Thursday, September 6, 2007

Of course we're ready

Another autumn approaching, the leaves changing hues later and later each year thanks to the nefarious influence of vile treehuggers, another season of gridiron mediocrity in Cleveland. So, without further Apu, here are some pointless predictions for your reading displeasure, most of which are sure to turn out wrong. Why, you ask? Since the NFL expanded playoff participation from 10 teams to 12 in 1990, there have been a minimum of five new playoff teams each and every year, and neither conference has had all of its division winners repeat since Dallas, Minnesota and the L.A. Rams did in 1978. Which means that my NFC predictions, based on past history (a mathematically limited sample size, to be sure), will likely turn out incorrect. But I can't in good faith pick anyone else to win these divisions until one of these Next! (registered trademark, The ESPN Hypemachine) teams actually does something on the field.

AFC East: New England. Come on. It's not even a contest. Miami's offensive line is crap, its defense is getting grey and Trent Green is already 85 years old; Chad Pennington is fra-gee-lee (must be Italian!); the Bills keep losing players. But Lee Evans is the best receiver no one knows about and football player Marshawn Lynch is going to be a hell of a football playing running back for his football team. Sorry, momentarily possessed by the ghost of Joe Theismann. I'm better now.

AFC North: Pittsburgh. I'm honestly surprised that the so-called pundits are still on the Baltimore bandwagon. Roethlisberger will bounce back. McNair is getting long in the tooth and their offense, despite some name players, won't score enough points. Brian Billick only has a ring because of Ozzie Newsome's drafting. The Bengals [insert obligatory crime joke here] and the Browns don't have enough playmakers on both sides of the ball. Cliché enough yet for ya?

AFC South: Indianapolis. See AFC East. Jacksonville's schedule is pretty easy, but Houston and Tennessee both suck in their own special ways, Vince Young's potential notwithstanding. And none of those teams has Peyton Manning.

AFC West: San Diego. They're not going 14-2 again - they barely had any injuries last year - but Kansas City is on the way down for awhile, Oakland is half a team, and recent Shanahan squads often tease and often finish around .500. Hurts when you don't have Elway to bail your ass out every week, don't it, Mike? Try signing some more Browns d-line castoffs.

AFC wild cards: Jacksonville, where new/old guy David Garrard need simply to not turn the ball over because of the weak schedule and a punishing defense/running game, and Cincinnati because Carson Palmer is the best quarterback in the league not named Tom or Peyton.

NFC East: Philadelphia. Both lines are deep if not especially stacked with all-timers and they upgraded the depth at receiver, too. We'll see if the Trotter brouhaha galvanizes the team, ala the 2004 Patriots, or McNabb sulks. Or gets hurt. Again. The rest of the division - on second thought, probably not the Giants - can challenge for a wild-card spot in this thin conference. They'll just beat each other up, but one of them will sneak in.

NFC North: Chicago. The best of a bad lot. The defense won't be that good again and Rex is Rex, but the Vikings are horrible, Martz will screw up the Lions like he did the Rams and the Packers are too young, though methinks they'll be better than most talking heads assume.

NFC South: New Orleans, by default. Too much went right for America's New Team last year, and how can you not root for them if your name isn't George W. Bush, but Carolina has plenty of issues, such as Delhomme quickly becoming worse than mediocre and a constantly injured RB crew, the Bucs have too many question marks - can Garcia replicate 2006? can Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall finally complement Joey Galloway? - and Ron Mexico's old team is stuck with a bad combo of thinning talent and malaise. And Joey Harrington, who, to his credit, hasn't murdered any dogs as far as we know.

NFC West: Seattle. Still the division's most talented team on both sides of the ball, but the gap is closing. Man, I fucking hate sports clichés. The yawning abyss of competition ruthlessly burns the air into nothingness while its gaping maw bites deep into Seahawk blood and bone, shattering its dessicated spirit into so many scattered shards of remorse. There, that's better. The Cardinals have plenty of skill position talent but the o-line remains noisome garbage, the Rams chances are like those of the Packers except with a better QB/RB combo and a weaker defense and the 49ers, for all of their hype, overplayed their statistical line last year. They're not ready just yet.

NFC wild cards: Ugh, might as well just draw names from a fucking hat. What the hell. The Packers because of their young and talented defense and the Redskins over the Cowboys because they've shored up the defense and can't have that many injuries again whereas Dallas resembled an expansion team at times down the stretch last year, and they have new coordinators and there's no way in hell Terrell behaves himself in Year Two.

The Cleveland Browns: record, 5-11; arrests, 1, so far. Let's not be the Bengals in this regard. Dumabss. How come it's never the long snapper or the extra dime back?

First start for a Man Named Brady: Week 8, after the bye.

Super Bowl: New England over Philadelphia.
That's called going out on a limb, folks.

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