September 2, 2008

Good bye summer, hello NFL!

by Dan Bilicki In: Football

It’s that wonderful time of the year! The leaves have starting to change colour, the weather’s getting a bit chillier, lawns no longer need mowing and that dreadful holiday Labour Day is done with. That’s right, it’s football season. Yes guys, you finally have something to do on Sunday besides spend time with your wife and/or kids (because let’s face it, you’re sick of them after that long summer). So, why not put away all your white clothing, sit down, relax and bone up on some NFL predictions right here.
Today, we’ll cover the AFC and tomorrow is the NFC’s turn so stay posted.
Note: Records may not add up to exact number of games.

AFC East
New England Patriots (Last season: 16-0).
The Patriots won everything that didn’t matter last season. Blowing the Super Bowl and SpyGate put such a stink on what should have been a great story. Not just any normal stink either — this one is historical bad. But this is a new season and a new chance at glory. The Pats have two big things in their favour: Their core has returned and their schedule is a cake walk. It’s not unrealistic to see another 16-0 regular season in New England. The only thing that could slow them down is their age and a few west coast trips, but nothing enough to take away a playoff bye week.
Prediction: 14-2.
New York Jets (Last season: 4-12).
The “Madden Curse” hits Manhattan. Well, not really, it actually hits New Jersey where the Jets play their home games. Brett Favre may be the biggest name that the Jets brought in this summer but he’s not the one that will have the most impact. Adding Alan Faneca and Damien Woody to the O-Line will greatly improve their pass blocking and running game. The Jets will improve on last season — taking over Buffalo for second — but are still leaps and bounds behind the Pats. Looks like the Curse will be broken.
Prediction: 10-6.
Buffalo Bills (Last season: 7-9).
The Bills surprised everyone last year by battling through injuries and nearly making it to .500. That’s no small feat when you consider that they lead the league in players on the IR. Trent Edwards came seemingly out of nowhere to help lead the Bills and with that experience under his belt, he can only get better. Two things the Bills really need to do: First, give up on the conservative play calling and let their speedy receivers (Lee Evans, Roscoe Parish) work down field. Next, end this silly hold of Jason Peters, Edwards will be blind-sided in the pocket all year if he’s not playing.
Prediction: 8-8.
Miami Dolphins (Last season: 1-15).
It will be tough for the Dolphins to be worse than last season but at least you can say that the rebuilding has begun. With Bill Parcells’ involvement, it’s hard to see the ‘fins hanging around the basement too long but they still need a QB better than the mediocre Chad Pennington to take them there. I’d give it at least three years before Miami reaches the .500 mark.
Prediction: 3-13.
AFC North
Cleveland Browns (Last season: 10-6).
The Browns missed out on a playoff berth by a tie-breaker last season and are a strong candidate to make it this year. With the Steelers’ likely regression and an ever-improving offence, the Browns may be ready for the prime-time billing they’ve been given (five night games). The real dilemma is what happens with Brady Quinn. Drafted to be their pivot of the future, Derek Anderson’s play has proven a big roadblock for Quinn. If Anderson leads the Browns deep into the post-season, there will be a real debate about what to do with the two QBs in the off-season.
Prediction: 10-6.
Pittsburgh Steelers (Last season: 10-6).
Everyone and their mother are concerned about the Steelers’ offensive line and rightfully so. Big Ben should suffer from having to make quicker throws and Fast Willie Parker will have to be even quicker and smaller to hit the gaps this season.
Prediction: 8-8.
Cincinnati Bengals (Last season: 7-9).
It’s the same old story out of Cincy. Chad Johnson’s still insane, the defence is still horrible and the offensive line isn’t blocking for Carson Palmer. What has to happen for Coach Marvin Lewis to get fired? The players obviously aren’t responding to him and he’s not nearly living up to the billing of defensive specialist.
Prediction:  5-11.
Baltimore Ravens (Last season: 5-11).
Brain Billick is gone but the stout defence he built remains. That crowd should keep opponents in check but without points coming from the other side of the ball, you can’t win games. The Ravens really have to settle on a QB as well, teams need leaders and this offence will be running around headless until someone takes the reins — my bet’s on Ohio State product Troy Smith.
Prediction: 4-12.
AFC South
Jacksonville Jaguars (Last season: 11-5).
David Garrard isn’t a flashy name but he’s proven better than anyone ever thought he would be. Jacksonville spent the offseason with the goal of beating the Colt by improving their pass rush and receiver core (which was dreadful last season) and looks to have accomplished their goal. Now it’s just time to see if they can take the next big step and win the division from the incumbents. I think they can.
Prediction: 12-4.
Indianapolis Colts (Last season: 13-3).
A lot has been made about Peyton Manning’s knee but that’s old news now; the real concern is centre Jeff Saturday missing the first six games of the season. Saturday is the key to the offensive line and losing him is a massive blow to the Colts attack. Getting and keeping everyone (especially Dwight Freeney and Marvin Harrison) fully healthy is the key to the Colts season.
Prediction: 11-5.
Houston Texans (Last season: 8-8).
Houston could be the Tampa Bay Rays of the NFL. A young team that built through drafting high after several terrible seasons. They’re ready to break out and they shouldn’t have a problem if everyone can stay healthy. Their offensive line play has been steadily improving from the days when David Carr was repeatedly battered and with two decent QBs, an injured pivot won’t be their downfall. The playoffs aren’t too far out of reach for Houston and a couple of good bounces could see them playing in January.
Prediction: 9-7.
Tennessee Titans (Last season: 10-6).
Albert Haynesworth was an absolute force for the Titans d-line last season but that was a contract year. I’m still not sold on Vince Young’s arm — he strikes me as an exact clone of Michael Vick: Great with his legs, terrible throwing the ball. Young should play like Donovan McNabb in his prime: Play in the pocket and roll out when you need to. Running quarterbacks don’t usually last too long in the NFL taking the shots that they have to absorb. As for the Titans, I see some regression here, even with the addition of former Vick safety blanket Alge Crumpler.
Prediction: 7-9.
AFC West
San Diego Chargers (Last season: 11-5).
Key injuries are already piling up for San Diego but it’s going to take a lot more than that to unset these studs from the top of the weak AFC West. The Chargers could win this division by default so the real question is if they can win in the playoffs in spite of coach Norv Turner. If they can overcome his inadequacy (which I don’t think they can), they have the talent to win it all.
Prediction: 11-5.
Denver Broncos (Last season: 7-9).
The Broncos benefit from playing in this weak division and pick up four wins almost automatically from the teams below. The Broncos running game is still great, it’s lost it’s some of it’s luster over the years and isn’t as formidable as many believe. Their line play on both sides of the ball is a concern and it’s hard to see Jay Cutler lead the Broncos to the post-season.
Prediction: 8-8.
Oakland Raiders (Last season: 4-12).
Drafting Darren McFadden was a huge step in the right direction but they still need better line play. Their defence is actually quite under-rated and the addition of Falcons malcontent DeAngelo Hall was a great pickup to complement Nnamdi Asomugha at corner. I wouldn’t even be too surprised if the Raiders finished at .500 when looking at the parity in the NFL.
Prediction: 5-11.
Kansas City Chiefs (Last season: 4-12).
The Chiefs are still clearly in rebuilding mode and the light at the end of the tunnel is a long way away. Don’t be surprised to see the Chiefs picking first in next spring’s draft. There are not many bright spots on this team and it’s looking more and more apparent that former stud Larry Johnson was more of a product of the tremendous blocking K.C. used to have than of his own talent.
Prediction: 3-13.

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