do whatever he wants. The man got Chad Pennington and his noodle arm into the playoffs last year after a wretched 2005 campaign. On top of it, he got them there with Kevan Barlow, Cedric Houston, and a rookie Leon Washington as his running backs. They may not improve too much on their win total, but they will be a solid team. They'll need Thomas Jones to be healthy though... that always seems to be a big if (other than last year).
Bold Prediction: Kellen Clemens will take the QB job from Pennington for good if he gets hurt.
Buffalo Bills - Buffalo has got to be one of the most frustrating teams to root for. They show promise every year, and every year, it's like a big punch in the gut. I've never been a believer in JP Losman, and unless he beasts around this year, I never will be. Apparently Stanford's Trent Edwards has been very impressive thus far, and retread head coach Dick Jauron has no loyalty to Losman, a pick of the previous regime. I love Marshawn Lynch, and I think he'll be very successful up there in bringing the running game back from the dead after Willis McGahee somehow killed it. Also, MLB Paul Posluzny was the steal of the draft in the 2nd round, and will become an instant leader on a defense that lost Nate Clements and Takeo Spikes.
Miami Dolphins - This year's Oakland Raiders will have a long, long season. I just don't like this team one bit. Their defense is more than solid, but it will have to bring their 'A' game every week in order for this team to eek out a 6-10 record (if that). Trent Green, as much as I love the guy, is on his last legs in this league. There's nothing wrong with his arm, but his legs will be a factor behind a suspect offensive line. I expect him to take a pounding. Couple that with career underachiever Chris Chambers, and the overrated Ted Ginn Jr. and the disappointing Ronnie Brown, and you've got a bad offense, and a bad football team-- a perfect fit for the worst sports town in America.
San Francisco 49ers - Of course I'm picking them to win the West. I'd be crazy and a non-fan if I didn't. This is the time. We've got a talented, young team, and we have one of the best coaching tandems in the league in Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary. Alex Smith will continue to progress into the player we need him to be, and Frank Gore will prove that he is not a fluke. Couple that with Kwame Harris' demotion (goodbye loser, hello Joe Staley), the acquisitions of Darrell Jackson and Ashlie Lelie, as well as the development of physical specimen Vernon Davis, lead me to believe that we are in for quite an offensive show.
Unfortunately, the defense is a work in progress. Mike Nolan is trying his damndest to implement his beloved 3-4. It's taking a little longer than we thought. The preseason was a bit of a disaster on both sides of the ball, but I'm more concerned about the D. The personnel is not the issue though, it's just a matter of these guys gelling and executing properly.
I love the guys we picked up on D. Patrick Willis will be the next Ray Lewis, and Manny Lawson is making big strides by all accounts at the wOLB position. I also expect Nate Clements to do what an $80 million dollar corner is supposed to do. Unfortunately, this will force more balls to Walt Harris/Shawntae Spencer which may expose some weaknesses in deep pass coverage. Michael Lewis and Mark Roman team to form one of the hardest hitting safety combos on this side of D.C.
Seattle Seahawks - The Seahawks, two years removed from the Superbowl that they got hosed in, look to extend their NFC West crown streak. We all know that won't happen. However, I still consider them a very good football team and I believe they will make the playoffs. A resurgent Shaun Alexander will propel them but an old weak Shaun A will kill them. I'm leaning toward an average Shaun A. I think they will benefit from cutting loose the cancer known as Jerramy Stevens too. Their defense is average at best, and we all know what happens when they play the Niners. We shred them. The Seahawks are to the Niners what the Dallas Mavericks are to the Warriors.
Arizona Cardinals - Well they certainly are movin' on up like George and Weezy. Except they still have big problems. Leinart will continue to develop just like other guys I've talked about, and Edgerrin James will rebound a bit. We all know about their receivers. However, their defense will have to make big strides, and the offensive line will have to vastly improve their cohesiveness and overall performance. This team may get a taste of success, but will make too many execution mistakes to contend for a playoff berth. But at least they have a retractable field inside of a retractable roof stadium!
St. Louis Rams - Not even Steven Jackson's beastly production can save this team from last place. This team is going nowhere this year. Their defense is terrible, and they will get shredded playing in the NFC West. Frank Gore, Shaun A, and Edgerrin James will run up and down the field whenever they feel like it, and look for Reggie Bush to gain 200+ all purpose yards against the blue and gold in week 10. And to add injury to insult, Torry Holt says he's 75% healthy and Isaac Bruce is a year older (although that's never seemed to stop him before). Randy McMichael may actually put forth some effort this year and be a relevant fantasy player again.
Chicago Bears - We all know what this team is about: sick defense and sickening offense. Getting Lance Briggs back was huge. Now, all they need to do is figure out how to get Rex Grossman to stop making mistakes and light a fire under Cedric Benson's ass. Good luck.
Green Bay Packers - I suppose they're here by default. The Packers didn't improve themselves at all. They signed Frank Walker, a nickelback, and they drafted Brandon Jackson. That's about it. Favre is just going to have to make do. I would also like him to stop throwing so many picks ( I have him on one of my fantasy teams). Honestly, I don't know what to expect out of this team. They should move into the upper eschelon of rush defenses this year, and keep games winnable for their painfully average offense. Whatever they can get out of Vernand Morency would help Brandon Jackson in his first season. Also, the health of Donald Driver is imperative to the Pack's success-- or lack thereof.
Bold Prediction: Cal's Desmond Bishop will play his way into a starting role, even if he's not a great fit. That was him who knocked the head off of Jacksonville's Reggie Williams in the preseason.
Minnesota Vikings - TAKE QUINN! TAKE QUINN! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU ALREADY HAVE CHESTER TAYLOR! That's what I was yelling on draft day. Well, seeing as though Quinn was taken in the 20s, that sounds stupid of me to yell. However, it's even stupider that Minny didn't trade down to get him and snagged either an additional first or second round draft pick in the process. Indeed they have an interesting strategy: rely on a stingy run defense, run the ball like hell, give up some big plays and hope some random guy named Tavaris doesn't make too many mistakes. Strangely, I believe that this team could surprise people with some success. However, it's just too much to ask of Tavaris Jackson to be the old Daunte Culpepper or even the old-balls Brad Johnson. I think they should give Byron Leftwich a look and possibly pick him up off the scrap heap.
Bold Prediction: Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson will both amass 1,000 rushing yards.
Detroit Lions - Did you expect anything more from a team run by a Ford and Matt Millen? This team will win 3 more games than they did last year-- maybe. Their defense will be just as bad, and it doesn't help that they just lost their starting safety for the year. On the offensive side of the ball, offensive coordinatior Mike Martz has been salivating all offseason at the thought of Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson on the field at the same time. It has also been reported that he has developed quite a man-crush on speedy Tatum Bell. With the serviceable and accurate Jon Kitna behind center and Mike Furrey in the slot, this looks like a homeless man's New England Patriots-- except they have Kitna instead of Tom Brady and Brady has 5 men in front of him who know how to block, and the Lions are the complete opposite of the Pats in every way.
Bold Prediction: The Lions will not have a 1,000 yard rusher this season.
New Orleans Saints - After a pretty surprising season, the Saints enter this year as an NFC heavyweight. Their offense is purely explosive, and 1st round pick Robert Meachem will be a nice replacement for the aging Joe Horn. Reggie Bush should have a monster year, as they will figure out how to give him the ball more. I assume that this team will not regress and will contend for a Superbowl.
Atlanta Falcons - Okay, so this may be a sympathy pick. I can't say for sure that they will come in second place. What I do know, is that before the Mike Vick debacle, the Falcons had a decent team and they were going to go no less than 8-8. So, I'm thinking that with some good mojo, some good breaks, and some long Jerious Norwood runs, they could go 9-7. Or... the Joey Harrington experiment will be a disaster, they will go 4-12, and Bobby Petrino will get his shot to take Brian Brohm in the draft next June.
Carolina Panthers - This team is full of dysfunction. They have disappointed everyone two years in a row, and if we're expecting anything different, we are mistaken or insane. I'm not a fan of Jake Delhomme. Sure I'm down with the whole Bayou Cajun thing, but as a quarterback, he's mediocre. Hopefully having David Carr behind him has given him a sense of urgency. On the other hand, that urgency could lead him to throw a few more picks. I don't like this running game either. I've never liked DeShaun Foster, and I'm not sold on DeAngelo Williams either. They do have Steve Smith and Keyshawn-in-training Dwayne Jarrett though. As long as Steve Smith gets the ball, they can scrounge up 100 yards rushing per game as a team, and the defense keeps things close, they will do okay-- but we're talking just okay.
Tampa Bay Buccanneers - Jon Gruden might want to cut his losses now. Whether he quits, or refuses to vacate the premises at season's end, he'll be on Craig's List in January looking for another gig. This could be the worst team in football-- and that's really saying something considering football also includes the Lions, Titans, and Raiders. Their 1st round draft pick, Gaines Adams may become Simeon Rice someday (without the narcicissm) but that won't help stop the run. They are just sort of weak on the D-Line, and Derrick Brooks is a year older (although he still had 100+ tackles last year). The offense is near pathetic. Jeff Garcia is the man down in Tampa now, and although I love the guy and his toughness, he's woefully inconsistent and weak-armed. This, coupled with the antiquated Joey Galloway and the underachieving Carnell "Oldsmobile" Williams at running back lead me to believe that this team will bottomfeed all year.
Dallas Cowboys - I really don't consider the 'Boys a first place team. I guess they just get here by default. I'm concerned about Tony Romo staying out all night drinking whiskey and eating tofu with Carrie Underwood. I just don't know if this relationship is going to work. But I digress... Football-wise, Tony Romo could either be Tom Brady or Eli Manning. Of course, I don't think he'll rise or sink to either of their respective levels. We can just hope that he holds ball properly during extra points and field goals. Let's hope that this is the first and only controversy-free TO season, and Wade Phillips realizes that Marion Barber III is the man and Julius Jones is a nutsac. Oh yeah, and get the ball to Jason Witten for God's sake.
Washington Redskins - Sometimes you just have to go out on a limb. This is one of those times. Yes I know how bad their D was last year and that Clinton Portis has tendonitis and that Jason Campbell is unproven. Yes, yes, yes. It's all true! But, things can turn around in a hurry in the NFL, and I'm thinking that this is what will happen with the 'Skins. Let's say that Jason Campbell does well, minimizes mistakes, Portis plays 12 games, and the defense grows a collective pair of male genitals. Then I think we could have a surprise team on our hands. Truth be told, I like Jason Campbell, and by all accounts, he's worked his ass off to prepare for this year. Playing against dysfunctional teams like Philly and the New York Football Giants will be easier than people think.
Philadelphia Eagles - The A-gles will be pretty bitch this year. Even if you take away the Donovan McNabb factor I think this team has a lot of holes. They have an underachieving defensive line, and even big name veterans like Takeo Spikes won't help change the average-ness of the D. McNabb admitted that he's not 100%. No shit. It takes longer than 8 or 9 months to recover from a torn ACL. I should know. Anyway, they still don't have a real pounding running back (Westbrook seems to catch more passes than he receives handoffs), and the receiving corps is Reggie Brown and a bunch of scrubs. When (not if) McNabb gets hurt, Philly fans have Kevin Kolb and AJ Feely to look forward to. Nice.
New York Giants - I miss Tiki already. It's easy for me to admit, but it'll be a little harder for spoiled brat Eli Manning to come to terms with. Brandon Jacobs is a novelty player, and Reuben Droughns is average at best. These two will frustrate Giants fans to no end. They've lost a starter or two on the O-Line, so there will be a bit of a meshing period that needs to take place. I hope that this leads to Eli getting a face full of dirt at least 10 times per game. I'm eager to see what Manning can do with his above average receiving corps though. Plaxico Burress, Sinorice Moss, USC's Steve Smith and Jeremy Shockey are some good weapons. But I think Manning will regress even further and start feeling the New York pressure. It'll get even worse with their pathetic defense on the field. The injury to Will Demps makes things even uglier for the G-Men. They won't be a terrible last place team, but they won't be any good. Eli's well-documented "Aw Shucks" demeanor will become and "Ah Shit" demeanor very quickly and Tom Coughlin will be gone after this season.
Well there you have it. And before you make fun of me for having no life and too much time on my hands, I'll counter with the fact that I did this entire thing at work-- ON THE CLOCK!
Send this to your friends who like football. I need an audience dammit. I feel like I'm talking to myself.