A couple of years ago, I tried blogging my own little football preview section, division-by-division. I'm doing it again this year because there is an alarming shortage of sports to think, talk, or write about beyond some pansy with a bike testing positive for steroids and the yawn-fest known as MLB. So where do we start? How about the AFC West? It's a tough one, and the one I'm most likely to be wrong about. So hopefully you'll have forgotten these after I'm done with 8 entries worth of predictions.
4. Oakland - The Raiders have a new(ish) head coach in Art Shell. They have a new QB in Aaron Brooks but Shell has said he's not guaranteed the job. Randy Moss can still hurt a team pretty bad, but I don't see this team coming together and acomplishing anything significant. Especially given the teams that show up on their schedule twice.
3. Kansas City - Herm Edwards seemed like a great pick for head coach until you see what exactly the Jets have done lately. I think this is the year that age and lack of defense(Herm or no Herm) catch up to KC in a big, bad way.
2. Denver - How can I possibly pick them 2nd in their division when they seem to have only made moves to improve on last season? Call it a hunch. Call it a feeling. Call it a very dangerous Wild Card team come playoff time. Or at the very least, I'm openly questioning how Javon Walker's knee surgury went. Maybe?
1. San Diego - Where this team goes is entirely depenent upon how well Philip Rivers can do as an NFL QB. WIth a servicable set of recievers, Antonio Gates, and LaDainien Tomlinson on his side he doesn't even have to be great. Just being really good will do the trick. I had the Chargers at #2 in this division when I started typing this, but just talked myself into putting them over the Broncos. We'll see how that works out.
So there you go. The analysis isn't entirely thoughtful, but my rule is that I'm not allowed to do any research when typing this. So in the future I may even have players playing for the wrong teams. The internet is full of good and detailed predictions. But this is the only place you can get predictions from a guy who goes on whims and changes his picks as he types them.
My views on fantasy sports have been shared with anyone foolish enough to engage me in that conversation. My only entry into a fantasy league ever was a trip into an NBA league in an effort to make myself pay more attention to professional basketball. I had lost all interest before the draft was even over and ended up trading Kobe Bryant to Derek for practically nothing since I figured someone who produces that much score should be on the team of someone paying attention.
Yesterday, I took the monumental step of joining the fantasy football league of some fellow 411 writers. I expect that I'll lose and lose bad. On the up side, I expect the smack talk within the league to be of a superior nature. This better be fun.
Anyway, today we'll be taking a look at the AFC South.
4. Houston - Do I think the Texans made the right choice in the draft? Yes. Do I think that choice will pay off immediately? No. There are more problems with this team than any one draft pick can solve. I predict another last place finish in this division, and we'll see what kind of improvements have been made at this time next year.
3. Tennessee - I just don't see it happening. The Titans drafted well for themselves, but I'm not convinced that Vince Young is what people say he is. LenDale White is a far more intriguing story for this season. Young will be taking snaps at the end of the season, though, once the former Oilers are out of contention.
2. Jacksonville - I like Jack Del Rio a lot and think Byron Leftwich is constantly a threat to have an MVP year. It's just not going to happen with the recievers they have. Their defense will be good enough to secure the other Wild Card spot, though.
1. Indianapolis - I'm so tired of picking the Colts. Every year it's the same thing. Look at that offense! Improvements will be made on defense! This year it's the same, even without James at RB. They'll be good enough to hit the playoffs strong, much like they did last year, but I'm not picking them to get the job done there until they prove to me that they can get the job done there. Hear that, Manning? It's the sound of me jumping on the bandwagon.
The method behind my NFL preview is simple. I go with what I think I know. I don't cheat over to ESPN to make sure I'm right. I just hope that I didn't sleep through a trade that sent the guy I think will be the difference-maker for Team A over to Team 4, thus rendering my half-ass analysis useless. I have, however, been reading up and watching Sportscenter when not writing out these previews.
AFC East standings! GO!
4. Buffalo - Poor, poor Buffalo. Dick Jauron is their coach, which means they'll be trying to play "safe football" with a team that has holes in both offensive and defensive lines. It's going to be ugly. They have nothing to speak of at QB and their entire offense will rest on the shoulders of Willis McGahee, who is good but not that good. It's going to be a long season for the 'lo.
3. New York - The Jets' first question is "who will be our QB?" Will it be the constantly inujured Pennington or Pat Ramsey? Will it matter? Maybe a little. The Jets drafted some offensive protection, so that's good news for Chad. The bad news is that there isn't a partiularly deadly running threat that I can recall. I also don't remember their defense setting the world on fire last year, and that could only decline under a brand new coach.
2. New England - Last time I checked, ESPN loves these guys to make the Super Bowl. If you remember, I've already dished out the 2 Wild Card spots. So I'm going against the experts when I pick the Pats to miss the playoffs altogether. You know why? Because they pointed out all of the flaws with New England - and there were many - but still picked them to hit the Super Bowl because of Tom Brady. That's it. I remember the opening game 2 years ago, where we were subjected to a clip lasting no less than 15-minutes extolling the many things that made Brady not only a great football player but ahead of Ghandi and just behind Jesus Christ on the all-time list of people to walk the Earth. Coming out of that video, one of the comentators remarked that "Tom Brady is the most underrated player in the NFL." Screw you, sports media. Favre hasn't even broken the record for career interceptions yet and you've already found another golden boy. He misses the playoffs this year.
1. Miami - It's simple. Look at how a struggling team finishes the season. The Dolphins, if I remember correctly, finished the season winning their last 6 in a row. If it's not that, it's something close. They've added an MVP-calibur player in Dante Culpepper. They've got "good enough" running and receivers, and a servicable defense. The Dolphins are going to turn some heads this year, and then tell Ricky Williams where to shove his bong.
Football should be the ultimate team sport. So why is it that one player's slow recovery has me rethinking my order for the AFC North?
4. Cleveland - The Browns are going to get there; but they're old guys are too old and their young guys are too young and injury-prone. An improved year, but just slightly.
3. Baltimore - McNair ain't the man he used to be. Even if he was, the offensive line that couldn't give a talent like Jamal Lewis some room is back and a huge question mark. In the meantime, the defense looks to be continuing the downward spiral and will begin to look less and less like the once-terrifying D that used to strike fear into the hearts of fantasy team owners as the season goes on.
2. Cincinnati - I thought they were going to take the North this year until I started hearing Carson Palmer's take on his knee. There's a huge talent gap at QB if Palmer isn't ready that could very well cost the Bengals a shot at the playoffs. Having Chad Johnson at receiver doesn't mean a thing if you can't get him the ball.
1. Pittsburgh - I originally saw the defending champs missing the playoffs altogether, but I think they have enough to win this division if Palmer is as unconfident in his health as he seems. It's sad, because I really wanted to see this division's top 2 teams go after each other and trade leads. The Steelers' D still looks stingy and there's enough left of the offense(even after the motorcycle incident) to capture the North under the watch of NCSU's own Bill Cowher.
Since certain loyal readers have expressed an interest in the NFC East and I haven't made up my mind about the NFC West just yet...
4. Philadelphia - The Eagles are just in ruin right now. Their offense has no #1 receiver, and Westbrook doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who can shoulder an offense for an entire season. The defense pretty bad last year, and I don't know that they've done anything to make it any better. Poor McNabb.
3. New York - Eli Manning will have targets out the wazoo this season, but I think Tiki Barber will remember he's Tiki Barber and start coughing up some fumbles this season. Defensively, the Giants are pretty solid. They're really too good for a third-place division finish, but I think Washington will have an edge on them when it's time to give out the last wild card spot for the NFC.
2. Washington - The Redskins have Antwaan Randle El, Santana Moss, and Chris Cooley for Mark Brunell to throw at if he's still got enough in him to make it a full season. Clinton Portis re-established himself last season. So the offense has a lot going for it, in theory. The pass defense is what puts them over the Giants for second, though, as all of their division games look to involve a lot of passing offenses.
1. Dallas - I don't want to pick Dallas to finish first. But I have to. They've made moves to improve an already pretty good defense, first of all. And then we get to the addition of Terrell Owens on offense. Some people point out that QB Bledsoe likes to call out his receivers in a way that Owens won't like; but you have to remember that this is Owens' first year with the team. This, of course, means that he'll be a good boy and a team player just to show the Eagles they were wrong about him. This means extra room for an amazing back in Julius Jones, too. The only way Dallas isn't looking at a bye week on Wild Card weekend is if new kicker Mike Vanderjagt manages to get Owens off of his good boy routine. I don't think that Owens, even on his best behavior, will stand for being called out by a kicker.
The season is getting close, but there's still like 3 weeks before my fantasy draft. The more I think about what being in a fantasy league is going to require of me, the more I become certain that I will lose. Badly. I'm fine with that, as I know none of the 411 writers personally. If I've never met you in person, I can't really lose to you. Right?
4. New Orleans - Reggie Bush is there. Drew Brees is there. That's about it. I don't think the Saints will contend but I do think that they will be the team that decides who wins first place in the division. Someone's standing will come down to a bad day against the Saints.
3. Atlanta - It's going to take more than Mike Vick. It's going to take all sorts of things that the Falcons don't have. I'm even tempted to drop them behind the Saints. In the end, though, Mike Vick does seem to be worth a couple of extra wins, somehow some way. Those wins won't be enough for the playoffs, though.
2. Carolina - I'm not sold on the Panthers' retooled running game with Foster looking to get a majority of the carries. I like the addition of DeAngelo Williams to the team, but think it'll take him a while to come on. I'm also not entirely sold on Keyshawn Johnson as a great addition to the team, no matter how much pressure that might take off of Steve Smith. I expect a second place finish in the division due to a slow start on the season and a bad loss to the Saints. I expect a very dangerous Wild Card team to make some noise in the playoffs, though.
1. Tampa Bay - They're bringing back practically all of last season's #1 defense. Cadillac Williams and Chris Simms look ready to bring Tampa's offense up a few notches, as well. It'll be a horse race with Carolina for the other playoff bye(the one the Cowboys won't have). I think Tampa has a slight edge in that race.
Short and sweet, the NFC West
4. San Fransisco - Can the 49ers win this division? No. Can they win 5 games? No.
3. St. Louis - The Rams are a mess. I really wish they'd trade Holt to a team where he could do some damage. They can't win this division, but they might be able to win 5 games.
2. Seattle - I just don't think they'll do well this year. I really don't.
1. Arizona - Does this mean that I'm buying into the Kurt Warner/Edge hype? No. I do think that the team is only helped by Matt Leinart's holdout, in that now there won't be any call to get him out there before he's ready from any side. Still, I don't believe this is a good team. I just believe that the Seahawks will hit that slump that seems to go with all of the defending NFC champs and miss the playoffs. In order to miss the playoffs, they have to lose this awful division to someone. If it's anyone, it's Arizona.
When I say that the Bears will win the NFC North, I mean it with my whole brain. Rather than my whole heart, which is usually the source of the prediction.
4. Green Bay - The Packers look awful this year. The only highlights they can look forward to are those of Favre breaking the career INT record. I know I'm looking forward to it.
3. Detroit - I have no idea what's going on there. It looks bleak, and no one involved with that team seems to care to do anything about it.
2. Minnesota - The Vikings don't look that good, either. They do look better than Detroit and Green Bay, though.
1. Chicago - The best thing that could have possibly happened to the Bears is Benson injuring his shoulder so that Thomas Jones can get the starting job at halfback. They have a servicable backup at QB when Grossman goes down with his annual injury. The defense will be amazing once again. The Bears are going to the Super Bowl. I've decided that, based on how bad the rest of the NFC North looks, that the Bears will get a bye instead of Dallas, who will have too much competition from the rest of their division to keep one of the top 2 records in the NFC.
I would be a fool to try to predict the playoffs before the season has really started, wouldn't I? That's exactly why I'm gonna do it.
Wild Card weekend will look like this:
Carolina def. Arizona, Washington def. Dallas
Dever def. Pittsburgh, San Diego def. Jacksonville
Tampa Bay def. Washington, Chicago def. Carolina
Denver def. Indianapolis, Miami def. San Diego
Chicago def. Tampa Bay
Denver def. Miami
Chicago def. Denver
You heard it here first, kids.