Are You Ready For Some Football?

For the average NFL fan, there is a regular season, and if you’re lucky, playoffs. But for those of us who are tickled by the year-long drama created by the NFL calendar, there is far more. Preseason? Meh. It has its moments. I’ll admit I’ve never been more excited to watch a preseason game between two teams I have absolutely no affinity for than I was a few weeks ago. But like the majority of you, I’m not immune to the annoyance of seeing the starters take two snaps and sit the rest of the game. That’s not what we pay to see. But this year, things are a little different. We haven’t had an offseason of voluntary workouts, mini-camps, playbook dispersal, rookie introductions, and everything else that happens between the greatest day of the year (the NFL draft in April) and opening day kickoff on September 8th. This year, preseason has absolutely meant more. Rookies hoping for an easy transition into the pro game? Forget it. Not even running backs, who typically adjust the fastest to the NFL level of competition, will be exempt from the growing pains caused by the layoff. No, they, and every other player, have needed more reps than ever before. Coaches trying to break in a new quarterback? Same boat. The fact is that teams that bring the continuity back from last season are at an even greater advantage than before. As if they needed it. Teams like the Pats and Steelers will dominate on a weekly basis again. Same for the Saints and World Champion Cheeseheads. The best are better. The worst are worse…and have a lot of catching up to do. Like everything this ’11-’12 season, it’s gonna be tough sledding for the vast majority.


So what can we expect this year? Where to begin? As I mentioned, there is a firmly consecrated hierarchy of contenders, not too dissimilar from the usual suspects. In the AFC, along with New England and Pittsburgh (my early picks for first-round byes) the Ravens and Jets should be virtual locks to make the postseason. That means there’s likely only two remaining spots for the other two division winners, since the Wild Card will not be an option..


The Chargers should win the AFC West, and in my mind are certainly the favorites, but we say that every year. Phillip Rivers is far and away the best player at the most important position and Antonio Gates was the most valuable player at his position last year of everyone not named Michael Vick. For you fantasy buffs, he played in only 10 games and was still the second-highest scoring tight end in the league, averaging a league-leading 13.4 points per game (on ESPN standard scoring). But don’t sleep on the Chiefs (again). Jamaal Charles is a beast, and my pick to be the Arian Foster of this season. Matt Cassel is above-average, and the defense starring Tamba Hali and Eric Berry should cause a lot of havoc for opposing offenses. Throw the suddenly relevant Raiders into the mix, and the AFC West is no sure thing. Coming off their first non-losing season in seven years, the Raiders swept the division last year. SWEPT. If you are a Raider fan, or older than six years old, you will most likely need to do a few double-takes. Darren McFadden, assuming he can stay on the field (which is taking a leap) is poised for a dominant season. Add in another year of Jason Campbell, a pretty staunch D-Line, and some theatrics from Hue Jackson, and a winning season is certainly not out of the question. The only certainty within the division is that the Broncos…..well, they’ll still be the Broncos (that’s not a good thing). Tim Tebow has shown promise that most of us never expected to come to fruition, but not enough to consistently lead his team to victory. And the fact that nobody is talking about the starter, Kyle Orton (for now, at least), doesn’t make things any better. They already tried to ship him to Miami. He’s told the Denver public he doesn’t give a flying **** what they think. Suffice to say, this match can’t last much longer. And that ridiculous season from Brandon Lloyd last year? Don’t expect it again. Doubt me? Go talk to some 49er fans. See if you hear anything different.


If I had to pick a division with a runaway winner, I would probably say the AFC South. The problem is, I don’t know what team to pick.  There are only two serious contenders, with the Colts and Texans destined to duke it out for divisional supremacy once again. If Peyton Manning doesn’t miss any significant time in the regular season, I think the Colts are going to surprise a lot of people. However, if he does miss more than a handful of games, it might prove too much to overcome. The Texans are a franchise on the upswing, but this season is pretty much do-or-die for Gary Kubiak. Lucky for us, we won’t have to wait long to get a pretty good idea of how the teams stack up. The Texans play host to the Colts in Week 1, in what could be a HUGE game in determining the fate of the rest of the season. If the Colts win, especially if it’s without Peyton, that could be a huge boost to help them survive while he recuperates. And if Houston holds serve, that could be the confidence builder they need to finally get over the hump. My guess: the Texans explosive offense is the best unit in the division, and enough to save Kubiak’s job.


The NFC is a lot more muddled. No team came close to matching the clamor surrounding the numerous offseason additions of the so-called “Dream Team”, the Philadelphia Eagles. Let’s just start with a few names. Nnamdi Asomougha is a top-5 player, at any position, in the league, and possibly the best in all. They already had Asante Samuel to pair with Nnamdi, but adding Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie as the nickel back?! Come on, that’s not even fair. Jason Babin had 12.5 sacks last year, a number that should only rise playing opposite to Trent Cole. Factor in newcomer Cullen Jenkins, and that D-Line is going to lead the league in sacks, forced fumbles, and obliterated quarterbacks. Ronnie Brown is as fast as they come, and they already have LeSean McCoy. Vince Young may be a gamble, but who cares when you have Michael Vick playing out of his mind. Donald Lee, Ryan Harris, Johnnie Lee Higgins….the list just goes on and on. This is the deepest, most dynamic team in the conference. The Dream Team moniker may be a little too hasty, but don’t be surprised if they fulfill the prophecy.


Two other guarantees to make the playoffs come from the NFC South in the Saints and Falcons. The Saints, led by Drew Brees, exhibit a cohesiveness that is unmatched throughout the league, not to mention the fact they will once again be in the tops in points-per-game. The Falcons look to build upon last year’s success and vault to the next level. I expect Matt Ryan to establish himself as a top-8 QB, and Roddy White should have yet another ridiculously productive season. Tony Gonzalez is still formidable. Michael Turner has giant redwood tree trunks for legs, and the center of gravity and break-tackle ability to match. Julio Jones will be NFC Rookie of the Year (ahead of Cam Newton). And as if that all wasn’t enough, they traded for Ray Edwards to solidify what should be a very respectable defensive unit.


The rest of the conference is up for grabs. The Packers will be very good, and should win the division, but it won’t be easy. The Bears are a formidable opponent, and in that rivalry, inspiration is everything. Don’t think seeing Aaron Rodgers lift the Lombardi Trophy didn’t make Julius Peppers lose sleep at night. And don’t count out the Lions. A popular sleeper pick, they’re probably a year or two away from truly competing, but with that D-Line, led by the best defensive prospect in the last decade at least in Ndonkeykong Suh, it will not be any fun to play against them. And the Vikings? Who knows. Maybe McNabb still has something left. Maybe Jared Allen returns to ’09 form. Maybe Adrian Peterson quits fumbling at the sight of purple turf. Maybe the whole team gets caught up in a weird boat sex party scandal….wait, that’s probably just my imagination taking over. I don’t see it for the V-Men this year, but since when did they ever do as expected?


The NFC West, although not as dismal as last year, is not significantly better. There is not one team you can legitimately say is a guarantee to even finish above .500 (Saints fans, I apologize for the reminder). That’s not good. If I had to guess at this point, I’d go Rams, Niners, Seahawks, Cardinals, in that order. But let’s face it, it’s a crapshoot. Regardless, neither of the two wild cards comes out of this division. I’ll go ahead and take a leap and say the Cowboys actually play like they should this year, and get the final spot, with an early playoff exit. There you go Jerry! Hope the videoboard monstrosity was worth the investment.


So there we have it. My playoff projections:



1. Pats

2. Steelers

3. Chargers

4. Texans

5(w). Ravens

6(w). Jets



1. Eagles

2. Falcons

3. Packers

4. Rams

5(w). Saints

6(w). Cowboys


1st Round: Chargers over Jets, Ravens over Texans; Saints over Rams, Packers over Cowboys

2nd Round: Ravens over Pats, Steelers over Chargers; Eagles over Saints, Falcons over Packers

Conf. Championship: Ravens over Steelers; Eagles over Falcons

Super Bowl: Eagles over Ravens


Not any huge surprises here. Like I said before, the better are better, and the worse are worse. But inevitably, there will be a team that rises from the depths of its conference standings, and likewise, a sure-thing that turns out to be quite the opposite; the result of which will be the obliteration of my prognostications, and resounding mockery that is sure to follow. But hey, at least you’ll come back right?

So congratulations everyone, you survived. Football is back. Enjoy.



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