It's that time of year again for my hilariously inaccurate NFL picks. In fact, my picks have such a long history of failure that I've decided instead of waiting five months to have scorn heaped upon me, I've decided to do it within the body of the post itself. I contacted several friends who were fans of several NFL teams, mailed them the portion of the post that dealt with their team, and let them rebut with an agreement or disagreement about my prediction. You'll note that not every team has a fan reaction since, well, I don't know anyone who would admit to following the likes of the Arizona Cardinals. A big thanks to everyone who helped out. Without further adieu, onto the AFC! The NFC will follow tomorrow.
So Peyton Manning finally won his Super Bowl. Yippee. I can at least take solace in the fact that since everything went right last year for the Colts, they cannot possibly get that fortunate again. The Patriots won't allow it. It doesn't help that Indy lost some key guys on defense, and Bob Sanders (the real team MVP last year, in my opinion) is nursing a sore shoulder. Indy will win 10+ games for the umpteenth straight year and win this (crappy) division, but come the playoffs, they're going to find themselves SOL this season. Hopefully it happens in New England as Manning puts on his pouty face after another 9-for-23, three INT day.
You'd think that my dislike of the Colts would've gone away after they won it all, eh? Think again! I'm far too petty to let this pass. Plus, apparently Tony Dungy, who I used to like, is one of these conservative Christians. Geez Tony, you used to be Esera Tuaolo's defensive coordinator. Do you want him mad at you for not supporting gay marriage? He could whip your ass.
The responding prediction comes from my mate Chris...
"Well your prediction sounds pretty accurate, though I thought their defense sucked last year and they actually won it...but more importantly, why all the hate? Was Marino your favorite player as a kid? Do you cry yourself to sleep now that Peyton has won a Super Bowl? Don't worry Mark, I'll save you a seat on the Peyton bandwagon for when you come around. As for the season, anything can happen come playoffs."
Though I'm a die-hard Packer Backer, I'm not above wearing NFL apparel of a team I respect. For this reason, I own a Jacksonville Jaguars t-shirt that is still part of my semi-regular t-shirt rotation. I think I got it as a gift from a relative who was in Jacksonville or something, but nonetheless, 'tis a quality garment representing a somewhat quality team. Of course, had it been a Cowboys or Colts shirt, it would've become an expensive dust rag, but I've had no problem with the Jags. They play a fundamentally sound kind of football that, if they played in the NFC, probably would've resulted in a string of playoff berths and maybe a conference title by now. Unfortunately, the Jags seem to be held back every year by one or two nagging things that keep them from truly breaking through. Even when they were 12-4 two years ago, they weren't taken seriously by anyone and were summarily dispatched in the first round of the playoffs by New England. I think I'm going to project the Jags to finish just outside of that top sphere again --- another 8-8 year looks likely.
On a personal note, I love Maurice Jones-Drew. His nickname is MoJo. He's a little butterball of a runner that hides deceptive speed in his Kirby Puckett-esque frame. Between he and somehow-not-in-a-body-cast Fred Taylor, the Jags have a very strong running game that can theoretically make up for their mixed up quarterback situation and lack of receivers. Jacksonville has been kind of a poor man's version of the Lions when it comes to drafting receivers -- first-round picks Matt Jones and Reggie Williams are projected as third and fourth receivers, respectively. Ouch.
Maybe Mario Williams can save a child from a burning building, or save the mayor from being assassinated or something. Maybe then the people of Houston won't groan every time they realize the Texans took him with the #1 overall pick. Williams' development will be a key factor to a Texans season that I think will be a bit better than people expect. Their D stinks, to be sure, and running back Ahman Green is washed up with a capital W, but quarterback Matt Schaub will prove to be a keeper. He has to, or else the cosmic farce the the universe is playing on the Atlanta Falcons wouldn't be complete if the backup they dealt just before their franchise QB was arrested for a dog fighting racket DIDN'T go on to become a star.
Is it a cliche to think that the Madden Curse will cripple the Titans this season? Vince Young has everything going for him (well, aside from his crappy receivers) but now this Curse will set things back at least a year. Is it truly foolish to think that this silly video game box curse will truly play a factor? No. No it isn't. Young isn't just on the Madden box, either. Do you realize that he has six Sports Illustrated covers already in his life? That's stunning. To put it in perspective, Peyton Manning has been on the cover nine times in a career that is about six times longer.
Between the Madden Curse and the SI Curse, something's got to give for Young this season. The bright side is that Tennessee's schedule isn't terribly imposing (they're matched against the NFC South and the likes of Atlanta and Tampa Bay, plus two against Houston and one against Oakland) and Jeff Fisher is one of the best coaches in the league. I think the Titans pull off something close to 8-8, but 9-7 is pretty much the ceiling. The only Titan winning a championship this year will be Pacman Jones picking up one half of the TNA Wrestling tag team titles.
With the counter-argument is my compadre Aaron...
"Mark, I'm disappointed in you. Two hundred and ten words about my beloved Tennessee Titans and not a single joke about LenDale White's prodigious ability to consume donuts at a hall-of-fame pace.
LenDale White is fat. Would it really bother you to point that out?
Nonetheless, you're right to focus on Vince Young. At last report, he was expected to start at quarterback for the Titans this year. And therein lies the problem.
For the Titans to have any hope of making the playoffs this year, Vince can no longer selfishly cling to his dream of being an NFL quarterback. Not when he could, and should, also be playing running back, wide receiver, cornerback, middle linebacker, dietician, nose tackle AND quarterback. Lacking anyone of any quality at any of those spots, the Titans must move immediately to start Vince at a minimum of five different positions.
Guys in the Arena League play both offense and defense all the time, so that shouldn't be a problem for our Vince. The challenge will be both throwing and catching his own passes. But if Jeff Fisher takes advantage of the league's pass interference rules, I believe it can be done. He'll just have to throw a lot of lobs. And get LenDale to eat all opposing defensive backs.
In this scenario, the Titans not only make the playoffs, but probably make it to the Super Bowl. My prediction:
Vince Young 241, New Orleans Saints 18."
I like Denver's chances of being the losers of the AFC championship game. Their defense is a top-six unit and their offense will be adequate at the very least. Jay Cutler showed enough promise last year that the Broncos head into 2007 without even a hint of regret about cutting Jake Plummer's worthless ass.
One could focus on the tragic deaths of two Denver players in the winter, but that's a bit of a downer for a wacky preview like this. Ergo, my favourite Broncos-related story from the off-season was when receiver David Kircus was arrested for getting into a fight at a party. Mike Shanahan threatened to cut the marginal talent, but Kircus said he was innocent and backed it up with a lie detector test administered by the team. I think all NFL teams should do this. Hell, the Bengals should probably head down to Costco and get a whole batch of polygraphs in bulk. The only exception would be the Cowboys, since not even a lie detector could wade through the bullshit that comes out of Terrell Owens' mouth. He's crossed over into the George Costanza realm of "it's not a lie if YOU believe it."
By the way, Kircus was cut on August 28. Zing!
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Hiring Norv Turner to coach your talented team is like hiring an armless chauffeur to drive your limo. The late decision to fire Marty Schottenheimer really left the team behind the curve in hiring a prime coaching candidate, thus leaving San Diego with the retread. It's been said that Sandy Koufax led to more crappy pitching than any other pitcher, since because Koufax took long to develop before becoming a superstar, future teams held onto their promising but bad young hurlers with the hopes they would eventually get it. Most never did, and thus many a pitching staff was ruined in the process. It's possible Bill Belichick is the Koufax of NFL coaches. Belichick did a brutal job in Cleveland before becoming a genius in New England, and thus now NFL teams think they can find some ugly duckling coach and hope he turns into a swan the next time around. The problem with Turner is that he's been a failure twice, and third time is never the charm when it comes to leading a football team.
Poor LaDainian. In the prime of his career, on his way to being one of the all-time greats. And his team sabotages what may end up being his best shot at a Super Bowl with a truly lame coach. At least Schottenheimer had a good regular season before failing in the playoffs. Turner's only made the playoffs once in nine (!) seasons as a coach. This is a truly disgusting move and in the tough AFC, it might actually threaten the Chargers' playoff hopes. I think they squeak in as a #5 or #6 seed, then meet their end in the opening round.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
I've mentioned a few times in this preview about the strength of the AFC, but sometimes too many good teams can work against a conference. For example, the Chiefs somehow got into the sixth playoff spot last season in spite of being maybe only the eighth or ninth best team in terms of actual talent since the other (better) teams beat up on each other and KC snuck through.
There will be no such luck this year, not after losing strength on the O-line and losing Trent Green at quarterback. Herm Edwards may play...to win....the game, but he won't have many opportunities to do so with this crappy club. The only way the Chiefs sneak back into the playoffs is if the other AFC teams don't just beat up on each other, but get into a street brawl a la Anchorman and things escalate quickly. Maybe Chad Pennington will have to lie low for a while after stabbing Ed Reed with a trident.
Counter-analysis is provided by my old school chum Craiger...
"Brodie Croyle is not the answer. He was terrible at Alabama, was drafted too high, and the Chiefs have put too much faith in their young signal-caller. Larry Johnson’s holdout was a distraction. It is understandable that he wants to be paid more, but until he becomes a more complete player, he doesn’t deserve to be the highest paid RB. This team seems to be in the rebuilding phase, which is strange seeing as most of their players are staring at retirement in a couple years."
The Raiders have a very good secondary. They certainly do. It's one of the better secondaries in the AFC, no doubt about it. Unfortunately for Raiders fans, the secondary in comparison to the rest of the team is like Kevin Spacey in comparison to the rest of the characters in Usual Suspects -- one gets it, the rest are clueless. Oakland is going to be godawful once again this season, and they honestly might continue this way until Al Davis finally croaks. A story broke this week saying that new coach Lane Kiffin was upset at some of the roster cuts since the edict to cut certain guys came from the front office. Seriously? What team operates like this? Why hire a guy (a 32-year-old guy, to boot) and then immediately undermine him in this way?
The rebuttal is provided by my acquaintance Pranay....
"When your top pick and future of the franchise still hasn't signed, when your starting running back gets suspended and when your coach gets mono,the outlook for the season looks pretty grim, and you expect to hear the words "with the first overall pick in the 2008 Draft, the Oakland Raiders select.....".
However, all hopes are not lost in Raider Nation and the Oakland Raiders have a good chance of being one of the sleepers in the league this year. The one thing they have going for them is that they have a terrific young D that ranked in the top 10 in many categories last year and however inept the offense is their defence should keep them in many games. Another thing they have going for them is that they have quite an easy schedule and open the season facing Detroit, Denver, Cleveland and Miami and there is a strong possibility they can get off to a great start and gain some confidence.
Daunte Culpepper also is a reason us in Raider Nation have reasonable expectations, remember he is only a couple seasons removed from his 39 TD performace and has a lot to prove to the league that he can still play, and he can also tutor the likes of first overall pick JaMarcus Russell(if he signs that is).
All in all, don't expect the 2007 Raiders to be like the 2006 Saints and take the league by storm, but with that D, a new competant QB and a coach so young he gets mono, it is not farfetched to dream for an 8-8 season."
One of my favourite stats in sports is that since 1969, the Steelers have had only three head coaches. Mike Tomlin is probably safe in not getting a lease in Pittsburgh. I like Pittsburgh, the city, a lot. It's surprisingly scenic and has a cool downtown comprised of that kind of architecture that's all steel and glass. Something deco? Anyway, a city that nice deserves a good football team, and the Steelers are going to bounce back to be contenders against this season. Last year was really kind of a write-off given that when a veteran team wins a Super Bowl, a sense of complacency is bound to set in. Also, it was clear that Bill Cowher had one foot out the door already, and if a coach isn't totally committed, it affects the entire team. It also affects the team when its quarterback has his face re-arranged by a car windshield, but Big Ben should be back to normal this season. I like the Steelers to retake the division title by a hair over the Ravens, but they'll come up a bit short in the playoffs.
Speaking of coming up short in the playoffs, hey Ravens, what the hell else do you need? You had a first round bye last year, Princess Peyton and the Colts at home, and I was looking forward to seeing a white-and-blue splattering all over Corporate Name Stadium. Instead, the Ravens choked and now face a season where they're still largely the same, but everyone is a year older and closer to death. It is a testament of Baltimore's defensive strength that they can lose an Adelius Thomas and still be considered a top two unit, but it remains to be seen how they fill the gap left by his absence. Jonathan Ogden will apparently play this season and is okay to go from a turf toe injury, so Ravens fans can breathe a sign of relief. Had Ogden been out of action, I probably would've picked Baltimore to miss the playoffs. Seriously. As it is, I'll just pick them to get knocked out in the first round.
The rebuttal comes from my brother, Matt. Am I downplaying Baltimore just because my brother loves them? Maybe. I am petty.
"Okay, so the ravens choked last year in the playoffs? Against the SUPERBOWL champs, and Princess Peyton who will clearly go down in history probably beating Marino's records and being the best QB of all time (yes, better than Kyle Boller). I believe the ravens were the only team not to allow a touchdown against the colts last year and did have a 5-1 division record against the AFC North, the best division in fooball two years running. But enough about last year, I am excited about this year because the Ravens will have another great season. Without Adelius Thomas this year their defense will still be number 1# in the league. The 'gap' will be filled by 6"3" 270 Jarret Johnson. With T Suggs dropping back from defensive end and Ray Ray and Bart Scott at LB, the ravens should be okay. The ravens will have the best secondary in the league, look for second year players Prude and Landry to be added to the many Ravens going to the Pro Bowl in 07. I think McGahee will be an improvement from Jamal Lewis, and with 10 time pro-bowler Ogden ready to go, look for some big runs up the left side. I can see the Ravens going either 10-6 or 11-5 this year, with their tough stretch coming from Nov 25 till Dec 9th, playing the chargers, new england and the colts."
In the aftermath of the Mike Vick fiasco, the Bengals' legal problems suddenly don't look so bad, eh? Too bad they'll just continue to underachieve on the field. Marvin Lewis' star has dimmed in the wake of having so many miscreants that he can't control on his club, and you've got to wonder if this team has the character to contend. Relative good guys Rudi Johnson and Carson Palmer must feel like embedded reporters in a war zone. The Bengals will again miss the playoffs since they just don't have enough to contend with Baltimore and Pittsburgh, let alone the rest of the beasts in the AFC. Call it another 8-8 campaign.
The counter-argument is provided by my pal Matt...
"Don't let Mark fool you the outlook for the Bengals is actually quite good this season. While they have had a significant amount of legal problems, the jails can't hold enough of them Bengals to prevent this team from being a powerhouse this season. Carson Palmer is far superior to Jesse Palmer is several ways. He is a badass who scores as much with the ladies as he does on the football field. By score I mean throw touchdowns! I mean the dude is a one man wrecking crew. Add to that a supporting cast of Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmanzaka (some long weird name), and Rudi Johnson and you have a offence that is going to score more than Mark's easy cousin. If the Bengals get a decent effort on the defensive side of the ball they should finish 20-1. Oh wait they only play 16 games. Make that 11-5."
Well, the Brownies made it through preseason without a key player suffering a season-ending injury. Thumbs up! Now they'll suck on their own merits without worrying about what may have been. The drama will come from when Brady Quinn steps in at quarterback, since nobody thinks Charlie Frye or Derek Anderson are going to last the whole season. I have my eye on November 25 against the Texans, since it allows Quinn to avoid the Steelers and Ravens. It would be a shame if Brady were bruised so badly by those tough defenses that it would interfere with his modeling career in homoerotic internet photos.
The counter argument is provided by my dad. It isn't a true rebuttal, since that would imply my dad being able to use e-mail, which isn't happening anytime soon. However, he did figure the Browns for a 4-12 record, based on his preseason method of sitting down with the schedule and picking every NFL game in August. It isn't a foolproof method -- last year he had New Orleans going 1-15. But I somehow doubt the Browns will take inspiration from their city being destroyed by a hurricane. After all, Cleveland is already pretty crummy as it is.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The reason why the Pats have three Super Bowl titles in the last six years can be analyzed in how they and other contenders approached off-season roster holes. The Bears chose to stick with Super Bowl failure Rex Grossman, in spite of the fact that they will never take the next step with him at QB. The Chargers replaced a coaching choke artist with a coach that hasn't even been successful enough to get to a game where he could choke.
The Patriots, on the other hand, were undone last season by a near-total lack of talent at the receiver position. So, to remedy this problem, Bill Belichick went out and got a shitload of good receivers. Wes Walker, Donte Stallworth, Kelley Washington and the x-factor himself, Randy Moss. You might argue that none of these guys are exactly superstars, unless you think Moss can regain his form from five years ago. But that's the point -- none of them have to be superstars. The Pats just need guys who can catch a goddamn ball once in a while. Who can forget Reche Caldwell's bug-eyed reaction as he dropped pass after pass in the AFC Championship game? If New England had even decent play from Caldwell and their other pass-catchers, they undoubtedly would've won that game and then whomped the Bears in the Super Bowl. And, not to be outdone, the Pats also added superstar linebacker Adelius Thomas and pass-catching tight end Kyle Brady.
It's going to be tough for any team to unseat the Patriots this season. They seem to be on a mission. I can see a business-like 13-3 record or so in the regular season, followed by utter annihilation in the playoffs. Were it not for a faulty game from Brady two years ago and the receiver shitshow last January, New England could very well be going for their fifth straight Super Bowl. Barring a Toronto FC-esque run of injuries or if Laurence Maroney's late-season lack of burst is an ongoing problem, they'll take the title once again.
The response comes from my compatriot Scotty D...
"As a devoted Patriot fan, I can do nothing but agree with your assessment. Reche Caldwell has been burnt at the stake and we will move on with Welker, Moss, Stallworth, Washington. In Brady we trust - maybe he'll win this one for his new son. I can just see the post Superbowl interview now: Gisele on one side, Bridget and John on the other - heart warming shit! I'll take a more conservative 11-5 regular season, followed by a dominating playoff run, and obvious Super Bowl championship."
NEW YORK JETS
Coaching whiz kid and noted fat-ass Eric Mangini brought the Jets back to the playoffs last season, but it's going to be a harder ride in 2007. I just don't see the Jets catching teams by surprise again, and their schedule isn't the cake factory that last year's was. Miami is better, and the Jets (if anything) got a bit worse. Losing Pete Kendall is a blow. He is an ass, but an outstanding guard. I see the green men falling back and missing the playoffs in the tough AFC.
You know something, Cam Cameron? You had a lot going for you. You had a reputation as an offensive wizard. You have a goofy name. You were replacing the hated Nick Saban in Miami, so the Dolphins fans were waiting to embrace you with open arms. In the face of all this success, you decided to draft Ted Ginn Jr. (a friggin' kick return specialist!) with the #9 overall pick in the draft. Rumour has it that this pick was made in part because Cameron and Ted Ginn Sr. are old buddies. Are you kidding me, Cameron? You know what I did to help my buddy Jeff last month? I went to his stag and doe. I didn't offer to draft his son to my NFL team. There are bound-aries.
God, I'm disgusted. This is enough reason for me to be down on the Dolphins this season. Though Trent Green will be an upgrade at QB and Jason Taylor will continue to destroy people, I just can't pick the Fish as a dark horse playoff team in the face of this idiocy. Call it 7-9, tops. At least now I can also laugh at the fact that Joey Porter is signed for $20 million guaranteed and may have a serious injury. And, if Cleo Lemon ends up getting playing time at quarterback, the Dolphin Stadium PA system will start playing U2's 'Lemon' in tribute. Wait a second... that would be awesome! Go Cleo!
Every fantasy football plan in the world knows of Marshawn Lynch. He's the guy that many would-be GMs hope fall to the middle-to-end of round two so they can snatch him up and wallow in the crapulence of fantasy glory. There is only slightly less real-life pressure on Lynch to have success with the Bills and fill the shoes of the departed Willis McGahee. Hopefully Lynch, unlike McGahee, finds Buffalo's weather and women to be up to par. That seems to be the key to survival in Buffalo. O.J. was a normal well-adjusted man when he was with the Bills, but once he was without that envelope of cold weather and folksy northern New York state women, he went cuh-rayzee.
Anyway, Lynch is basically Buffalo's only hope. Unless he's uber right out of the gate, the Bills are in trouble. Their defense was rocked with the loss of several quality veterans, and this is definitely the shit-or-get-off-the-pot year for J.P. Losman. Buffalo is staring a 6-10 season right in the face. In a related note, owner Ralph Wilson and head honcho Marv Levy are a combined 610 years old.
My comrade Scott has the return opinion...
"Sadly even the most optimistic Bills fan can't feel good about the upcoming season. As you pointed out, the success of the teams rests in the hands of a rookie running back, and a quarterback who looks like Adam Sandler (that can't be a good thing). Bills fans are hoping Lynch will be more productive on the field, and less productive off it, than his predecessors Willis McGahee and Travis Henry. (It recently came to light that Henry has fathered nine kids with nine different women, while Willis has three kids with three women)
As for J.P Losman, you're right- this is a shit-or-get-off the pot year. During his two previous seasons as the Bills starter he has shown glimpses that he has the talent to be an elite NFL quarterback. His problem is he's mistake prone, and very inconsistent. This year the Bills drafted Stanford Quarterback Trent Edwards, so if Losman gets off to a slow start, Edwards might get a shot.
The NFL schedule-makers did the Bills no favours. They open the season against Denver, Pittsburgh, New England, New York Jets, Dallas and Baltimore...yikes. 6-10 sounds about right."
AFC wild cards: Baltimore, San Diego
AFC champion: New England Patriots