I’ve never claimed to be an NFL expert. In fact, I fully admit that I only enjoy watching pro football because of fantasy and the fact that it’s the easiest sport to gamble on. So if you’re looking for more accurate previews, go here, here and here. But of course, I like to try to hold myself accountable, so the following is 25 very random thoughts on the season. It was written following the Steelers win over the Titans, but includes nothing about Troy Polamalu’s injury. Go figure.
1) Given what’s expected, the New England Patriots will be underwhelming. If any other team in the league had a quarterback who missed all of last season, a running back by committee system and a run defense that would be mediocre in college, it would hard to call them a .500 team. People need to stop predicting a repeat of two seasons ago and call the Pats what they are: An average team playing in a division that will allow them to win 11 games.
2) We really need to make up our minds when it comes to the importance of coaches. When it’s convenient, we like to treat football like this sport where only the most intelligent people can survive, but then when it comes to Baltimore, the fact that the team lost Rex Ryan means nothing.
3) AFC East predicted order of finish: New England, New York, Miami, Buffalo.
4) Carson Palmer is going to reclaim his spot as one of the top quarterbacks in the league, and while he still won’t get the Bengals to the playoffs, chances are he’ll get your fantasy team there.
5) Everyone forgets that Cleveland was the sexy pick to make the playoffs last year. Same thing happened with the Detroit Tigers in baseball this season. The Browns have a strong offensive line, a quarterback who, by all accounts, is ready to break out and one of the best receivers in the league. That’s another thing everyone forgets. Don’t take that drops stat too seriously with Braylon Edwards. Drops are more subjective than assists in the NBA. The Browns will be a Wild Card team.
6) AFC North predicted order of finish: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore, Cincinnati.
7) The two most frustrating teams in the league are San Diego and New Orleans. Both should be favorites to get to the Super Bowl, but always seem to find a way to screw it up. At least the Chargers make it to the playoffs. The Saints have only gone over .500 once in the last six seasons, yet they always seem to be a sleeper pick.
8) Here’s the question no one has asked about Michael Vick: How do the guys in the league, teammates and opponents, actually feel about him? We’re talking about married men who have children and probably own dogs. How do they explain man-hugging a puppy killer to their families?
9) AFC South predicted order of finish: Indy, Houston, Jacksonville, Tennessee
10) This will be the make-or-break year for Vince Young. He’ll start in at least five games for the Titans, whether it’s because of an injury to Kerry Collins or because the team will be out of contention by week 12.
11) There are at least nine teams (Detroit, Tampa, St. Louis, San Francisco, Oakland, Kansas City, Denver, Cincinnati and Buffalo) that have a chance to be the worst team in the league. The more difficult prediction is which of these will overachieve and go .500 (this is inevitable). I say the Bills.
12) AFC West predicted order of finish: San Diego, Denver, Kansas City, Oakland
13) The NFC South will be the most exciting division in the league this season. Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans couldn’t be more different in the ways they get it done, but all have a shot to win the division.
14) The Washington Redskins are the Minnesota Twins of the NFL. No team is more consistently mediocre than the Skins.
15) NFC East predicted order of finish: Philly, Dallas, New York, Washington
16) Amidst overwhelming media pressure, the NFL will change its local blackout rule, which will affect about a third of the league this season.
17) How can Minnesota be the consensus pick to win the NFC North? They’re starting a quarterback who skipped training camp and whose teammates aren’t sold on him. Everyone just assumes Brett Favre will go along with a run-first offense, which is just as silly as the Detroit Pistons assuming Allen Iverson would be fine taking a backseat to Richard Hamilton.
18) NFC North predicted order of finish: Green Bay, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit
19) The Arizona Cardinals are the favorites to win their division. Say that aloud. This can’t possibly go right, can it?
20) Top five quarterbacks in the league by the end of the season: Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers and Donovan McNabb. Brees will be the MVP, but McNabb is the one getting to the Super Bowl.
21) NFC South predicted order of finish: New Orleans, Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa
22) Without a big time receiver, Eli Manning will prove to be the biggest waste of money this off season.
23) Houston and Seattle seem to be everyone’s picks to make the make the jump into the playoffs this season. The Texas feels too much like the Browns last season, but I’m on board with Seahawks, who were the most injured team in the league a year ago.
24) NFC West predicted order of finish: Seattle, Arizona, St. Louis, San Francisco
25) AFC Championship Game: Chargers over Colts 24-21 NFC Championship Game: Eagles over Packers 27-21 Super Bowl: Chargers over Eagles 26-23