I’ve decided not to acknowledge that mess of a game between Washington and the Giants as the start of the NFL season. The Redskins in no way resembled an NFL team, so it shouldn’t count. That means that the official start of the NFL season is on Sunday. Though I still mostly see the NFL as just as acceptable follow-up to college football instead of a stand-alone attraction, I still greet the season with all sorts of excitement, and I have spent a good portion of my time over the last while thinking about this season from a ridiculous number of angles. Some of the thoughts have been productive and helpful towards the goal of profitability, and some almost certainly have not. Still, thinking about football is better than a huge majority of other possible activities.
In honor of the start of the season, here are 17 things I am pretty sure of about the season and how it will unfold for us as fans and bettors, or a least that I think I am sure of.
1. Chad Pennington is going to be decent. Not great because he doesn’t have a complete team around him, but decent. I think he’ll use the new opportunity to prove that he can still play. It wasn’t that long ago that he was comfortably among the top half of the league.
2. I think it is going to be a very long year in Baltimore. Neither Joe Flacco nor Troy Smith is ready for prime time, and even if they were they don’t have a lot of help around them. The defense was once great, but now is just getting old. I have no faith that Ed Reed will be able to get healthy, or that Lewis and the rest will hold up.
3. I think, actually I know, that I am sick of hearing about Shawne Merriman. I’m sure he won’t be at his best, and I doubt he’ll last all year, but I also think that the Chargers’ defense is good enough and deep enough that it doesn’t really matter. In other words, I’m not going to let the injury change my handicapping opinion of the team much.
4. I think that Oakland is going to be a mess. The last couple of years they have been handy in spots as a dog. I’m going to have to wait to see if they are this year, because right now I have a feeling that they could implode. I also don’t have a huge amount of faith in a big year coming from Darren McFadden, but then that hasn’t changed since well before the draft. He’ll be solid, but not Adrian Peterson good, or even close.
5. I don’t at all believe that Aaron Rodgers will make it through the season. He’s been fragile already, and his body isn’t used to contact after so long on the bench. I think he’ll be decent up until he is injured, though.
6. I don’t have an overwhelmingly positive feeling about the Patriots. They are still quite good, and I think that they stand a very good chance of being in the AFC championship, but I keep reading that this team is as good as last year and will make another run at glory, and I don’t know that I buy it. I think that they could be aiming for a letdown. They are still among my handful of Super Bowl contenders, but they aren’t ahead of the rest. Part of my concern is the health of Tom Brady. I don’t see him lasting all year unscathed, and I don’t like the alternative much. Then again, the fact that Matt Cassel was so bad in the preseason and yet the team hasn’t done anthing about it makes me wonder if maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem.
7. The same feeling of pessimism surrounds the Eagles. I keep reading that they are elite, but I can’t help but feel that they are going to disappoint. Again. Their receiving corps is brutal right now, and I don’t trust McNabb or the defense.
8. As much as I hate to say it, I think the Browns are going to have a rough year. Expectations and pressure could prove to be too much.
9. I like the Bucs. I don’t love them, but I think that Jeff Garcia is seriously underappreciated, and he’ll be fired up by the Favre flirtation. They aren’t Super Bowl contenders, but they are my pick in the surprisingly solid NFC South.
10. I was burned by this same prediction last year, but I can’t help myself – I think the Niners won’t be that bad. They are going to lose a lot of games and frustrate, but I will be looking towards them as a nice value play when they are heavy underdogs. There are a few very nice players on both sides of the ball.
11. Arizona’s going to be a disaster. Again. That’s relative, of course – they aren’t going to be Kansas City bad, but they aren’t going to be as good as they should be, either.
12. Denver is going to be kind to bettors this year. They’ll win more than some think, and score enough points to stay close when they don’t.
13. My AFC division winners only include one surprise – Jacksonville over Indy. It might be wishful thinking, but I don’t get a sense that there is a lot of hunger in Indy this year – at least compared to what they had when they went all the way. Otherwise, I see it as the chalk does – New England, Pittsburgh and San Diego.
14. My NFC picks aren’t much more exciting – Cowboys, Seahawks, Vikings, and Bucs.
15. Teams bettors will like – Houston, Detroit, San Francisco, Denver, Buffalo.
16. Teams bettors will hate – Jets, Chargers (they’ll be good, I just don’t think they’ll cover big spreads as often as people would like – a classic public trap), Bengals, Eagles, Packers, Falcons.
17. I will be surprised if Lane Kiffin makes it through the year. Like I said, I expect total chaos in Oakland.