I’m sitting here in a hotel room in Ontario watching the first NFL game of the long season. The Steelers have just scored a TD to break the scoreless tie. So far the game has been the defensive battle that we would have expected, though it has raised a couple of questions – most notably whether the Titans will have the potential to stop the pass rush at all this year or if Kerry Collins is going to wind up in a body bag. As I watch the rest of the game along with the beatdown that Georgia Tech is (or at least was) inflicting on Clemson it seems like a good time to look forward to what to expect for this very young NFL season. Over the next two days, then, let’s look at some predictions for what I see happening. Today I’ll look at teams, and tomorrow I’ll look at individual accomplishments:
AFC North – I don’t think that there is a team in Ohio worth considering. The Browns are terrible,a d I don’t by the talk of a resurgence in Cincinnati. I like Baltimore a lot, but I have to give the slight edge to Pittsburgh. They have a more certain outcome at quarterback, and that could make all the difference.
AFC East – New England should win this one in a cake walk. Miami will be solid, but a much tougher schedule than last year will work against them. They also won’t sneak up on anyone this year. The Jets are a year away from competing. At least. The Bills are, yet again, going to waste some real potential.
AFC South – Is there a ‘none of the above’ option? I don’t really love any team here. I’m uncomfortable with the Colts’ ability to handle all of the changes they have faced. I like Jacksonville fine, but not enough to view them as a real contender. Houston is going to be good at some point, but they have to prove they can before I will trust them. Tennessee is primed for a step back, and I really don’t trust them offensively. I guess I will take Indy, but I am not at all happy about it.
AFC West – San Diego should have this one clinched by about October 1. Denver, Oakland and Kansas City are all different punch lines to the same bad joke.
Wild card teams – Baltimore and someone from the South – let’s say Houston for fun.
AFC Champion – I’ll take the dull, chalky pick and say that New England’s experience is enough to overcome San Diego – especially given the Norv Turner handicap.
NFC North – This is certainly the most competitive division in the league. The Lions are no-hopers, but any of the other three teams could win it. I’ll go with the Packers – they are the most complete team right now, and I have trouble believing that Cutler has enough offensive weapons in Chicago or that the Favre debacle can remain trouble-free all season.
NFC East – Washington certainly isn’t going to win. Beyond that it’s a coin flip. Philadelphia is getting a lot of hype, but I’m not buying into it. Dallas has all sorts of talent, but they are so hard to trust. The Giants are just so darned boring. I’m not optimistic about this conference, but would take the Giants. I guess.
NFC South – New Orleans has dizzying fire power and no excuses. their problem, though, is that they can never seem to get out of their own way. I’ll pick them, but I’ll be nervous about it. Tampa Bay is sadly a circus. Others are more positive about Carolina than I am – I like them defensively, but don’t know how I feel about them offensively. There is a lot to like about Atlanta, but I just have a feeling about them taking a step back after last year – this growth process is a long term deal for them.
NFC West – I like the Niners. I have said that for a while now, but I really feel it here. I don’t trust the Seahawks, and I think that the Cardinals will be fine, but I think that the Niners could have 10 wins in them, and that would be enough here. The Rams will be as irrelevant as always recently.
Wild card teams – Minnesota and Dallas.
NFC Champion – It’s a long way from 6-10 last year, but I’m going to go with the Packers. They have to prove they can take to a 3-4 defense, but I like their chances, and it will be more fun t cheer for them than a lot of teams.
Super Bowl winner – it has been a long time since Bill Belichick won it all, and no one is more aware of that than Bill Belichick. He’ll remedy that this year.