Forgive the slapdash nature of this post. It’s been put together under stressful circumstances. Let’s just say that research done in hospital waiting rooms is not fun. That said, I’m going to be quick with this. We start the new season in earnest in a few hours and it’s time to get serious. As usual, there’ll be some pictures of pretty people to make this all worthwhile.
AFC: This is not the AFC of old. There is a small number of true contenders, a few teams who will vie for playoff spots and a whole lot of teams who will likely end up picking within the top of next year’s draft. If it looks like I’m just going with last year’s playoff winners and contenders, don’t be alarmed. I most likely am.
AFC EAST: This division is almost a dumpster fire. Between the Buffalo Bills almost starting undrafted, off-the-street rookie QB Jeff Tuel before rookie EJ Manuel healed up well enough to avoid that eventuality to the New York Jets, who can help but create drama and chaos, it’s a miracle they don’t just hand this division title over to the New England Patriots. The Pats have their own issues on offense – losing Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will hurt – but maybe their defense is ready to step up. They still have Tom Brady and Bill Bellichick and that often is enough. That said, don’t ask me why I think the Miami Dolphins will be one of those fiesty, 9-7 teams that challenges for a wild card spot. PREDICTION: NEW ENGLAND
AFC NORTH: Ignore last Thursday’s debacle against Denver. You still have to favor the Baltimore Ravens in this division. The question for them is trying to gel a lot of new faces into old spots. They’ll face stiff competition from the Cincinnati Bengals, who have a tenacious, young defense and the best offensive weapon in the division in AJ Green. Well, it’s either him or Trent Richardson. Sadly for Trent, the Cleveland Browns have little beyond him. As for the Steelers, their defense is getting a lift, but they will still depend on the health of Ben Roethlisberger. A healthy and effective Big Ben means playoffs. A hurt and limping Big Ben means home. Right now, there’s no way to say which one we’ll see. PREDICTION: CINCINNATI, BALTIMORE (WILD CARD)
AFC SOUTH: The progress by the Houston Texans has been incremental: .500 seasons to playoff contender to Division Champ. Now, it’s time to put it all together. They have the tools and talents to challenge for the Super Bowl. Indianapolis rode a lot of emotions, luck and skill by Andrew Luck to a wild card berth last season. The good news is that the rest of the division shouldn’t provide much challenge. Tennessee has to find out if Jake Locker is their QB of the future once and for all and will still rely on Chris Johnson till the tires fall off. Jacksonville, meanwhile, will just hope to be respectable in the many losses it’ll accumulate towards a Top 10 Draft Pick next season. PREDICTION: HOUSTON, INDIANAPOLIS (WILD CARD)
AFC WEST: If the East was almost a dumpster fire, then the West really is. There’s a true Super Bowl contender in Denver. The Broncos have it all – an experienced coach (John Fox), a superb QB (Peyton Manning), a great defense and special teams. Beyond them, though, we are staring at a rebuilding team in Kansas City — who will hope new coach Andy Reid, new QB Alex Smith and new LT Eric Fisher help deliver them – and a team with no idea of where it is going in San Diego, with veteran QB Philip Rivers and new coach Mike McCoy. And then there’s the Raiders, who are the clubhouse leaders for the #1 Overall Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. PREDICTION: DENVER
AFC PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS: Denver and Houston get the top two seeds. New England avenges their loss to Baltimore last year while Indy shocks Cincinnati. Peyton Manning then welcomes his old team to his new team’s digs and beats them like a rented mule. Meanwhile, Houston beats the Patriots and sets up a 1-2 game at home where…DENVER wins and advances to the Super Bowl!
NFC: The NFC will be a far tougher affair this year than its counterpart with multiple teams capable of winning each division. I’m of the mind that even 10 wins might not be enough to carry a wild card spot away.
NFC EAST: This division will be its usual slobberknocker self. Let’s set aside the Philadelphia Eagles first, since it’s likely they will struggle. By Week 8, there could be a full “Vick vs Foles” war in the City of Brotherly Love. The expectation has to be for a three-team battle between Dallas, Washington and New York Giants for the division. And they should fight for the division as a wild card spot may not be in the cards. Can Tony Romo finally put it all together? Can Robert Griffin III avoid the sophomore slump and the endless media circus? Or will the Giants simply bounce back? I’m going to hitch my wagon to the Cowboys in this division and trust this is one of their good years. PREDICTION: DALLAS
NFC NORTH: Realistically speaking, all four of these teams could win this division too. Minnesota has Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder is a serviceable QB. Detroit has Charles “Megatron” Johnson, Matt Stafford and a young and nasty defense led by Ndamukong Suh. Chicago has Jay Cutler throwing to Brandon Marshall and they are the perennial good-one-year/bad-next-year team – but they weren’t bad last year. And Green Bay has arguably the best QB in the game in Aaron Rodgers and a good, veteran defense. Splitting them apart is tough. PREDICTION: GREEN BAY, DETROIT (WILD CARD)
NFC SOUTH: The expectation is that Atlanta will build on their momentum from last year. They’ve added Steven Jackson after all. Problem is that defense. And speaking of defensive issues, the Saints have brought in Rob Ryan to fix theirs. They also welcome Sean Payton back and hope he and Drew Brees can weave magic once again. If not, Carolina with Cam Newton and their mean D will be hoping to pounce on the opening. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, would have to hope all three other teams are somehow struck by a massive, season-long flu to have a shot at the playoffs. PREDICTION: NEW ORLEANS
NFC WEST: The chic picks of the preseason: Seattle and San Francisco. The Seahawks or the Niners. One of them is the choice of nearly every analyst and pundit. Problem is they have to go through one another first. And those two games will be mean and ugly and personal. They’ll also have to contend with what should be improved St Louis Rams team. And there’s also Arizona, who is no longer what it was a few years ago. They’ve gone back to the retread well and hope that Carson Palmer can be Kurt Warner 2.0. Even so, it’s tough to say that the two big teams in the West Coast miss out on playoff football. PREDICTION: SAN FRANCISCO, SEATTLE (WILD CARD)
NFC PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS: Green Bay and New Orleans snatch the top two spots and that proves to be all the difference. San Francisco takes care of Detroit out west while Seattle is shocked by Dallas. New Orleans then deals Dallas more misery while Green Bay beats the Niners in the snow. It all comes down to Brees v Rodgers in the Frozen Tundra and…GREEN BAY emerges victorious.
SUPER BOWL XLVII: Denver versus Green Bay. Peyton Manning vs Aaron Rodgers. Two teams accustomed to horrible weather, duking it out in the midst of the biggest snow storm to hamper a title game since the Ice Bowl. The fans will freeze to their seats in Giants Stadium. The press will spend all week whining about the weather and the snow and how a Super Bowl should never occur anywhere above the 39 degree latitude line. As for the game, well, for all the talk of QBs, expect the defenses and running attacks to be the feature of the game. Ultimately, the DENVER BRONCOS manage to eek out the tough win and walk off the field as Super Bowl Champs while Peyton Manning buys Papa Johns for all as seat warmers.
And…OK…one for the ladies:
Enjoy the season!