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July 23, 2008
Patriots Still Team to
Beat, but the Chargers Could Win It All
Undisclosed sources have suggested that more is going on in the NFL than
Brett Favre’s faux retirement. It seemed worth investigating, and
believe it or not, there is a wealth of information to back up this
For starters, there will be an NFL season, including both a preseason
and a postseason, not to mention 17 weeks of football in between. For
the Maddenites who probably wouldn’t even realize football beyond Favre,
you should probably stop reading. For real football fans, perhaps the
following NFL preview will whet your appetites.
The Super Bowl is still the New England Patriots’ to lose, which they
accomplished in wild fashion only six months ago. Anyone who thinks
differently is kidding themselves. Last year was a case of divine
intervention – either some New York Giants fan’s life depended on the
Giants being victorious, or the Patriots were simply not allowed to win
because of Spygate. Maybe Bill Belichick threw the game because his
conscience finally caught up with him. It doesn’t matter. They were the
heavy favorite last year, and they remain a heavy favorite because of
two men: Tom Brady and Randy Moss.
The better question is, will this still be the Peyton Manning show?
Brady stole the spotlight, but Peyton is still one of the greatest
passers the game has ever seen, and he’s got stats piled upon stats to
back it up. Last year, however, he did throw almost as many
interceptions as games played, which was the most he’d thrown since
2002. If you watched him, although the accuracy was there, the spark he
used to have when he, not a guy in Boston, was the main event was
clearly missing. One can only wonder how he’ll respond to being bested
not only by Brady, but his younger brother, who only needed three full
regular seasons to win the big one. There is a Daddy complex in this
family if I’ve ever seen one, and you’re crazy if you think Eli’s big
day won’t affect big brother.
Concerning the Giants, anyone betting on a repeat shouldn’t be trusted
with money. There has been no shortage of drama, with Plaxico Burress
playing the diva at training camp and Jeremy Shockey, finally traded to
the Saints, reeking of egotism. But having unloaded the cockiest man to
ever do nothing to help his team win a championship, things are looking
up for the Giants. But of course, remember that aside from divine
intervention, the only technical reason they won last year was that
Brady had about two sneezes worth of time to throw the ball on every
play, and Michael Strahan is gone. And no offense to Eli, but there is
still no comparison between him and Peyton. He succeeded last year by
making very few mistakes. But offense will not carry this team, and
without Strahan, neither will defense.
for the other heavy hitters, the Dallas Cowboys and San Diego Chargers,
they’re both legitimate contenders to win the big game. The Cowboys
because, really, who else is there in the NFC? And the Chargers? They
were one gutsy LeDanian Tomlinson performance away from bringing down
the Pats last year. It’s not hard to imagine them moving in to take a
legitimate number two spot in the AFC, as opposed to their usual three
spot behind the Indianapolis Colts and the Pats. And really, who has a
better chance at bringing down number one than number two, especially
when it’s a team that nearly succeeded with a one-legged quarterback
just two NFL games ago?
The Chargers are too good to be called a sleeper. So how about this?
Look for them to win it all this year. Unless the Patriots come to their
senses defensively, the Chargers just might come out atop the AFC ready
to gobble up the Cowboys.
And the rest of the league? Well, there is plenty to anticipate, unless
of course you’re a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Asante Samuel was a nice
pickup, but let’s face it, even if their defense captures a shadow of
its former glory, the offense is still going to stink. We can look
forward to another mediocre-at-best season from Donovan McNabb, who
will, once again, legitimately complain that he has no one to throw to,
while Bryan Westbrook once again carries the team on his shoulders. But
let’s be realistic. On top of playing both the Cowboys and Giants twice
each, they’re also playing the Pittsburgh Steelers twice and the
Patriots once. I’d be surprised if they won three of those.
the way, have I been clear enough that I’m ready to consider this team
in the middle of a “rebuilding stage”? I wish someone would tell Andy
Reid this, and maybe we’d be lucky enough to see a lot less of No. 5. I
think everyone, even McNabb himself, would be happier. OK, OK, everyone
have yet to mention the Washington Redskins. It would be surprising to
see them finish above .500 with a new coach, Jim Zorn, and his West
Coast offense. I love the offense, but how quickly his team will adapt
is tough to guess.
Keep your eye on the Detroit Lions. A lot has changed since last year,
when they effectively threw away the season by losing seven of their
last eight games. With a new offensive coordinator, a promised renewed
emphasis on the run and a threatening receiving duo of Roy Williams and
the developing Calvin Johnson, they could be a legitimate contender to
come out of the NFC North.
But the Green Bay Packers could still come out on top of the division,
simply because their team is good with or without Brett Favre. This year
in Green Bay will be the year of Aaron Rodgers, who has thrown for a
total of 329 passing yards in his career. If he leads the Packers into
the playoffs, then they will be a serious threat a few years down the
line. But he could also flop, and the Packers will be exactly where they
should have been four years ago had they rid themselves of the
The Minnesota Vikings, with their strongest defense in years and
rookie-of-the-year Adrian Peterson in the backfield, will likely rise or
fall on the improvement of third-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
The NFC South should be similar in lousiness to the North. And there’s
one primary reason. There aren’t that many great quarterbacks playing
right now, and there aren’t any great quarterbacks playing in the
The big question is whether Jake Delhomme will come back strongly for
the Carolina Panthers. He is one of the few good quarterbacks in the NFC,
and the Panthers, having traded their 2009 first-round pick for the
chance to get tackle Jeff Otah, are really counting on him. Look for
them to win the South. The New Orleans Saints, however, are a legitimate
contender, having revamped their defense at linebacker and defensive
end. And who knows, perhaps Drew Brees, Reggie Bush and the
aforementioned Jeremy Shockey will actually make something happen. Don’t
expect the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the Atlanta Falcons to do much,
although it should be interesting to watch Matt Ryan go out there and
try to single-handedly recover Atlanta from the wreckage of Hurricane
The NFC West is also a pretty lousy division, save for the Seattle
Seahawks. As usual, I’d expect them to come out on top of the division
without much trouble. The San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams, a
combined 8-24 last year, have not done much to resolve their respective
situations, aside from the 49ers picking up former Rams receiver Isaac
Bruce. Unfortunately for the Niners, they’re still stuck at quarterback
with the once-promising Alex Smith, who has convinced most of us that we
vastly overestimated his potential. The Arizona Cardinals, going a
respectable 8-8 in 2007, are resting their 2008 season in Matt Leinart’s
hands. Coming off his foot injury, this season will set the tone for the
rest of his career. If he comes back strong and gives his team a
legitimate chance to challenge the Seahawks, we can finally look forward
to seeing him become the player we all assumed he would be.
I think he’ll continue to be mediocre. He has shown little promise
since his much-anticipated entry into the league. In addition to his
talent appearing below NFL standards, his attitude has done little to
challenge the pretty boy/party boy image he created for himself. I
wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cards finish 7-9, or even 6-10. All
that could save them is four games against the Rams and the 49ers.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Patriots will win the AFC
East. The Buffalo Bills showed some serious promise toward the end of
the 2007 season, aside from a solid drubbing from the Patriots, and have
given their defense some serious buffering. But with a tough schedule,
it would be quite surprising to see them finish with a better record
than last year’s 7-9.
The funny thing about the Miami Dolphins is that, with all the talk
about “replacing Jason Taylor”, there’s not that much talk about
replacing the rest of the team. If my memory serves me correctly, they
were almost as bad as the Patriots were good. Bill Parcells has really
gutted the team, which seems like the right idea for an organization
that almost couldn’t possibly do worse. I’d look for them to win five
games this year. The New York Jets don’t seem to have gotten much better
than last year, although it is hard to imagine them finishing with a
Moving to the AFC North, one would have to guess that the Steelers will
come out on top. Having picked up some depth at receiver and running
back, anticipate their offense to be re-energized and lethal in a
Pittsburgh sort of way. With the Baltimore Ravens, it will be all about
their new coach, John Harbaugh, whose presence the Eagles enjoyed as
special teams coach for quite a few years. For a team that has, year
after year, relied on defense, you’d have to guess that a hard-nosed guy
like Harbaugh would be a good fit. Whether or not this will make a big
difference is up for debate, but I think they’ll finish with at least a
.500 record this year. The Cleveland Browns could very well come out on
top of the North this year if their newcomers perform as well as
expected. With significant attention being paid to their defense, and
the addition of Donte Stallworth to their receiving corps, it wouldn’t
be shocking to see them finish 11-5 or even better. Whether or not the
Cincinnati Bengals can compete with the mire of Chad Johnson is up for
debate, but I don’t see them contending in a real way for the division,
much less on a larger scale.
Once again, the AFC South is a strong division, with the Colts as the
usual favorite but the Jacksonville Jaguars not far behind. If new
Jaguars receivers Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson deliver, the Jaguars
could well overtake the Colts, who, my gut tells me, are on the decline.
Perhaps the biggest acquisition for the Tennessee Titans was former
Eagle Jevon Kearse, whose tenure in Philadelphia was lackluster at best.
The Titans defense did not need much help, however, so sadly, I can only
imagine another player will leave Philadelphia and play much better
somewhere else. I still don’t see the Titans overtaking the Jags or the
Colts, but they should be a good team, and don’t be surprised to see
them seriously competing in the AFC South, if not, at the very least,
for the Wild card. Despite signs of life last year, it doesn’t seem like
the Houston Texans will be able to compete with this tough division. I’d
be surprised to see them finish with more than six wins.
Finally, we have the AFC West, which was the most lopsided division
around last year, with the Chargers winning almost as many games (11) as
the rest of the division (15). As I mentioned earlier, I think the
Chargers will run away with this division. The Oakland Raiders stink, as
anyone who lives, as I do, around northern California will assure you.
With JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden and Javon Walker all playing
together, there could be some sparks, but it would be quite surprising
if it lit any sort of fire under this team. I expect the fans will be as
crazy, or even slightly more so, by the end of the season. The Kansas
City Chiefs have a nice lineup of rookies, but that doesn’t bode well
for this year. I’d be surprised to see them finish with more than five
wins, but give them a few years and they might start mixing it up as
they did in years past. The big question in Denver is whether the
Broncos can find a formula that works, as they have plenty of new names
on offense but not many guarantees. They could be a legitimate sleeper
for the wild card this year, and are perhaps one of the hardest teams to
Aside from Green Bay’s number one diva, it hasn’t been the noisiest of
off-seasons in the NFL, which is nice because it allows us to follow the
same plots that began last season. I still think the most interesting
thing to watch will be how the Patriots respond to last season. Yeah,
the Patriots are old news, but they’re still the team to beat. Expect
the AFC to continue to be the varsity league, as the Cowboys (I cringe
at the thought) seeming to be, once again, the NFC’s best hope at
winning another Super Bowl.
It’s hard to remember a time when I felt like the Eagles were further
from a championship than I do right now. I guess we’ll just see. They
had their chance. Unfortunately, I foresee another year of the Patriots.
19-0? I doubt it. But they certainly have the best shot at winning the
one at the end.
© 2008 North Star Writers
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