Monthly Archives: September 2010

Week 3 Predictions – College Football Rant

I'm never betting on the Trojans to cover a point spread again.

Before I get to my predictions for week three of the NFL season, allow me a whiny rant about my luck on Saturday with college football.

First, I’ve always had really bad luck predicting college football. I watch the games just as I watch any other sport (obsessively), but when it comes to getting games right, I just flat-out suck.

Saturday was no different. I went into the day planning on betting on that night’s Notre Dame-Michigan State and Iowa-Arizona games (how I was going to bet them was still to be determined). But as I settled into the afternoon, I decided to make a couple of other wagers.

First, I bet on Georgia -2.5 against Arkansas and Illinois -6 against Northern Illinois. They SEEMED like pretty safe bets to me. Georgia was at home, and as bad as Illinois is, they were at home against a bad MAC team.

Well, if you follow college football, you know how it ends. Arkansas scored a touchdown with 11 seconds left in a tie game to beat Georgia, and NIU kicked a field goal with under a minute left to cut the Illini lead to five and only lost by that margin.

Alright, so that’s bad luck. But it gets worse. I decide to try to make up for my losses with Minnesota-Southern Cal. Sure, the Trojans aren’t what they once were, but Minnesota just lost to a I-AA school. I needed USC to win by more than 13.5. As you might know, Minnesota scored a touchdown with under a minute left to cut the deficit to 12. Game over.

That’s three bets lost in the final minute, if you’re scoring at home. By the time night fell and the aforementioned games kicked off, I didn’t have the heart (or funds) to place any more wagers. Nor did I end up betting on any NFL games Sunday afternoon because of this.

But Sunday night changed things. I mustered up the courage to bet on the Colts -6.5 against the Giants and also the over at 48.5. The Colts covering was never in doubt early on, but as the game was getting later and later, it appeared the over would not be hit. Then, when the Colts took over leading 38-7 late in the fourth quarter, I had all but given up. I even Tweeted by concession:

10:10 p.m. Sunday – So pissed. Needed over 48.5. Couldn’t happen. This was the worst gambling weekend for me in history.

Then, by some miracle, a backup Colts running back I’ve never heard of fumbled, the Giants recovered and Eli Manning hit Hakeem Nicks for a touchdown meaningless to fans everywhere, and important for freaks like me. Over was hit. I was ecstatic.

12:23 p.m. Sunday – Sweet holy hell! Cancel that! Thank you, shitty backup RB for the Colts. Thank you, Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks!

That game pretty much single-handedly made up for Saturday’s disaster. (Until I lost more betting the Saints to cover and the over to be hit Monday night. Oh well).

Anyway, enough ranting. Here are my week three picks.

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (-4)
One other slightly funnier rant. I was winning my fantasy matchup against Matt Peterson entering Monday night. I needed Drew Brees to score less than 18 points to win. Unlikely, right? I had major doubts it would happen, especially when Brees got off to a solid start. But then the Saints offense got shutdown and Brees entered the fourth quarter with something like eight points. One more touchdown put him at 15 and entering the game-winning drive, he was at 16. He didn’t hit the 18-point mark until the final pass to Marques Colston that set up the winning field goal. So he ended up at 18, and Matt Peterson and I tied. Ties in fantasy football are lame. Oh well. Better to be 1-0-1 than 1-1, but I could definitely see this tie screwing me somewhere down the line. Anyway, I like the Falcons and their defense has been impressive, but I can’t imagine the Saints offense struggles three weeks in a row. I’m taking the Saints to win and cover.

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots (-14.5)
If there was one game I wished I had bet on last week it was the Packers-Bills game. There is little doubt, already, that the Bills are the worst team in the league. 2008 Detroit Lions, watch out. I’m taking the Patriots to win and cover.

Cincinnati Bengals (-3.5) at Carolina Panthers
I have a sneaking suspicion the Panthers could pull off an upset here, but my disdain for Notre Dame won’t allow me to pick them with Jimmy Clausen starting at quarterback. Still, I think it’s a close one. I’m taking the Panthers to beat the spread and the Bengals to win.

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (-10.5)
Is the Ravens offense good enough to beat anyone by 11 points right now? I don’t know. I’m not confident about it. I’m taking the Browns to beat the spread and the Ravens to win.

Dallas Cowboys at Houston Texans (-3)
Can the Cowboys really start 0-3? Are the Texans really that good? Answers: Yes. And yes. I’m taking the Texans to win and cover.

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings (-10.5)
This is the week the Vikings finally get going. I really believe that. Especially with Adrian Peterson running against Detroit’s porous defense, it could be a long day for the Lions. I’m taking the Vikings to win and cover.

Pittsburgh Steelers (-2.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This line is preposterous. I understand the Bucs are 2-0 and at home, but a really bad 2-0. I don’t care who is at quarterback for the Steelers, they could win this game with Mewelde Moore taking snaps. I’m taking the Steelers to win and cover.

San Francisco 49ers (-3) at Kansas City Chiefs
The 49ers have really been pissing me off. I completely give up on them after they lose to Seattle, but then play a close game against the Saints. I also don’t know how good the Chiefs are or can be. Either way, I’m expecting the Niners to play more like they did Monday night against New Orleans, and less like they did in week one. I’m taking the 49ers to win and cover.

Tennessee Titans at New York Giants (-3)
So many lines this week that I simply cannot figure out. This is one of them. I honestly think the Steelers defense can make anybody look bad, and that’s what they did to Vince Young. I think the Titans are better than they played last week, and I still don’t think the Giants are very good. I’m taking the Titans to win and cover.

Philadelphia Eagles (-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Michael Vick has finally been handed the keys to the car, so to speak, and that’s good news to the Eagles. I think they can start rolling with him at quarterback. I’m taking the Eagles to win and the Jaguars to beat the spread.

Washington Redskins (-4) at St. Louis Rams
I think this game is going to be ugly, even with it being in St. Louis. I’m still really high on the Redskins, despite their collapse against Houston last week. They also have a perfect mix of offense and defense to play on a turf field, and their defense will give Sam Bradford fits. I’m taking the Redskins to win and cover.

Indianapolis Colts (-6) at Denver Broncos
For whatever reason, the Broncos always play the Colts close. And even though they may be worse than they normally are, I think this week will be no exception. I’m taking the Colts ti win and the Broncos to beat the spread.

Oakland Raiders at Arizona Cardinals (-4)
I don’t know what to make of this game. Are the Raiders and Cardinals both really this bad? I don’t know, but this game is going to come down to the Raiders defense shutting down Derek Anderson & Co. I’m taking the Raiders to win outright.

San Diego Chargers (-6) at Seattle Seahawks
Divisional game, on the road, Norv Turner, I don’t like this game for the Chargers. They’ll win, but not by as much as the line indicates. I’m taking the Chargers to win and the Seakawks to beat the spread.

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins (-1.5)
I’m a little surprised oddsmakers favored the Dolphins in this game. They’ve jumped off the Jets bandwagon quite quickly, even after the Jets impressive win last week. That said, I’m with the oddsmakers on this one. I really like Miami’s defense, and as has been proven, Mark Sanchez can’t move the ball against a good defense. I’m taking the Dolphins to win and cover.

Green Bay Packers (-3) at Chicago Bears
It seems strange, but as a Packers fan, I haven’t been this confident in the Packers to beat the Bears in a very long time. I just think that the Green Bay offense is too high-powered for Chicago to stop, and their defense is too good at pressuring the quarterback for Chicago to handle. I’m going to get called as biased as can be, and that may be true. But the Packers are going to win in a route. I’m taking the Packers to win and cover.

Record

Week 2: 11-4 (6-8-1 against spread)
Overall: 17-14 (13-17-1 against spread)

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Week 2 Predictions – Week 1 Killed Me

Thanks a lot, Alex Smith. I've given up on you after just one week.

Week one was very, very bad for me. Let me explain.

First, I went 6-10 overall in my straight bet pool. Second, my loser pool pick was the Chiefs, so I’m out of that pool already.

Third, I lost every bet I made. First, I three-team combo-ed the Colts (-2.5), 49ers (-3) and Dolphins (-3). Lost two of those three games. Then, trying to make up for the early game loss, I combo-ed the 49ers and the Packers (-4.5). While I won the Packers and Dolphins, the 49ers and Colts screwed me. I should have known better than to bet on Alex Smith, especially on the road. I’m officially done doing that… until he upsets the Saints this week. Than I’ll jump back on the bandwagon.

Anyway, it is said that your best chance of beating Vegas is in week one and two, because they’re just as clueless as you are. But when you’re clueless, it makes things just as hard. Which was my problem. Hopefully I’ll do better this week. Here are my picks.

I'm counting on this dynamic duo to get the ball a LOT this week.

Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons (-7)
The Cardinals survived against the Rams last week on the road, and face an even tougher challenge against a Falcons team that is coming off of a loss and will be playing its home opener. The Falcons being heavily favored is no surprise, and while their offense had its concerns last week against the Steelers, I think it will have no problem against a far worse defense in Arizona’s. I’ll take the Falcons to win and cover.

Baltimore Ravens (-2) at Cincinnati Bengals
This is one of the tougher games for me to pick this week. I think the Bengals aren’t nearly as bad as they played last week, but I’m also extremely high on the Ravens and their defense. By making the Ravens a two-point road favorite, it gives me the sense that Vegas is pretty clueless, as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bengals come out firing in their home opener, but I’m still going with the Ravens, and if they win, I think they’ll cover. I’m taking the Ravens to win and cover.

Buffalo Bills at Green Bay Packers (-14)
The Bills are who we thought they were, which is really, really bad. And while the Packers are still pretty good, their defense is pretty banged up right now. I hate taking teams to cover when they’re favored by as much as the Packers are, plus, the Packers tend to lay an egg against weak opponents, but still, I really think the Bills are that bad, so I’m taking the Packers to win and cover.

Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys (-8)
The Cowboys legitimately worry me after their week one loss. While I think they will beat the Bears, I don’t have any confidence in their offense. Consequently, I do like the Bears’ defense quite a bit, and I think this game will be a lot closer than the eight points the Cowboys are giving. I’m taking the Cowboys to win, and the Bears to beat the spread.

Kansas City Chiefs at Cleveland Browns (-1.5)
How the Browns are favored in this game is beyond me. Sure, they’re at home, but they just lost to Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, the Chiefs are coming off of a very impressive victory and have a number of speedy weapons that will give the Browns fits. I don’t see any way the Browns come out of this contest on top, especially when Seneca Wallace will likely be their starting quarterback. I’m taking the Chiefs to beat the spread and win outright.

Miami Dolphins at Minnesota Vikings (-6)
I liken this game to the Bears-Cowboys game. I like the Vikings to bounce back with a home victory, but I think it will be closer than the six points. The Dolphins’ defense is pretty solid, and should cause problems for the Vikings. Still, I think the Vikings will escape and avoid falling to 0-2. I’m taking the Vikings to win, and the Dolphins to beat the spread.

Philadelphia Eagles (-6) at Detroit Lions
This is one of two games this week I will undoubtedly be betting on. The Lions will be playing with Shaun Hill at quarterback, while the Eagles will be using Michael Vick. Advantage: Eagles. I think Vick picks up where he left off last week and torches the Lions defense. I think the Eagles will impress a lot of people with a resounding road victory over a struggling team. I’m picking the Eagles to beat the spread and win outright.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans (-5)
This is another spread I don’t quite understand. Sure, the Titans looked mighty impressive in a victory over the Raiders, but the Steelers were equally impressive against a better team (at least on defense). As good as Chris Johnson is, I don’t see him getting going too well against this unit, and I also don’t see the Titans run defense than struggled against Darren McFadden doing so well against a guy like Rashad Mendenhall. I’m picking the Steelers to beat the spread and win outright.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (-3.5)
This is the other game I will surely be betting on this week. Sure, the Bucs beat the Browns, but their rushing defense was miserable. The Panthers’ duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart should have a hay day against that defense. The only thing that worries me is if John Fox gets too pass happy with the putrid Matt Moore, which he has done in the pass. Keep the ball on the ground, John, and get an easy home victory. I’m taking the Panthers to win and cover.

Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos (-3.5)
Another clueless game, both for me and for Vegas. I don’t think the Seahawks are nearly as good as they played last week against the 49ers, but I also don’t think the Broncos are any good, period. I will likely just have to go with the home field for the Broncos and take them, but I’m not confident about it. I’m taking the Broncos to win and the Seahawks to beat the spread.

St. Louis Rams at Oakland Raiders (-3.5)
This game compares a lot to the Seahawks-Broncos game. But my mindset is that I think the Raiders are a step below teams like the Titans, who destroyed them last week, but still pretty far ahead of bad teams like the Rams. Couple that with the fact that they’re playing at home, and I think this is a pretty safe bet for the Raiders. I’m taking the Raiders to win and cover.

Houston Texans (-3) at Washington Redskins
I’m staying so far away from this game it’s not even funny. We don’t know if either of these teams are as good as they played last week, and we don’t know if either is due for a letdown. If I had to guess as to which team is more likely to be the real deal, I’ll go with the Texans, but Washington being at home is the wild card. I’m not confident, but I will take the Texans to win and cover.

Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers (-7.5)
I know Norv Turner & Co. are notoriously slow starters to the season and that killed me last week, but I think suffering a loss as demoralizing as last weeks was will light a fire under the very talented Chargers. I also think that playing at home against a really bad Jaguars team will do wonders, and the Chargers will roll. I’m taking the Chargers to win and cover.

New England Patriots (-3) at New York Jets
I compare the Jets to the Cowboys in that they may not be as good as everyone says they are, and I think they’re in trouble. All the Jets trash talk has fired up a Patriots team that always does great when there is a fire lit under their collective butts, and this is no different. I think Bill Belichick is out to teach Rex Ryan a lesson and is going to do so with a resounding victory on Ryan’s own turf. I’m taking the Patriots to win and cover.

New York Giants at Indianapolis Colts (-6)
There’s no way in hell Peyton Manning and the Colts open the season 0-2, right? The Manning-Manning combination makes this game appealing, and anything can happen. I think the Giants are a pretty good team this year and will keep this game competitive, but, again, there’s no way in hell the Colts start 0-2. I’m taking the Colts to win and the Giants to beat the spread.

New Orleans Saints (-6) at San Francisco 49ers
I’m actually a little surprised this line isn’t higher after how poorly the 49ers played last week. They were one of my sleeper picks this season, and I’ve already given up on them thanks to

Records

Last Week: 7-9 against the spread; 6-10 in straight picks.

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Fantasy Football – The Porridge Files

Each week I will be doing a fantasy football post titled “The Porridge Files.” What I will be doing is breaking down the week’s top performers by “too hot,” “too cold” and “just right.” (Playing off of the porridge temperatures from “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Do you get it? Hmm? Clever, right? OK, I’m done. I’ll also be giving advice on said players for their matchup in the coming week. Enjoy.

Too Hot

Can Arian Foster live up to the hype?

Quarterbacks

David Garrard – Garrard lit up the Broncos to the tune of 19 points Sunday, something his owners will grow accustomed to from time to time. As a Garrard owner last season, I can assure you he will tease you with solid performances here and there, but is bound to let you down. I don’t think Garrard is a horrible fantasy option if you’re waiting for Ben Roethlisberger to come back from suspension, or foolishly drafted Mark Sanchez as your starter, but don’t expect more than 12-15 points per week from him on a regular basis.
Next Week – Garrard is facing a San Diego Chargers team that held Matt Cassel to six whole points, plus they’re coming off of a loss and will be playing their home opener. I don’t recommend starting him.

Matt Hasselbeck – Hasselbeck threw for two touchdowns and 180 yards against a San Francisco defense that just flat-out did not show up, racking up 18 points in the process. While the yardage is what you can expect, I wouldn’t count on two touchdowns and just one interception from Hasselbeck the rest of the year, especially when this team will likely be playing from behind very often. Additionally, I think Justin Forsett and the running game will get a lot more work in the future.
Next Week – I actually don’t hate Hasselbeck as a starting option in week two. He’s facing the Denver defense that was lit up by the aforementioned Garrard, and could be up for similar fantasy prodution.

Michael Vick – Vick makes this list even if he’s the team’s starting quarterback next week. While he’s still a dangerous weapon, the fact remains that he had success against the Packers for two reasons. 1) The Packers have always struggled against scrambling quarterbacks, specifically Vick. 2) They game planned for Kevin Kolb, a COMPLETELY different quarterback than Vick. I can’t imagine their defense stressed a “QB Spy” formation too often during practice.
Next Week – IF Vick starts (which I think he will, Kolb’s status does not have you optimistic), he has a favorable matchup against the Lions. Expect solid production, but not the 21 points he got in week one.

Running Backs

Arian Foster – I love me some Arian Foster. He single-handidly won me a week in one of my leagues. But come on, we obviously can’t expect 41 points out of him every week. Foster is a really good running back and will be a top five or 10 back all season, so he’s going to become a must-start, but 41 points? I don’t think so.
Next Week – Houston has the tough Redskins, and Foster will obviously be a big focus after his big week one. I expect a big letdown, but after that performance, I DARE you to leave him on your bench.

Matt Forte – Forte’s 30 points came mainly to his receiving efforts, as he managed just 50 yards on 17 carries on the ground. He was also playing the Lions. I do think Forte is due for a bounce back year, and could be a solid fantasy option many weeks, but he won’t perform nearly as well as he did in week one.
Next Week – I think the tough Dallas defense swallows up Forte, and would advise you to leave him on the bench.

Darren McFadden – I’m not sold on McFadden… not yet. He showed signs of being good, but he’s tricked us before, and I’m going to lean on the side of caution until he can put together a solid performance in multiple weeks. But even if he does, I don’t think we can expect 20 points out of him too often.
Next Week – McFadden has a good chance for back-to-back solid efforts. He has the Rams in week two, and is a good starting option.

Wide Receivers

Hakeem Nicks – Whether or not Nicks breaks out this season is still to be determined, but I still think Steve Smith will eventually go back to becoming Eli Manning’s primary target. Nicks only had four receptions Sunday, but was lucky enough to turn three of those into touchdowns. Don’t expect that too often.
Next Week – Nicks could be a decent flex play this week against a shaky Colts pass defense.

Austin Collie – Collie became known for having weeks like this every now and then last season. But a lot of his success came because Pierre Garcon had the dropsies. Additionally, I still think Anthony Gonzalez is going to work his way into this rotation, and that’ll mean less opportunities for Collie.
Next Week – Collie wouldn’t be a horrible play as your No. 2 receiver or flex play, but he’s not going to get the 20 points he had in week one.

Nate Washington – Washington was a flash in the pan, getting the majority of his scoring on the 53-yard touchdown reception from Vince Young. Justin Gage is still the No. 1 option for a passing game that isn’t that great to begin with.
Next Week – I expect Washington to struggle against the tough Steelers. Don’t start him.

Too Cold

Is Mark Sanchez THAT bad?

Quarterbacks

Drew Brees – This list is full of underachievers from week one, and it starts with Brees. While the Saints won, his owners had to be furious at the mere 13 points he earned. I have to think the league’s best fantasy quarterback will get things together, as week one can be tricky for many, especially on the national stage.
Next Week – The 49ers defense got torched by the Matt Hasselbeck. I think Brees can handle them. Of course, it’s not like you’d be benching him anyway.

Aaron Rodgers – Rodgers finished with 11 points, being hurt by two bad interceptions in Green Bay’s win over the Eagles. While you can expect about two touchdowns a game out of him, 188 yards and two interceptions is not Rodgers’ game, and I assume he’ll get it together.
Next Week – Rodgers is playing the miserable Buffalo Bills. I expect he will be the top scoring fantasy quarterback in week two.

Matt Schaub – Schaub’s owner’s loss in week one was Arian Foster’s owner’s gain. His bad performance was less what he couldn’t do, and more what Foster COULD do. The Texans led throughout against the Colts and were able to rely on their running game, taking away Schaub’s performance. He’ll get back on track as Foster comes down to Earth.
Next Week – Schaub actually has another tough matchup against a Redskins defense that looked much improved against the Cowboys. Again, I can’t imagine you’d bench him, but if you have a legitimately better option, it wouldn’t hurt to take it.

Brett Favre – I don’t know if it was the ankle, rust or what, but Favre looked bad against the Saints. No, I don’t think it was his lack of weapons. Let’s not forget, Favre has found success with numerous receivers who were below Pro Bowl caliber in Green Bay. It just takes time. (Ya know, like, training camp time?) Once he gets in synch with the his weapons, I think Favre will be fine. He’s not going to be the monster he was last season, but he’s much better than eight points per week.
Next Week – I actually think Miami will be a tough matchup for Favre, so you can leave him on your bench if you have a better option.

Joe Flacco/Mark Sanchez – These two get lumped together because of their dual stink bomb they laid on Monday Night Football. Let’s remember, both of these quarterbacks are young, were playing on a national stage to start the season, and were playing against really, really good defenses. I like Flacco better than Sanchez going forward, but if you own Sanchez, don’t worry too much. He’s not going to put up 20-25 points per week, but he’ll be much better than the two points he got Monday.
Next Week – Flacco has Cincinnati. Sanchez has the Patriots. I recommend starting Flacco unless you have a better option. Sanchez’s matchup isn’t great, but if you have to start him he could do decent. Certainly better than two points.

Running Backs

Michael Turner – Turner had a bad matchup in week one against the tough Steelers. I don’t think he’ll ever return to his 2008 form, but he’s going to be much better than four points. I expect a solid 12-15 points per week, at least, out of him.
Next Week –  Turner has a great matchup against Arizona and should put up big numbers.

Ray Rice/Shonn Greene – This one parallels the Flacco/Sanchez section. Two good running backs who ran into two really good defenses. Both will bounce back, although I have more faith in Rice than I do Greene.
Next Week – I like Rice to start against the Bengals, but would not blame you for benching Greene. I think Rex Ryan might prove a point to him by going with Tomlinson for a lot of next week’s game against the Patriots.

Adrian Peterson – Peterson doesn’t worry me. His coaching staff worries me. He muscled his way to 87 yards and nine points last week, but it took a while for Childress to finally start pounding the ball to Peterson, instead throwing with Favre way too often. If Childress continue to call plays like a buffoon, Peterson could be in trouble.
Next Week – You’re not benching Peterson against anyone, so this doesn’t really matter.

Wide Receivers

Randy Moss – People are talking about Moss because of his contract status and are worried that his production will falter. I think it will be just the opposite. The Patriots are smart to make Moss earn his contract, and he will be motivated to do so. The five points he earned in week one was a fluke.
Next Week – Even against Darrelle Revis, I’m starting Moss. I think he’s on a mission to prove his worth and is going to tear the league’s best cornerback a new one. I’m convinced.

Brandon Marshall – I don’t know what to make of Marshall last week. The Broncos defense isn’t that good, but he still struggled to gain points. He did catch eight passes though, so was still valuable in PPR leagues. Either way, I think he and Chad Henne will find a rhythm eventually, and Marshall — a notoriously slow starter — will get it together.
Next Week – Marshall has the Vikings and their short cornerbacks, and overall shaky pass defense. I think he will have a big game.

Others guys who you should still start, despite a shaky week one – Andre Johnson, DeSean Jackson, Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith (NYG), Pierre Garcon.

Just Right

Yeah, he's good. What else is new?

Quarterbacks

Peyton Manning/Tom Brady – The 29 and 22 points these two earned, respectively, is no surprise. While Brees is the most flashy pick at quarterback, Manning and Brady are the most consistent. You can almost guarantee 20 points out of these guys week in and week out.
Next Week – Start them. Duh. It doesn’t matter who they’re playing.

Jay Cutler – This may surprise some, but I really expect weeks like the 20 points Cutler put up going forward. He has a big arm and is going to be in a lot of shootouts. Plus, he’s in a Mike Martz offense. While Cutler isn’t your ideal starting quarterback in the real world, he’s very reliable as a fantasy option, especially in leagues where you aren’t penalized for interceptions. He’s going to rack up yards and get his share of touchdowns.
Next Week – Dallas isn’t a great matchup for Cutler, but again, I think he’s still going to get a fair amount of points. But if you bought low on him and have him as a backup to Rodgers or someone of that nature, he can remain on your bench without worry.

Philip Rivers – Rivers is a lot like Cutler, just on a better team. You know he’s going to put up big passing yards and get his share of touchdowns, as his team loves to pass first. Plus, if he can put up 19 points by going for 298 yards and two touchdowns in sloppy, rainy conditions, imagine what he can do at home when the sun is shining?
Next Week – “Imagine what he can do at home when the sun is shining?” What smart guy said that? He’s at home against the Jaguars. Start him.

Other guys who were “just right,”except in a negative sense – Alex Smith, Jake Delhomme, Dennis Dixon, Matt Cassel, Matt Moore.

Running Backs

Chris Johnson – Ho hum. Another 26 points from the league’s best running back. The most amazing thing about this performance is that the Titans also got a rushing touchdown out of Javon Ringer early, which probably infuriated Johnson owners at first, but Johnson still got two.
Next Week – Duh.

Jamaal Charles/Thomas Jones – I’m buying into Charles, and this will make Jones owners angry. Charles is the home run threat for the Chiefs, and even if Jones continues to start, he’ll be the pound-it-up-the-middle back that sets up Charles for his long runs. I really think Jones isn’t due for many high scoring weeks (OK, it will be better than 3), but Charles is going to continue to get his touches and have a shot at 15+ points on several occasions.
Next Week – Even against Cleveland, Kansas City is due for a letdown after the emotionally victory Monday night, but you’re still not benching Charles.

Rashad Mendenhall – Nineteen points is something you can expect out of Mendenhall, especially with Roethlisberger out. Granted, 11 of those 19 came on the overtime run, he’s still going to continue to pound the ball with Dennis Dixon struggling.
Next Week – Mendenhall is a must start these first four weeks, and even more so against the Titans and their questionable run defense.

Wide Receivers

Wes Welker – I’m not a Welker fan, but the Patriots have integrated him into the offense perfectly. He’s going to continue to frustrate defenses with his shiftiness and take advantage to great blockers in front of him. He’s essentially a running back who only catches passes, but is incredibly valuable in the fantasy sense, especially in PPR leagues.
Next Week – You’re starting Welker.

Anquan Boldin – To think Boldin succeeded against a tough defense says wonders about what he can do in the future. He was clearly Joe Flacco’s primary target, and was an absolute beast. Sure, he only racked up 11 points, but on a night where scoring wasn’t at a premium, he still had seven catches for 110 yards. Most weeks, I think he’ll end up in the end zone at least once.
Next Week – Boldin is going to be even better against Cincinnati. He’ll outshine Chad OchoCinco and Terrell Owens.

Legedu Naanee – I highlight Naanee here over the likes of Reggie Wayne, Greg Jennings and Steve Smith (Carolina) for the simple fact that he’s still available in several leagues. He’s Philip Rivers’ primary target with Vincent Jackson going AWOL, and he proved his worth in week one. He also proved his worth in the second half of 2009, so what are you waiting for? If he’s available in your league, pick him up! Now!
Next Week – I’m high on all the Chargers this week, and Naanee is no different.

Positions that don’t matter as much

Too Hot

Tight Ends – Marcades Lewis, Evan Moore, Tony Moeaki.

Defenses/Special Teams – Seahawks, Cardinals, Lions, Chiefs, Bears.

Kickers – Mason Crosby, Mike Nugent.

Too Cold

Tight Ends – Jason Witten, Greg Olsen, Kellen Winslow, Jermichael Finley.

Defenses/Special Teams – Bengals, Raiders, 49ers, Vikings.

Kickers – Nate Kaeding, Garrett Hartley.

Just Right

Tight Ends – Dallas Clark, Visanthe Shiancoe, Bo Scaife, Chris Cooley, Antonio Gates.

Defenses/Special Teams – Redskins, Jets, Saints, Steelers, Ravens, Colts, Bills.

Kickers – Neil Rackers, Rob Bironas, David Akers.

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Week 1 Predictions – Where Have All the Favorites Gone?

Why do I care about the Chiefs losing? Because of the loser pool, of course!

Week 1 is upon us. I don’t know if it’s the fact that the White Sox have faded down the stretch or the unusual optimism coming out of Green Bay, but I’m more excited about this football season than I have been in a long time.

Here’s how my predictions are going to work. I’m going to pick the winners of each game this week (duh). I will also be remarking on games I am gambling on and why. Additionally, I am in a “Losers Pool” and will be remarking on which team I am picking for my loser pool each week.

Finally, I’ll have fantasy insight (particularly for those in my leagues to read), along with the normal bitching and moaning). That won’t be in this week, but will start up after week one.

Enjoy.

Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
As strong as my hatred for the Vikings goes, I don’t hate them this week, mainly because it’s Brett Favre in week one, with the national spotlight on him, against a defense he’s become all too familiar with. Still, I just don’t see the Saints losing on opening night, on national television, on the night their Super Bowl banner is unveiled. Pick: Saints

Gambling Note: The Saints are five point favorites in this one, which is definitely attainable, but given the unpredictability of opening night and all the hoopla surrounding it, I’m staying away from it.

Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears
Another one of those “hatred” games for me, and I’m going to be ridiculed by my Bear fan friends if I pick against them and they win big, which is a good possibility. Having said that, I think Detroit is going to come out fired up against a division rival with all the weapons there and clicking. I also think the Bears are going to start the season in disarray, and are going to have trouble picking up the new system. Pick: Lions.

Gambling Note: While I won’t be wagering on this game, I like the Lions at 6.5 point underdogs. Even if the Bears do win this game, it won’t be a blowout.

Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I feel stupid for having to write more than one sentence about this game. Two miserable franchises who make it difficult to bet on, because who knows what’s going to happen? I will say this, I think the Bucs ultimately finish the season better than the Browns, but the Browns will be better early in the season, if that makes any sense. Pick: Browns.

Gambling Note: Stay away. Stay far, far away.

Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers
I said the Steelers would go 2-2 without Ben Roethlisberger and I think this is one of their two losses. As you know if you read my season preview, I’m very high on the Falcons and I think their defense causes fits for Dennis Dixon. You never know, with home field going to Pittsburgh, how things might shape up, but this looks like a very winnable game for the Falcons. Pick: Falcons.

Gambling Note: Vegas has the Steelers as 2.5 point favorites. Liking the Falcons, I obviously like this bet, but I’m hesitant because of Pittsburgh being at home.

Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans
Week one upset special: I think this is a really bad matchup for the Titans. For a team that likes to pound the ball with the run, they don’t match up well against the Raiders. As you might now, I think the Raiders will be a better team in 2010 and optimism will be at an all-time high with an opening week victory on the road, which they will get. Pick: Raiders

Gambling Note: The Raiders are 6.5 point underdogs, and while I’m picking them to pull off the upset, I wouldn’t put money on it. (Except in my pool, which I am picking them in, so I guess, technically, I’m putting money on them. Just not directly. Shut up).

Denver Broncos at Jacksonville Jaguars
This is why this post is titled “Where have all the favorites gone?” With this game, the Bucs-Browns game, and the Lions, Raiders and Rams all playing winnable games, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to pick a sure thing victory this week. The Broncos and Jaguars are both supposed to be bad this year. But how bad? Who will be worse? I guess we’re about to find out. Pick: Broncos

Gambling Note: See Browns-Bucs.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans
Another game that’s driving me crazy. Sure, it’s easy to pick the Colts. They’re the freaking Colts. How could they lose in week one? But with the Texans being a “trendy” pick yet again, and being at home, an upset isn’t totally out of the question. Sure, I expect the Colts to win, as do most people, but there definitely isn’t a sure thing here. Pick: Colts

Gambling Note: The Colts are only giving three points here, making this a very likable game to bet on, and I just may do that.

Carolina Panthers at New York Giants
I sense down years from both of these teams, but I also think the Giants are slightly better, and in week one you have to pick which team you think is going to have a better season in 90 percent of the cases. (I went against that theory with Oakland and Detroit). Pick: Giants.

Gambling Note: Giants are getting WAY too much respect by being favored by seven points here, the biggest line of the week. I like New York in this game, but not THAT much.

Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots
This seems like a no-brainer, but again, we don’t know how good the Bengals or Patriots can be. Could you see the Pats losing a week one game at home? I don’t. But I’m not confident enough in that to bet on them against a team a lot of people are picking to win the AFC North. Pick: Patriots.

Gambling Note: The Pats are 4.5 point favorites and I like them to win, but am not confident enough to bet on it.

Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
Here’s a game I love. I don’t care that Buffalo’s at home. I don’t care about any intangibles. The Bills will be the worst team in the NFL and I love Miami in this one. It’s a must-bet game. Pick: Dolphins.

Gambling Note: As I mentioned before, I love the Dolphins and I love even more the fact that they’re only giving three points here. If there’s one game I have to bet on this week, it’s this one.

Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams
See what I mean? The Rams have a new quarterback and looked good in the preseason. The Cardinals have a new quarterback, only because one retired and the other one sucked. I think both of these teams will be miserable, but again, it’s week one so nothing is certain, so I’m going with the home upset. Pick: Rams.

Gambling Note: Arizona is giving four points. I like St. Louis, but they may crap the bed as they’ve been known to do, so I wouldn’t rule out an Arizona blowout, meaning I’m staying away from this game for gambling purposes.

Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles
I think the Eagles are way down this year, and I don’t see Aaron Rodgers & Co. laying an egg in week one. I also think Dom Capers will scheme to kill against Kevin Kolb, and the first-year starter won’t know what hit him. Pick: Packers

Gambling Note: I like this game quite a bit as well. I compare it to the Colts-Texans game in that the Packers are only giving three points, but could win big. It’s definitely a bet-able game.

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
I love the Niners and hate the Seahawks. It’s about as simple as that. I don’t think Seattle’s homefield will matter in the slightest bit while Pete Carroll is running that franchise into the ground. Pick: 49ers

Gambling Note: Another frustrating game in that we have yet another road favorite. Still, I like the 49ers at -3. I won’t be betting on any road game that Alex Smith is starting… yet.

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins
This game will be closer than expected, mainly because I love Washington and they’re at home. I have no idea what direction to go in this game, but can’t imagine a team as loaded as Dallas will lose in week one. Pick: Cowboys.

Gambling Note: As noted above, I’m clueless about this game. Dallas is 3.5 point favorites, and that scares the crap out of me.

Baltimore Ravens at New York Jets
I like the Ravens a lot this year (obviously, Super Bowl pick), but another road game for a team I like, and the national television aspect throws things for a loop and scares me. Still, I’m confident in the Ravens and think they will expose the Jets quite a bit in week one. Pick: Ravens

Gambling Note: Staying away from this one, as well. Line is Jets -2.

San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs – loser pool pick
For those of you who don’t know what a loser pool is, how it works is you pick a team you are sure is going to lose each week, if that team loses, you keep playing next week. If that team wins, you’re out. That continues until only one person is left and that person gets all the money. This week, I’m picking the Chiefs. I’m not incredibly confident about it, but it was between the Chiefs and Bills this week, and it came down to me liking the Chargers more than I like the Dolphins. But I won’t be surprised if Norv Turner screws me over. Pick: Chargers.

Gambling Note: I like San Diego at -4.5. Obviously, I like them enough to pick KC if the losers pool. But still, Norv Turner is a wild card and I won’t be betting directly on this game for that specific reason.

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2010 NFL Season Preview – Sparknotes Edition

Is Joe Flacco good enough to lead his team to a Super Bowl?

AFC

East

1. New England Patriots (11-5)
2. New York Jets (10-6)
3. Miami Dolphins (7-9)
4. Buffalo Bills (1-15)

North

1. Baltimore Ravens (14-2)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)
4. Cleveland Browns (3-13)

South

1. Indianapolis Colts (13-3)
2. Tennessee Titans (9-7)
3. Houston Texans (8-8)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13)

West

1. San Diego Chargers (14-2)
2. Oakland Raiders (5-11)
3. Denver Broncos (5-11)
4. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)

NFC

East

1. Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
2. Washington Redskins (11-5)
3. New York Giants (8-8)
4. Philadelphia Eagles (7-9)

North

1. Green Bay Packers (12-4)
2. Minnesota Vikings (11-5)
3. Chicago Bears (5-11)
4. Detroit Lions (4-12)

South

1. New Orleans Saints (12-4)
2. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
3. Carolina Panthers (7-9)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)

West

1. San Francisco 49ers (10-6)
2. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
3. St. Louis Rams (4-12)
4. Seattle Seahawks (3-13)

Playoffs

NFC

1. Saints (12-4)
2. Packers (12-4)
3. Cowboys (12-4)
4. 49ers (10-6)
5. Vikings (11-5) – wild card
6. Redskins (11-5) – wild card

AFC

1. Ravens (14-2)
2. Chargers (14-2)
3. Colts (13-3)
4. Patriots (11-5)
5. Steelers (11-5) – wild card
6. Jets (10-6) – wild card

Wild Card Round

NFC: Cowboys over Redskins; 49ers over Vikings.
AFC: Colts over Jets; Patriots over Steelers.

Divisional Round

NFC: Saints over Cowboys; Packers over 49ers.
AFC: Colts over Chargers; Ravens over Patriots.

AFC Championship: Ravens over Colts
NFC Championship: Saints over Packers

Super Bowl XLV: Ravens over Saints

Award Predictions

MVP: Peyton Manning. Runners up: Joe Flacco, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ray Rice, Donovan McNabb.

Defensive Player of the Year: Patrick Willis.

Coach of the Year: Mike Shanahan.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: C.J. Spiller.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ndamakong Suh.

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2010 NFL Season Preview

Is Joe Flacco good enough to lead his team to a Super Bowl?

(note: if you want to read my entire 4,500 word preview, more power to you. If you simply want to know who I’m picking to finish where, and what my playoff predictions are, click here for the sparknotes edition of this post.

Well, I’m back to trying this whole blogging thing on a regular basis. This time, it’s NFL season that has me firing off on my keyboard on a regular basis.

That, and the fact that I’m now living in a small, podunk town where I know nobody, gives me the time to fire off thousands of words about all things NFL. I’ll be writing about the NFL season, fantasy football, gambling on football and anything else I can think of.

That said, I’m starting things off with an absurdly long preview of the season. Much like I did with baseball season, the main purpose of these predictions is so I can be ‘on the record’ once the season ends and see how I did.

So without further adieu, here is my division-by-division breakdown of the 2010 NFL season, with playoff and award predictions at the end.

AFC

East

Can this man's team live up to the hype?

1. New England Patriots (11-5) – I should start things off by declaring that I hate the Patriots more than any NFL franchise not called the Chicago Bears or Minnesota Vikings (I’m a Packers fan). That said, this is the year the Pats can finally sneak up on everybody. Or at least sneak as much as a team like this can. Everyone is high on the Jets, the Dolphins are a trendy sleeper pick, but the Pats will get it done once again.

The biggest question about the Patriots is their defense. If we know anything about their defense, it’s that we know nothing about it. We know Tom Brady will put up numbers. We know Randy Moss and Wes Welker will be on the receiving ends of those numbers, and we know the running game will be efficient, yet fantasy kryptonite.

And while the defense is a question mark, I still think they will get it done. I’ve seen Bill Belichick and his coaching staff do it far too many times to pick against them. So when it comes down to a December game where Belichick is coaching against Rex Ryan or Tony Sparano with the division on the line, I’ll pick Belichick and the Patriots, as much as I hate them.

2. New York Jets (10-6) – I like the Jets, but I don’t like them quite as much as I like other teams. Is it possible their defense over-excelled last year? It may seem crazy, but I just don’t see that unit staying that healthy and performing at that level all year for a second straight year. Teams are going to flat-out not throw on Darelle Revis this season. The other cornerback is a rookie, and safeties Jim Leonhard and Brodney Pool are suspect at best.

Couple that with Mark Sanchez’s inevitable sophomore slump, the fact that Shonn Greene has yet to prove himself, and Braylon Edwards’ drop woes, and I don’t see an offense that can do that much. Of course, the defense will still win a few games by itself, and the team will do enough to still put together a winning record, but a dominant run through the AFC just isn’t realistic.

3. Miami Dolphins (7-9) – I like what the Dolphins are starting to build, I think just they’re still a year or two away. Chad Henne is never going to be a superstar, but he’s a more than competent NFL quarterback who can lead a good team that is built around him (see: Mark Sanchez). The team got a massive upgrade with the addition of Brandon Marshall, and the duo of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams at running back is still solid, but receiver is still a question. Even with Marshall, the combo of Brian Hartline and Devon Bess doesn’t scare anyone, and the offensive line still has a lot of questions.

Defensively, the team is still very young. They are a competent enough unit to challenge a lot of teams. I see them being a gambling nightmare as they’ll play teams better than them very competitively. Just not competitively enough to win… yet. Give this team another year and they could be AFC East champions.

4. Buffalo Bills (1-15) – For a team is as bad of shape as the Bills, they will likely still make a ton of highlight reels because C.J. Spiller is going to be really, really good. The problem in Buffalo is that, aside from Spiller and safety Donte Whitner, there isn’t much else to be excited about. Perennial underachiever Lee Evans and something called Steve Johnson are the team’s starting wide receivers for Trent Edwards, who… I just can’t think of any other way of putting it… sucks. The defense is about as ugly as it gets. Whitner is a ball hawk and a fun, young safety, but the players who surround Whitner are jokes. Leodis McKelvin could have a future, as could Paul Posluszny, but the rest of the defense is filled with no names.

North

Will Roethlisberger's off the field problems hurt the Steelers?

1. Baltimore Ravens (14-2) – I’ll admit, I LOVE the Ravens this year. I loved them even before the acquisition of T.J. Houshmandzadeh. I think Ray Rice establishes himself as one of the top three running backs in the NFL, I think the defense succeeds (even with secondary troubles), and I think Joe Flacco becomes a Pro Bowl quarterback (yes, I really believe that).

Anyone picking against the Ravens this year points to their lack of a dominant secondary. But the Ravens don’t seem concerned. There hasn’t been any rush acquisitions of multiple defensive backs or a rash signing of a past-his-prime veteran. John Harbaugh is no dummy, and methinks he’s just fine with the guys he has at those positions. The team’s front seven is no secret. Ray Lewis is still there, Haloti Ngata is the best defensive lineman you’ve never heard of, and Terrelle Suggs is playing for his job. This team is for real, and is going to end up running away with what is looked at as a very competitive AFC North.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) – The loss of Ben Roethlisberger has been well documented, and the Steelers need to go 2-2 in his four games out to stay in contention. I think they will (wins vs. Titans, Bucs, losses to Falcons, Ravens), and will likely be fine after that. The defense isn’t all that different than the team that won a Super Bowl two years ago, and I’d argue that Mike Wallace is a better vertical option opposite Hines Ward than Santonio Holmes was.

The biggest issue with the Steelers, aside from the first four games sans Roethlisberger, is their offensive line. Roethlisberger got beat up a lot last year, and Flozell Adams isn’t exactly a world beater anymore. But, like last year, I think they’ll do just enough to stay competitive. And with Roethlisberger, Wallace, Ward and Rashad Mendenhall on offense, and a juggernaut defense, the Steelers will still be a good enough team to make a playoff run.

3. Cincinnati Bengals (8-8) – My ranking of the Bengals isn’t exactly a testament to them not being that good, but more about how good the Ravens and Steelers will be. Cincinnati will be good, but I think they over-acheived a bit last season. There’s no way they go undefeated in the AFC North again this season, or anywhere close for that matter.

Terrell Owens and Chad OchoCinco will make for good headlines and theatrics throughout the season, but let’s be honest, Owens hasn’t been a relevant weapon in several years, and if the Bengals weren’t good with OchoCino and Houshmandzadeh, why would they be good with these two?

4. Cleveland Browns (3-13) – The Browns’ offense is laughably bad. In the offseason, there was never a questions that they would not be competitive in 2010, yet, instead of building a young quarterback, they signed aging pick king Jake Delhomme. He’s throwing to two guys named Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie. The running back, Jerome Harrison, is another guy nobody’s ever heard of.

There’s a good chance the Browns will be the worst team in the league this year. While I don’t think they’ll be that bad, they won’t win any more than 3-4 games.

South

There's one thing we know will happen this season: Peyton Manning will continue winning.

1. Indianapolis Colts (13-3) – There isn’t much to say about the Colts. Like every other year, they’re good at all the important positions, and competent at all the others. Peyton Manning will be Peyton Manning, he will make his receivers better than they should be, and the defense will be just good enough to get by.

What makes the Colts scary is what happens if they stay healthy. Injuries to Bob Sanders and Jeff Saturday are always a concern, but if those two stay healthy, they are incredibly important cogs that usually don’t get that much attention. Additionally, with Anthony Gonzalez back healthy, Manning may arguably have the most talent around him since Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James were in their primes.

2. Tennessee Titans (9-7) – The two middle teams in this division are among the hardest to predict. Their offense is electric with Chris Johnson and Vince Young, and Young’s two starting receivers, Justin Gage and Nate Washington, have a boatload of potential.

Where the question marks are for this team are on defense. The secondary is full of playmakers, but how much pressure can the front seven bring? That will be key to how good of a season the Titans have. I think they win a lot of games on the legs of Young and Johnson, but their defense has enough of a concern to keep them out of the playoffs.

3. Houston Texans (8-8) – Everyone continuously picks the Texans as a sleeper year. Every year is supposedly the year they finally break out and make the playoffs. And while the offense is explosive with the likes of Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Co., I think the coaching staff is what holds this team back. Gary Kubiak has time and time again mis-managed the team and until he goes, this team will not get over the hump.

The defense in Houston might be the best we have seen since this franchise came into existence. Mario Williams is one of the top pass rushers in the league, but they can’t cover anyone and will still get lit up by the likes of Peyton Manning at will.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13) – Prediction: Jack Del Rio will be the first NFL coach fired this season. Del Rio had a nice couple year run with the Jags. They made the playoffs and had that memorable upset of the Steelers, but this team has continued to go downhill ever since. David Garrard has hit the ceiling as far as how good he can be and how far he can lead a team, and the team’s willingness to get rid of solid defensive players is amazing. Gone is Reggie Nelson. Gone is John Henderson. Gone is Mike Peterson. Teams are going to score a lot of points on the Jaguars and it may not be but a few more years before they leave Jacksonville altogether.

West

No. 15's name is not written once in this entire post. Rightfully so.

1. San Diego Chargers (14-2) – The record I have predicted for the Chargers is not a testament to how good they are going to be, but rather how poor their schedule will end up being. Sure, I have them handing losses to the Patriots and Colts, but they also get to face the bottom three teams in the West a combined six times, and the likes of Jacksonville, Seattle and Arizona.

Plus, let’s face it, the Chargers are a regular season juggernaut. But that doesn’t always translate to postseason success. The Chargers may roll through the regular season as they are accustomed to doing. They still have Philip Rivers. They still have a great offensive line and (maybe) Vincent Jackson, and they still have a dominant defense. So there’s no reason this team shouldn’t dominate a weak division and do well against the other top teams in the conference.

2. Oakland Raiders (5-11) – Yes, the Raiders will be an improved team this season. No, they will not be a playoff team. I really like the acquisition of Jason Campbell, giving the team a competent quarterback for the first time since Rich Gannon, and the defense will continue to improve upon its accomplishments from a year ago. There are a lot of good things going on in Oakland right now, something we haven’t been able to say for quite some time. But they’re still a few years away.

3. Denver Broncos (5-11) – Don’t sleep on Kyle Orton (more on him later), but the only problem is that he lacks weapons. Eddie Royal and Brandon Lloyd aren’t exactly ideal targets for a quarterback, and the running back situation will continue to be in flux in Denver. The defense has question marks of its own. How old are Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins? Who is going to rush the passer with Elvis Dumervil injured? It could be a long season in Denver, and Josh McDaniels will likely end up on the hot season when all is said and done.

4. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12) – The Chiefs seem to have an identity crisis. Half the time, it seems like they’re ready to completely rebuild with young talent (Glenn Dorsey, Eric Barry, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Jamaar Charles), and the other half it’s trying to rely on veteran free agents (Thomas Jones, Mike Vrabel, Ryan Lilja). I like the eye for talent that Kansas City’s front office has, but it needs to make up its mind as to what kind of team it wants to put on the field before the Chiefs will have any chance of succeeding.

NFC

East

The combination of these two men are going to make Redskins fans very, very happy.

1. Dallas Cowboys (12-4) – It pains me to pick the Cowboys because they’re such a trendy pick this year, but what’s not to love? Their defense is virtually the same as last year (very solid), they still have Tony Romo, and their offensive line probably got better. Likewise, if Marion Barber and Felix Jones stay healthy, they form a very good 1-2 punch in the running game. I think it’s been proven that neither will ever survive as a 20-25 carry/game guy, but they complement each other well.

One of the wild cards with this team is Miles Austin. Everyone is pretty much assuming he will perform as well as or better than he did last season. While that’s likely, it’s also risky. He’s young, and teams will be focusing on him more than ever this season. Hopefully, for the Cowboys sake, he can live up to that pressure and have either Dez Bryant or Roy E. Williams take some pressure off of him (along with Jason Witten, of course). Either way, I think the Cowboys are well-rounded enough to take this division.

2. Washington Redskins (11-5) – Here’s my sleeper team of the year and biggest shocker in all of my predictions. My argument for the Redskins:

Donovan McNabb has comeback, revenge streak written all over him. Let’s not forget how good this guy really is, and playing with a coach who can build quarterbacks, and with revenge against the Eagles on his mind, I think he’s going to have a season unlike we’ve ever seen from him before. McNabb’s receivers are nothing to look at, but McNabb continuously succeeded in Philadelphia with suspect receivers, a competent running game and a dominant defense. That’s the recipe he’s working with in Washington, only with a much, MUCH better coach.

Which brings me to the defense. Brian Orakpo showed flashes of brilliance his rookie season and is poised to breakout. The cornerbacks (DeAngelo Hall and Carlos Rogers) have showed signs of being great in their careers, and I really think, as much as everyone hates him, that once the season starts, Albert Haynesworth will still be a force to be reckoned with.

The key to this team, though, is Mike Shanahan. He has been known to build winners and has the keys to the car in Washington. He has the veteran quarterback he needs and I think the year he took off was well needed to get him back in the competitive mindset. He can easily out-coach any team in this division and arguably any team in this conference. He’s going to re-make the Redskins and they’re going to be the surprise team in the league. They won’t be quite good enough to win the East, but they’ll come darn close and still nab a wild card spot.

3. New York Giants (8-8) – The Giants are another really tough team to pick. With the return of Osi Uminyiora, the G-Men could easily return to form this season, but a lot of things have to go right for the, and quite frankly, I don’t see it happening. The secondary is in shambles, the offensive line is aging, and I’ve never heard of most of their linebackers (except Keith Bullock, but let’s face it, he’s not the same Keith Bullock).

The Giants will be good enough to beat the bad teams they face this season, but have fallen a stop below the Redskins and Cowboys. They’ll be competitive throughout the season thanks to Eli Manning and a good running game, but not enough to make another playoff run.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (7-9) – As sad as it is to say, this season does not shape up pretty for the Eagles, and Andy Reid’s tenure in Philadelphia may come to an end after this season. The Eagles got rid of the stalwarts at their two key positions, quarterback and running back, and we don’t know what to expect out of Kevin Kolb or LeSean McCoy for a full season. Likewise, the defense had question marks all season last year and they didn’t do much to shore it up, while their opponents (the Cowboys and Redskins, namely), got a lot better. I just think it’s time for a change in guard for the Eagles, something that changed last year when McNabb and Brian Westbrook were let go, and will continue into next season.

North

The man in blue is a very scary person. His team? Not so much.

1. Green Bay Packers (12-4) – HOMER ALERT: I am a Packers fan. Have been my entire life. Luckily, the Packers are a good enough team this year that it’s not completely farfetched for me to pick them to win the division this year. In fact, it’s the most likely scenario.

Everyone remembers last year’s playoff debacle against the Cardinals, as well as defense breakdowns against the Vikings and Steelers, but the fact remains that the Packers’ defense, aside from those four games, was really good last season. And with a second season under Dom Capers, there’s no reason they can’t get better. Secondary is a concern with Al Harris and Atari Bigby missing the first six weeks, but Morgan Burnett (Bigby’s replacement) is a really good prospect, and I have faith that Capers’ schemes will make up for a lack of secondary depth.

Likewise, the offensive line is improved. The Allen Barbre experiment at offensive tackle is over, and Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are both entering the season healthy. They also have more depth with the drafting of Bryan Bulaga in the first round. What this all comes down to, though, is the defense and Capers has proved he can make this unit better and better. Clay Matthews will continue to be a force of a pass rusher, and, as tough as it is to let Aaron Kampman go, they are better against the pass with Brad Jones out there.

2. Minnesota Vikings (11-5) – My pick of the Packers over the Vikings in this division has nothing to do with me being a homer. OK, maybe it does a little. But the fact of the matter is that the Packers are likely a better team this year. Everything went perfectly in Minnesota last year. Brett Favre played out of his mind, they overcame defensive lapses and all the cards just seemed to unfold in their favor.

The chances of that happening two years in a row appear slim. Unlike others, though, I don’t see the loss of Sidney Rice and migraine issues of Percy Harvin being a problem. Let’s not forget, Favre didn’t exactly have Hall of Fame receivers in Green Bay. He made his receivers better, just like he made Harvin, Rice and Visanthe Shiancoe better last season. So why can’t he do for Greg Camarillo, a healthy Bernard Berrian and others what he did for the likes of Donald Driver, Don Beebe and Andre Rison?

Favre will still have a good season. It won’t be anywhere near as good as 2009, but he and his receivers are the least of the team’s struggles. That’s why I still think they are a playoff team.

3. Chicago Bears (5-11) – Here’s where I most likely got called a homer by all my Bears fan friends. But let’s look at this logically. The Bears have virtually the exact same team as last year. The only major changes were at defensive end (Julius Peppers), offensive coordinator (addition of Mike Martz), left tackle (Chris Williams over Orlando Pace), and safety (bringing back Chris Harris). Do those changes make this team any better? Even with Peppers, the short answer is no.

The long answer is that, while Harris is an upgrade, it still doesn’t solve the fact that Charles Tillman (who’s future is as a safety) and Zack Bowman can’t cover anyone. And while Peppers improves the pass rush, who else is there? Can Tommie Harris be relied on to stay healthy? Do Mark Anderson and Isreal Idonije scare anyone?

Likewise, the offense will be a mess. Jay Cutler still has a porous offensive line and no weapons at wide receiver. Sure, Devin Aromashodu and Johnny Knox are prospects, but if the Bears want to win now, and Lovie Smith wants to save his job, they need to surround Cutler with weapons and give him protection. They haven’t done that.

4. Detroit Lions (4-12) – Look, I like what the Lions are doing. I really do. Ndamukong Suh is going to be the most dominant defensive tackle in football really, really quickly, and I like a number of the other under-the-radar acquisitions they have made.

But you don’t turn things around overnight, and it’s still a long process for the Lions. They’re young, but they’re headed in the right direction. Lions fans can at least be optimistic about the young nucleus they have built (Suh, Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best), but they’re likely to lose a lot of really close games this year while continuing to rebuild for the future.

South

The Atlanta Falcons defense is vastly underrated.

1. New Orleans Saints (12-4) – The thing I love about the NFL is its unpredictability. Last year at this time, virtually nobody was picking the Saints to win the NFC South, let alone the Super Bowl. This year you’d be hard pressed to find someone who’s picking them to repeat as division champions, even though it’s never happened in the history of this division.

On paper, sure, the Saints are still the best team in the NFC, and arguably the NFL. But crazy things happen, and it’s not completely far-fetched for one of the other teams in this division to go on a crazy, Saints-like run and dethrone the champs. It’s happened before. It’ll happen again. But, for the sake of me not seeming like a complete moron, I still have to have them up here. They look like the best team, and until proven otherwise, they still are the best team.

2. Atlanta Falcons (11-5) – The Falcons are going to surprise a lot of teams this season, and they probably shouldn’t. They won the division two years ago, finished 9-7 last year while battling a multitude of injuries, and have a good, young core of talented players. If there’s one team to challenge the Saints in this division, it’s the Falcons. Matt Ryan is a budding star, Michael Turner is healthy, and Roddy White is emerging as a top-five wid receiver.

Couple those with the fact that Mike Smith is probably the most underrated coach in the league, great at building a defense, and the Falcons will compete for a wild card spot. The Falcons look so good, in fact, that they’re likely a team to be reckoned with for years to come in the NFC.

3. Carolina Panthers (7-9) – I actually like the Panthers’ offense this season. The two-headed monster at running back is still a beast, and I actually like Matt Moore at quarterback more than Jake Delhomme. I think his efficient ability to not turn the ball over will turn some heads, and the offensive line is good enough to protect him. That said, the defense is a joke. I’ve not heard of one of their defensive linemen and they really have nothing that looks good at any position. So while Moore will be impressive in his first season as the full-time starter, it will still be a long season for Carolina and it will possibly be John Fox’s last stand.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) – I actually like Josh Freeman as a quarterback. I saw him torch my Packers in his first career start last season and he reminded me of a young Daunte Culpepper. Unfortunately for Freeman, the rest of the Bucs are a mess. He has no receivers to throw the ball to, an injury-prone running back and a defense full of nobody. He also has a lame duck coach who never had a chance to succeed to begin with. Yup, it’ll be a long season in Tampa.

West

Singletary is turning heads in San Francisco.

1. San Francisco 49ers (10-6) – I’m very high on the Niners this season. Well, about as high as you can get about a team in this putrid division. I really like what Mike Singletary is doing (next Bears coach?), and Patrick Willis is going to emerge as the best defensive player in the NFL this season. They will go through growing pains. Alex Smith is still just Alex Smith, and Frank Gore needs to stay healthy, but this team has the potential to go a long way, and winning a very winnable division is a big step in the right direction. Like the Falcons, I see a lot of good things out of this team in the future (if Singletary stays).

2. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
3. St. Louis Rams (4-12)
4. Seattle Seahawks (3-13)

I’m lumping these three teams together because, quite frankly, they don’t deserve their own paragraph. Yes, I think the Cardinals are going to get that much worse. Yes, I think the Seahawks are worse than the Rams. No, that’s not a compliment to the Rams. None of these three teams will be football relevant at any time this season, and I curse the fact that I live close enough to St. Louis that I get Rams games regionally. Blargh.

Playoffs

NFC

1. Saints (12-4)
2. Packers (12-4)
3. Cowboys (12-4)
4. 49ers (10-6)
5. Vikings (11-5) – wild card
6. Redskins (11-5) – wild card

AFC

1. Ravens (14-2)
2. Chargers (14-2)
3. Colts (13-3)
4. Patriots (11-5)
5. Steelers (11-5) – wild card
6. Jets (10-6) – wild card

Wild Card Round

NFC: Cowboys over Redskins; 49ers over Vikings.
AFC: Colts over Jets; Patriots over Steelers.

Divisional Round

NFC: Saints over Cowboys; Packers over 49ers.
AFC: Colts over Chargers; Ravens over Patriots.

AFC Championship: Ravens over Colts
NFC Championship: Saints over Packers

Super Bowl XLV: Ravens over Saints

Award Predictions

MVP: Peyton Manning. Runners up: Joe Flacco, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ray Rice, Donovan McNabb.

Defensive Player of the Year: Patrick Willis.

Coach of the Year: Mike Shanahan.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: C.J. Spiller.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ndamakong Suh.

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