New York Jets
Jacksonville, New York Jets
New York Giants
Green Bay, New York Giants
San Diego beats New Orleans(secretly wish it could be the Ravens beat the Redskins.... maybe some day!)
Pittsburgh is the team to beat in the east with Cleveland, oh dear God, Cleveland, chomping away as their only legit competitor in division play. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leads the offense with Heinz Ward as his primary go-to-guy. The Steelers power on defense will rip apart all but the most elite offenses.
What is it about the Cleveland Browns? They seemed to be a lot of fellows behind the sports desks sweetheart team for 2008, but they seem loaded to self-destruct. First, they need to show a lot more on defense. The Browns open at home for their first two games hosting Dallas and Pittsburgh, both teams with defenses equipped to shut down the Browns offense and given that their offense is somewhat hobbled will make the challenge tougher. Their offense could take even more of a beating in the third week when they visit Baltimore. It will be tough for the Browns to get off to a great start.
Baltimore, the beloved Ravens, appear headed for rebuilding as they attempt to establish who will be their starting quarterback. With John Harbaugh, their young, enthusiastic head coach and Cam Cameron bringing in a new playbook on offense. Things will be different in Crab Town. Though only a 5-11 team last year, the Ravens looked like the best bet to win it all in 2006 only to fold like a lounge chair in the playoffs. Joe Flacco jumps from I-AA ball to the big show as the Ravens’ starter for week one. This wasn’t the plan but things got a little crazy. Plans were to see if Troy Smith was strong enough to oust Kyle Boller. Now, Boller has a serious shoulder injury that could require surgery and by the time preseason play began, had lost all love from Baltimore fans. Now, Smith is the question mark, a powerful tonsil infection caused Smith to miss the first two games of the season. He’s still recovering, far from being in playing shape. Troy Smith saw limited duty at the end of last year, but fought in a National Championship battle as the Heisman Trophy Winner at Ohio State a year earlier. Regardless of how things work out, no one wants to see Kyle Boller lead the offense. He’s worn out his welcome, but was pressed into service with way too little experience, a scenario they hoped to avoid with Flacco. Though only a 5-11 team last year, the Ravens looked like the best bet to win it all in 2006 only to fold like a lounge chair in the playoffs. Many starters remain from that team.
Cincinnati is a team of what could have been, Carson Palmer to nutcase, Chad Johnson who is reportedly looking to legally change his name to Ocho Cinco. He’d better produce like the greatest wideout ever for the team to put up with all his antics. For the past couple years, Cincy fans could more easily name which players were in the hospital, prison, or on parole. Marvin Lewis deserved a better fate than accepting his first head coach’s position. Most owners would find him an easy scapegoat, but he didn’t select the players. He was charged instead with babysitting them. Opening day in Baltimore could do a lot to set the tempo for both the Ravens and the Bengals. Both teams have much to prove but with the Bengals, it’s more a matter of how known people prove themselves. From head coach to Quarterback to numerous positions across the field, the Ravens have fresh faces. If their defense stays healthy, the Ravens do have a strong special teams unit. The offense is a along way from proving they’re ready for “prime time.”
The Indianapolis Colts move into their new sports place, Lucas Oil Stadium, an ultra-modern, retractable roof new millennium stadium. Payton Manning and crew are unpacking the same explosive offense and competent defence that has made them a perennial contender in the new Millennium. With salary cap issues and old age setting in, the Colts don’t have the depth they once enjoyed, and look out, here comes Jacksonville which emerged as a strong playoff contender last year. Jack Del Rio will continue to develop QB David Garrard in his second full year starting. The Jags showed a killer instinct dominating Pittsburgh forcefully in ’07 though looked sheepish in their playoff loss to New England. If New England and Indianapolis are the top AFC teams, then things size up for possible post-season showdown between Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. Though it’s a long way to January, it’s hard not to prefer Jacksonville. Tennessee is a hard team to figure out. At times when Vince Young is on and the defense holds, they look post-season bound. Other times, they look as flat as a city slicker trying to sing country in Nashville. Houston is coming together as a team anticipating their breakthrough year. 2008 being their seventh season, being the new team on the block doesn’t cut it anymore. Will they run with the pack or wallow in misfortune with the perennial cellar dwellers.
The AFC North is still all about New England who will dominate this division but the images in rear view mirror are getting closer. Age and salaries have eroded the unstoppable character of the Patriots whose defense is suspect and gray. Life might be tougher in January, but during the regular season, it will be one big party in Foxboro.The New York Jets are energized with the addition of Brett Favre and also beefing up on both sides of the ball, the team that has appeared to be floating motionlessly, is reloaded and could be a key player in the wild card race. The Buffalo Bills are one of the real mystery teams in the NFL. At times they look like they’re going to pull together into being real fighters. Their defense is solid. Trent Edwards continues to gain experience. However, there are other times, they look more like Detroit or Arizona. On Sunday, December 7th the Bills take their game to the Rogers Center in Toronto to face the Dolphins. Owner, Ralph Wilson has agreed to play eight games over the next five years rewarding their Canadian fan base. Eventually, the Miami Dolphins should respond to Bill Parcells big plan as the Tuna develops a new culture directing the fish how to swim. As part of the fallout from Brett Favre signing with the Jets, Chad Pennington will pilot the Dolphins offense. He’s looked good in pre-season so far. Players are on notice, perform or “see you later.” Still, it’s hard to imagine Miami not being at the bottom of the pack.
Ssh, the world is trying to keep the San Diego Chargers a secret. (Whisper) They’re pretty darned good. San Diego Chargers coach, Norv Turner, has shed the wimp label and his team could be the team to beat in the AFC this year with an offensive attack of Phil Rivers and LaDamion Thomas, they could be ready to smack down the Colts and the Patriots for the AFC Championship. A big question for the ‘Bolts is Shawne Merriman’s knee injury. The medical know-it-alls say it’s not if but when he will be finished for the season. Their competition in the rest of the division is unusually weak for teams with the history of Oakland, Kansas City, and most of all Denver. Kansas City is rebuilding. Oakland remains in Al Davis chaos. Denver has been oh so average for several seasons now with nothing to awake the thunder of the Rocky Mountains.
AFC Wild Card
Jacksonville is easily the top seed for a wild card spot. From there it would look like a battle between the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns. It’s just this writer’s hunch, but there’s always something about Cleveland that has just enough self-destruct built in them to let their many assets not be enough for the painful consequences of bonehead mistakes. A few pundits are kicking around Buffalo as a possible contender but talk about a team with a self-destructive Jekyll/Hyde personality. Houston continues to grow at a snail’s pace, but they’re not ready yet.
Green Bay Could have, would have, should have? Brett Favre was ready to return to his autumnal home on the western shore of Lake Michigan in cheese country. Pass the beer and bratwurst please, but in a twisted soap opera which took up most of the sports headlines banners through July, Favre is back in a green jersey – but not that one – the New York Jets. As such, it looks like Minnesota Vikings are the team ready to rise to the top of the shuffle. Green Bay could still be a decent team. Chicago is less and less like a team that recently went to the Super Bowl, but alas, there’s still the Motor City. Detroit has benefitted for years of high draft picks resulting from low finishes but has never had a team architect or the on-the-field leadership to make the Detroit Lions a serious contender. Every year at this time, some pundits will argue Detroit is finally ready, but by Halloween, Detroit is on its way to oblivion with only the tradition of hosting their Thanksgiving classic an event to look forward to. It’s the game fans can watch on Turkey day since it’s on as the dinner crowd is gathering. Dinner is served when the second game in Dallas is in progress.
The Chicago Bears are a chaotic clubhouse still unable to resolve what to do at QB. Clearly, Rex Grossman given many chances has not proven himself. He’s not a first line NFL quarterback. Chicago also has other holes that need to be plugged as their 2006 season becomes more and more a distant flukish memory.
The New Orleans Saints look like the winners in the AFC South. Drew Brees has Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister, among other options to run one tough offense. If they show some strong defense they could push aside Dallas.
Carolina gets lots of votes early in the year but always find some way to slide below expectations. Maybe it’s time for the Fox era to end. Jake Delhomme must cast off his easily rattled reputation. Julius Peppers and the defense are the real strength of this team, but they’re running out of excuses. The football experts have been blowing them kisses at this time of the year for awhile now. They still haven’t brought home the box of chocolate. This is the bigs, folks.
Tampa Bay rides its fortunes on Jeff Garcia and a bunch of “could be’s” and “may be’s.” They could finish above Carolina if their defense lives up to its strength. They’re a strong, consistent unit.
Atlanta is the worst place to be in the NFL. First came the Michael Vick scandal where the figure their franchise was built upon was jailed for the most ghastly and cruel crimes against God’s creation. Last year, was pure chaos only to be worsened by coach Bobby Petrino only coaching 13 games resigning to pursue a college job, the Arkansas Razorbacks. Here is a team truly rebuilding from rock bottom, brick by brick. Will Matt Ryan be the cornerstone at Quarterback to rise Falcons back into a first rate power? This and many more questions will be answered on the field each week where progress must be expected.
Lights, cameras, ACTION! Here come the 2008 Dallas Cowboys. During this era of no pro football in Los Angeles, the Dallas Cowboys keep trying to play up to the roll of the Hollywood version of a football powerhouse with matinee idol, Tony Romo at Quarterback. Never missing the chance to play Othello or a standup comic is Terrell Owens, while the morality play of the redemption of Adam PacMan Jones plays out.
The Super Bowl champs come from the NFC East as the improbable New York Giants, who had been written off at the beginning of last year seeming to be a locker room full of conflict with star running back, Tiki Barber, bad mouthing his former coach and colleagues only to surprise everyone by creeping along being in a position to make the playoffs by year’s end. After coming out of nowhere through the wild card chase to winning the Super Bowl, the Giants stood atop the world for that shining moment, but the team that came to training camp had lost many key defenders as free agents and due to retirement. That reassembled unit took even a tougher blow when Osi Umenyiora destroyed his knee and is gone for the season. Eli Manning keeps becoming more confident moving closer to the elite status of another Manning.
The Philadelphia Eagles aren’t that bad. All the pieces are there to be a playoff team. If Donovan McNabb stays healthy, the Eagles are right in the fight. They get no respect from the national media and the Philadelphia fans….Yes they booed Santa Claus!
The Washington Redskins are all about developing potential talent. Joe Gibbs will be in hot pursuit of a championship trophy, but that’s the Sprint Cup Trophy. He resigned soon after the 2007 season for family reasons to be closer to home where a grandchild is ill and a family business needs his guidance. Joe Gibbs seemed too matured and principled to be the Sgt. Major of owner Daniel Snyder’s big play thing. Bring in rookie coach, Jim Zorn to try to pull together a team that seemed to play on spiritual inspiration after the horrifying murder of up-and-coming star, Sean Taylor.
Clearly, Dallas is the best team. From two to four, anything can happen.
Seattle plays way out there in Starbucks country worlds away from the attention of most football fans. They’re a good team. They don’t have the receiving corps to go deep into playoffs. Mike Holmgren is an experienced enough coach that his leadership from the sidelines can be good for at least a couple extra wins. If nothing else the rest of the NFC West doesn’t raise much excitement at all.
For anyone thinking the Arizona Cardinals are turning the corner, why is their starting Quarterback Kurt Warner? Does anything more need to be said?
The Rams are still assembling the building blocks of a winning team of the future, but unless they have something that resembles an offensive line, Marc Bulger or any other QB they put on the field will be staring at the Edward Jones ceiling more than he’s taking snaps. Their defense needs work too.
The San Francisco 49er’s were seen as an up and coming team for the last two years, but they kept coming up short. They’ve reached a plateau of mediocrity they’ve not been able to rise above. The days of Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, and Steve Young are ancient NFL football now.
The scenario for the 2008 season, with Favre, Green Bay wins the division with a chance to advance in the playoffs. Without Favre, it looks like Minnesota’s advantage. Chicago continues to fall from their improbable Super Bowl season just two seasons ago. Detroit has new talent and is ready to make a move. Wait, haven’t we heard that before? As sure as the days get shorter to sunset early during four o’clock games in late November, the lights will go out for the Lions before they host the Thanksgiving classic where the visitors invade to enjoy fresh turkey.
NFC Wild Cards
If their defense holds, the Giants are the strongest Wildcard unit. With the Louisiana Lightening gone from the Packers, Aaron Rodgers will get much attention trying to keep Green Bay at a top competitive level. All the rest of the possible contenders are a noticeable step downward unless Carolina plays the way they have so often been proteched to be.