Thursday, August 28, 2008

The College Football Blog: Week 1 Betting Lines

Week 1 Betting Lines

Each week for college football I’m going to give my picks on 10 spreads and pick a few underdogs to win outright. I generally use Bodog lines but if they don’t have a line for a certain game I will get the line from

Week 1 Preview: Betting the first week of college football is not easy because you’re basing so much of your selections on prior results and on your predictions of what teams will be like this season. Then again, it’s not like I get better at winning bets as the year goes on. So, here are my Week 1 betting predictions.


Game 1: WF (-12.5) @ Baylor
Pick: Wake covers
Comment: My only reasoning here is that Baylor sucks.

Game 2: NC St. (+13.0) @ South Carolina
Pick: SC covers
Comment: SC has won 8 straight season openers by an average of 16 points.

Game 3: Oregon St. (-3) @ Stanford
Pick: Oregon St. covers
Comment: Every week there are a few spreads that just seem to be out of whack to me. There aren’t that many of these in Week 1 because no one has played a single game yet, but usually when I see a spread that doesn’t make sense it means Vegas knows something I don’t know. Still, I can’t help but think Oregon State should be more than a 3 point favorite over the Cardinal.


Game 4: Akron (+26.5) @ Wisconsin
Pick: Wisconsin covers
Comment: There are a lot of things about this game that make me want to pick Akron. They only lost by 18 at Ohio State last year and Wisconsin only beat the Citadel by 14 points at home last year. But I think Akron will be among the 5 or 10 worst teams in the country this season, and with that in mind, 26.5 points is not a big spread.

Game 5: Hawaii (+35) @ Florida
Pick: Florida covers
Comment: At first I looked at this line and thought it seemed too big. But Florida has crushed its non-conference opponents lately, especially those from non-BCS conferences. Also, you have to look at Hawaii’s history before last season—when they had easily their best team ever—and before the last 2 years. This is a team returning just 4 starters on offense and 4 on defense, and also has a new head coach. Prior to 2006, despite being a very successful home team, the Warriors routinely got blown out on the road. I think this one could get ugly very quickly and could easily turn into a 63-21 type of game.

Game 6: USC (-20.0) @ UVA
Pick: USC covers
Comment: This is another one of those lines that just seems way too small to me.

Game 7: Arkansas St. (+20) @ Texas A&M
Pick: Arkansas St. beats spread
Comment: Arkansas State lost just 21-13 at Texas in last year’s opener.

Game 8: FIU (+36.0) @ Kansas
Pick: Kansas covers
Comment: I don’t expect Kansas to have as much success as they did last season but they should still be able to put 70 points on the likes of Florida International. The Jayhawks won last year’s contest, 55-3.

Game 9: ULM (+26.5) @ Auburn
Pick: ULM beats the spread
Comment: I no this might not jive with my prediction that Auburn will be one of the top teams in the country this season, but ULM beat Bama by 7 on the road last year, and Auburn is still learning a new offense with a new QB.

Game 10: Tenn (-7.5) @ UCLA
Pick: Tenn covers
Comment: UCLA is starting an inexperienced QB with only 9 returning starters and a new head coach.

Moneyline Specials

There aren’t many in Week 1 with so many lopsided matchups but here are a couple I’m predicting.

Vandy over Miami (Ohio): Vandy is actually a 4 point underdog in this game. I don’t expect Vandy to win a lot of games this year but I don’t think they’ll lose this one.

Kentucky over Louisville: The Cats are 3.5 point dogs. For this one I have no logical basis, just a hunch.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The NFL Blog: Division Previews and Rankings

A Note About Division Rankings: I rank the 8 divisions in the NFL in 3 categories: depth, power, and overall. For the power rankings I look at the top 2 teams in the division; for the depth rankings I look at all 4 teams in the division; for the overall rankings I look at the depth and the power together.

Division Outlooks

AFC South (Rank: #1; Power Rank: #1; Depth Rank: #2)

Outlook: The AFC South has been very strong in recent years. Last season 3 of the teams in the division had winning records and no team in the division had a losing record. This year I have the AFC South ranked 2nd in depth, 1st in power, and 1st overall among the divisions. The Colts (1 of 3 teams I consider to be on a level above the rest of the NFL) should be the best team in the AFC South this season and I have them ranked 3rd in the NFL. I think the Colts have a definite shot at getting back to the Super Bowl just as they do every season. If they can get through the AFC playoffs the Colts would be favored to win the Super Bowl. The Jacksonville Jaguars are also great and should challenge Indy for the division title. I think Jax could do some damage in the postseason but I can't see them getting to the Super Bowl ahead of SD, NE, and Indy. I have the Jags ranked 4th in the NFL. So, my 3rd and 4th ranked NFL teams reside in the AFC South, which is why I rank this division 1st in power. The other two teams in the division are the Texans and Titans, both of whom have no shot at the division title but should be competitive. There are no uncompetitive teams in the AFC South and that’s why I rank it 2nd in depth. I rank the Titans 21st and the Texans 22nd in the league. I think they'll be around the .500 mark but they could both easily finish with a winning record and could even make the postseason if they are fortunate. With two great teams and a couple of competitive teams that could end up being good, I feel the AFC South is the best division in the NFL in 2008.

History: Out of the 8 current divisions, the AFC North is near the bottom as far as history. None of the teams have been in their current location for more than 25 years, with the Colts moving from Baltimore in the early 80’s, the Titans moving from Houston in the late 90’s, the Jaguars beginning their history in 1994, and the Texans being the newest team in the NFL, having only played since 2002. There was little rivalry to speak of when the division was formed. The Titans and Jags had a bit of a rivalry from the last days of the old AFC Central but obviously the history and the passion from the fans wasn’t there. That rivalry is still pretty good and the Colts-Titans and Colts-Jaguars rivalries are starting to build between the organizations, if not the fan bases. The Colts have dominated this division, winning the last 5 titles, and they are the only team from this division to win or go to the Super Bowl in its 6 year history. The Titans are the only team other than the Colts to win an AFC South division title, as they won it in the division’s first year back in 2002. Last season the AFC South was the only division in football to have 3 teams win at least 10 games, and 1 of only 2 divisions to have every team finish .500 or better. 3 teams made the playoffs from the AFC South last year for the first time. 5 Wild Card teams have come out of the AFC South in the 6 years since the start of the 4-team division format.

NFC East (Rank: #2; Power Rank: #3; Depth Rank: #1)

Outlook: The NFC East is often one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. Last year 3 of the 4 teams in the NFC East finished with winning records and none of the 4 teams had losing records. Some would probably argue that this is the best division this season. It's close in my opinion but I put the NFC East behind the AFC South because the AFC South has 2 of my top 4 teams in the NFL. I rank the NFC East 1st in depth, 3rd in power, and 2nd overall. The Dallas Cowboys could be the best team in the division and they are certainly favored by most to win it. I think they will be one of the top teams in the NFC and have a great shot to go to the Super Bowl. If they get to the Super Bowl I think they could play with an AFC team but I wouldn't favor them. I have them ranked as the 5th best team in the NFL. The Eagles are another very good-to-great team in the East that I rank 8th in the NFL. I believe they'll challange the Cowboys for the division title and could get all the way to the Super Bowl. I wouldn't give them a chance against the top AFC team. With two very good and possibly great teams at the top of the division I have the NFC East 3rd in power. The Giants and Redskins are the other 2 NFC East teams. The Giants are the defending Super Bowl champs who I rank as the 13th best team in the NFL. I think they'll be a good team this year but may have a bit of a hangover. If they get to the playoffs they would have a lot of confidence that they could get to the Super Bowl and repeat. The Skins are a decent team that could be good and I rank them 16th in the NFL. They could find their way to the playoffs but I don't think they can get to the Super Bowl. With all 4 teams in the division ranked in my top 16, the NFC East is easily the deepest division in the league this year. With a few teams that could be great and all 4 teams average or better, I think the NFC East is the 2nd best division in the NFL this year.

History: The NFC East has one of the best histories of any of the 8 current divisions. The four teams in the division are all rivals with each other on equal footing. The only rivalry you could possibly elevate above the rest is the Dallas-Washington rivalry because that rivalry was so important to the NFC in the 70’s. The present day NFC East is obviously just the old NFC East without the Cardinals which has made it an even better division. Philadelphia won the first 3 NFC East titles after realignment, and 4 of the first 6. New York won in 2005 and last year Dallas won their first division title since realignment. Last year the NFC East was 1 of only 2 divisions to have no team finish below .500. 3 teams have gone to the playoffs from the NFC East in each of the last 2 seasons, and at least 2 teams have gone to the playoffs from the NFC East in 5 of the 6 years of the 4-team division format. A total of 7 wild card teams have come from the new NFC East. Last year the Giants became the first NFC East team to win the Super Bowl since realignment. The Eagles are the only other NFC East team to make the Super Bowl in the division’s 6 year history; they lost to the Patriots back in 2004.

NFC North (Rank: #3; Power Rank: #2; Depth Rank: #3)

Outlook: The NFC North was down for a few years but this season I have it ranked 3rd in depth, 2nd in power, and 3rd overall. The NFC North does not contain any teams that I would consider to be great for sure. However, I think that both the Packers and Vikings are very good teams and could become great. The Vikings are my 6th best team in the NFL and the Packers my 7th best. I would bet a lot of money that one of these two teams will win the division. I'm not sure that either team can get to the Super Bowl because of their QB's but in the NFC you certainly can't rule it out. With two teams in my top 7 in the league, I rank the NFC North 2nd in power. Chicago and Detroit are the other two teams in the division. I would consider both the Bears and Lions to be below mediocre but not awful. I can’t see either team competing for the division title however. They could both luck out and finish at .500. I rank the NFC North 3rd in depth because there are two very good teams and no truly awful teams in the division.

History: The NFC North is of course the old NFC Central without the Tampa Bay Bucs, who never really fit into the Central anyway. The Bucs and Packers did have a pretty good rivalry going for a while but it’s not one that you can’t live without. The 4 teams in the division were the original 4 teams from the NFC Central and they have all been playing each other for many, many years. The Packers-Bears rivalry is the best rivalry from the division only because the fan bases are so passionate but the other rivalries in the division are all pretty good. While it seems like the Pack has been less of force this decade, they have actually won 4 of the 6 NFC North titles, winning the first 3 and then last season. Chicago of course won in 2005 and 2006. The NFC North has had only 1 winning team in 4 of the 6 years since its creation, and the division has never had 2 teams with 10 or more wins in the same season. Only 1 wild card team has come from the NFC North and that was Minnesota in 2004 with a record of 8-8. The only NFC North team to reach the Super Bowl was the Bears in 2006 when they lost to the Colts.

AFC East (Rank: #4; Power Rank: #4; Depth Rank: #5)

Outlook: Some people may think that the AFC East is one of the worst divisions in the NFL because the Patriots seem to dominate without much competition at all. But I rank the AFC East 5th in depth, 4th in power, and 4th overall. The Patriots are 1 of the 3 teams I consider to be on a separate level from the rest of the NFL, and they are my 2nd best team this year. They are favored to win the Super Bowl. The next best team in the AFC East is the Jets, who I rank 15th. I would consider the Jets to be an above average team but they aren’t going to challenge the Pats for the division title. I only rank the AFC East 5th in depth because the other two teams in the division are below mediocre. The Bills are a below average team in my opinion and the Dolphins are among the worst teams in the NFL. I rank the Bills 24th in the NFL and I think they will be hard pressed to finish without a losing record. I rank Miami 30th out of 32 teams, and I think it would be a huge accomplishment for them to avoid a 10 loss season.

History: Like the NFC East, the AFC East merely dropped one team during realignment in 2002 but this division misses the Colts a lot more than the NFC East misses the Cards. There are a few very interesting rivalries in this division. Miami is really nowhere near the state of New York but the Dolphins have had pretty good rivalries with both the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets. In recent years the rivalries between the Patriots and the rest of the division have gotten better. Pats-Bills was elevated when some of the key members from the Patriots played for the Bills earlier in this decade. Pats-Dolphins is a rivalry that seems to heat up every few years. Currently the Pats-Jets rivalry is one of the fiercest in all of football for various reasons of which we are all aware. The Pats have dominated the new AFC East, winning the last 5 titles. The Jets are the only other team to win the new AFC East, taking the title in the first year after realignment back in 2002. Only 2 wild card teams have come from the AFC East and it was the Jets in both 2004 and 2006.

AFC North (Rank: #5; Power Rank: #6; Depth Rank: #4)

Outlook: The AFC North isn't lacking in depth but there just aren't any great teams in the division, which is why I rank the AFC North 6th in power, 4th in depth, and 5th overall. The Steelers and Browns are the top two teams in the AFC North and they should battle each other for the division title. In the end I think only the Steelers will get to the postseason but they aren't going to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh is my 11th best team in the NFL this year and I rank the Browns 12th. Baltimore is average and could compete for a playoff spot but I don’t think they’ll make it. I have the Ravens ranked 18th in the league. Cincinnati is the worst team in the AFC North. They actually could end up being competitive but I have them ranked 26th of 32 teams in the NFL. In my opinion, this is the only division in the AFC without a Super Bowl contender.

History: The AFC North contains 4 of the teams from the old AFC Central that had grown to 6 teams by the time realignment took place. The Bengals, Browns, and Steelers of course all have long time rivalries with each other but they miss the Houston Oilers. The Ravens and Browns rivalry is one of the best of the newer rivalries in the NFL, and the Ravens and Steelers have also stirred up a pretty good rivalry. Control of this division has been pretty well spread out in the 6 years since realignment. The Steelers have won the most division titles with 3, the Ravens have won 2, and the Bengals won in 2005. The Browns have never won the AFC North division title and no team has ever repeated as AFC North champs. Surprisingly, only 2 wild card teams have come from the AFC North, and the division has had 2 teams win as many as 10 games in the same season just twice. The Steelers are the only team from the division to win or get to the Super Bowl during the 6 year history of the AFC North.

NFC South (Rank: #6; Power Rank: #5; Depth Rank: #6)

Outlook: The NFC South may not have any teams that we know are great but there are some teams that are close. I rank the NFC South 5th in power, 6th in depth, and 6th overall. The top team in the NFC South this year figures to be the Saints, who I rank 9th in the NFL. I think the Saints could definitely get to their first Super Bowl this year but I wouldn't give them a chance to win against the top AFC team. I think the Bucs will be good as well, and I rank them 14th. They should challenge the Saints for the division title but I don't see them getting all the way to the Super Bowl. The Panthers should be a mediocre team and they might find a way into the playoffs. I rank them 19th. I feel the Falcons are the worst team in the NFL this season and that’s why I only rank the NFC South 6th in depth, despite it having 3 teams ranked in my top 19.

History: The NFC South is a “young” division in terms of both how long the teams in the division have been in existence and the length of time that they have been in the same division as each other. None of the teams in the division were in existence during the early days of the NFL, with the Falcons and Saints being a couple of the first expansion teams back in the mid-60’s, the Bucs being an expansion team in the late 70’s, and the Panthers coming into existence in the mid-90’s. Also, with the possible exception of the Panthers, none of the franchises in the NFC South have been associated with winning for the majority of their existence. Really the Panthers are neutral in that regard. They don’t have a great history of losing but you can’t really say that they have a long tradition of consistent success either. The Bucs, Falcons, and Saints on the other hand have all spent great portions of their history losing. The Bucs have done more to change their image and reverse the way they are seen as a franchise than perhaps any team in the NFL. For essentially the first 20 years of their existence they were a laughing stock of the league and synonymous with losing. In the mid-90’s the Bucs changed their uniforms and it did much to help them start over as a franchise. Then when they started winning consistently with a group of players who were tough and full of personality the franchise really started to create a completely new image. They have continued to be competitive for over 10 years now. The Falcons and Saints are really a different story. These two franchises share as similar a history as any two teams in sports. They came into the league at the same time in the mid-60’s when the NFL was first expanding. At that time little help was given to new franchises to get them on their feet compared to recent times. Over the next few decades, wins and successful seasons were rarities in both New Orleans and Atlanta. The two franchises have shared the same division throughout their entire history and there is a great rivalry between the two teams and fan bases. Over the years, both teams have gone through short periods of time when it looked like their luck and their image was going to change. But in the end these two franchises have never really been able to make sustain success long enough during any period of time to become relevant for more than a few years. Since the formation of the NFC South in 2002, rivalries have formed between all of the teams in the division. The NFC South has been one of the more competitive divisions since realignment. One bizarre trend in this division has been a worst to first pattern. The last 5 NFC South division title winners accomplished the feat after finishing last in the division the year before. All 4 teams in the division have won the division at least once in its 6 year history. The Bucs have won 3 times and the other 3 teams have each won once. Only 2 wild card teams have come out of the NFC South, and only once in 6 years have 2 teams from the division won 10 or more games in the same year. The Bucs are the only team from the NFC South to win the Super Bowl in the division’s 6 year history. The Panthers are the only other team to make the Super Bowl during the division’s history, losing to the Pats back in 2003.

NFC West (Rank: #7; Power Rank: #8; Depth Rank: #7)

Outlook: The NFC West is the weakest division seemingly every year but I won't give it that label this season. I rank the NFC West 8th in power, 7th in depth, and 7th overall. Seattle should be by far the best team in the NFC West as usual this season. I rank them as the 10th best team in the NFL. They definitely have a shot to go to the Super Bowl but I wouldn't give them a chance at winning it. There are no other good teams in the division, which is why I rank it 8th in power. Arizona and St. Louis are mediocre teams, ranked 17th and 20th by me respectively. I expect both of them to be around .500 and perhaps over but I don't think they'll make the playoffs. The only truly bad team in the NFC West is San Fran. They are my 29th best team in 2008 and I don't see them losing less than 10 this season.

History: The NFC West has been perhaps the least successful divisions in terms of both producing winning teams and creating rivalries. The NFC West was at a disadvantage from a few of the other divisions because it was not one of the divisions formed primarily out of an existing division. The Seahawks weren’t even in the same conference as the other 3 teams and their rivals were all teams from the AFC West. The Rams and Niners had both been in the NFC West together for years, but naturally that rivalry had fallen off considerably since the Rams had relocated from Las Angeles to St. Louis. The Cardinals had been in the NFC East for over 30 years. Also, most of the franchises in the division had shorter histories in some way. As stated, the Rams had moved from LA to St. Louis in 1995. The Cardinals had moved from St. Louis to Arizona in 1988. Seattle had been an expansion team in the late 70’s. The Niners were the only team in the division that was both an older franchise and in the same location they had been in for a long time. Another problem was that “natural” rivalries were not as likely to form among the teams from the NFC West because they weren’t located all that closely to one another. The Seahawks are really the most isolated team in the NFL up there in the Pacific Northwest. The Cardinals are also fairly isolated in the Southwest corner of the country. San Fran is in Northern California and not really close to either of those other teams. And then St. Louis is in the friggin mid-west and not anywhere near the other teams in the division. Finally, the other problem the NFC West has had is that most of the teams in the division have been struggling since realignment. The Cardinals have a long, long history of losing and haven’t had a winning season in the 6 years since the divisions were realigned. St. Louis went to the Super Bowl in the last year that they were in the old NFC West, but their loss in that game really ended that era. During the 6 year history of the NFC West, the Rams have had 1 winning season. The San Francisco 49ers were losers during the majority of the first 35 years of their history. Then from 1981 to 1998 the Niners were the most successful team in the NFL, winning 13 division titles and 5 Super Bowls. But in 1999 Steve Young suffered a concussion that eventually forced him to retire and the Niners had their first losing season in 17 and they haven’t really recovered since. They have had just 1 winning season in the 6 year history of the new NFC West. The Cards, Niners, and Rams have combined for 2 winning seasons during the 6 year history of the NFC West. Someone had to capitalize on the struggles of those other 3 teams, and in this case it was the Seattle Seahawks. San Francisco won the division in the first year of the new NFC West and the Rams won it in 2003. The Seahawks have won each of the last 4 division titles and they are the only team from the division to post a winning record in any of the last 4 seasons! Seattle is also the only team from the division to go to the Super Bowl during the 6 years since realignment, losing to the Steelers in 2005. Just 2 wild card teams have come from the NFC West. The Rams made the playoffs as a wild card team in 2004 with an 8-8 record and the Seahawks made it in 2003. 2003 was also the only year that 2 teams from the NFC West won at least 10 games. It was actually the only year that 2 teams from the NFC West had a winning record.

AFC West (Rank: #8; Power Rank: #7; Depth Rank: #8)

Forecast: Last season I thought the AFC West would be really strong as it normally is but it had a down year. This season the weakest division overall is the AFC West. I rank the AFC West 7th in power, 8th in depth, and 8th overall. Strangely, the AFC West is where you will find my top rated team, the San Diego Chargers. They should cruise to a division title and this might be the year they get to the Super Bowl. If they get to the Super Bowl they will win it. The Chargers are ranked 1st by me but no other team in the division is better than 23rd on my list. Oakland and Denver could end up being mediocre but going into this year I have them ranked 23rd and 27th respectively. I think they will both be around .500 this year. The worst team in the division is KC who is awful. I have them ranked 31st out of 32 teams in the NFL. They will have a very hard time avoiding a 10 loss season.

History: The AFC West has about as much history as any division in the NFL. All 4 teams came from the old AFC West and have been playing each other since they were all members of the AFL. The Chargers do not have as big of a rivalry with the other 3 teams in the division, only because their fan base is not quite as passionate as the others. The Chiefs, Broncos, and Raiders all have bitter rivalries with each other, and when those teams are decent it is very tough to win on their home field. In the 6 years since realignment the AFC West has been one of the better divisions. 3 wild card teams have come out of the AFC West and the AFC West has had 2 teams win 10 or more games in the same year 3 times. In 5 of the 6 years since realignment, at least 2 teams in the AFC West have had winning records, 3 teams have had winning records in the same year twice, and in 2002 no AFC West team finished below .500. The Raiders are the only team to make the Super Bowl in the 6 year history of the new AFC West, losing to the Bucs in 2002.

The NFL Blog: Team Previews and Rankings

A Note About Rankings: I rank all 32 teams in the NFL based on overall strength. I don't take into account schedule, homefield advantage, division or anything like that when determining these rankings and they don't reflect how I think teams will finish record wise or playoff wise. I will discuss those things in the outlooks but I don't rank them that way. Basically, I decide if I think one team would beat another in a head to head matchup at a neutral site and then place the team above or below the other team.

A Note About Outlooks: Within the outlooks I refer to YPG (Yards Per Game) and YPP (Yards Per Point). Basically, these are things I look at to see if a team was fortunate or unfortunate, to see if a team was perhaps better or worse than their record, and to see if a team could go up or down this year. When I talk about YPG I am looking to see if a team won or lost more games than it seems like they should have based on the number of yards they gained and allowed. When I talk about YPP I am looking to see if a team scored more or less points than their yards gained said they should have, or to see if they gave up more or less points than their yards allowed said they should have.

Team Outlooks

(1) San Diego:
Towards the end of last season I started to get a feeling that 2008 might be the Chargers’ year. But then Antonio Gates, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Philip Rivers were all injured during the end of the season. They will all still be trying to come back from those injuries at the start of this season. That made me rethink things and as I started to make my predictions this summer I was thinking that I couldn’t rank SD #1 because of those issues. But then I started to realize that the only teams which I might place above the Chargers are also facing health related questions and other issues. The Patriots have lost all those defensive backs and Brady has been limited due to another foot problem this spring. As for the Colts, Peyton is still recovering from the work he had done on his knee, Marvin Harrison is coming off a serious knee injury, Dwight Freeney is coming off a serious leg injury, and Bob Sanders continues to struggle to stay healthy. Indy, NE, and SD are the top 3 teams by far, in my opinion, and they’re all facing these health questions so they cancel each other out as far as I’m concerned. With that in mind, I have San Diego ranked as my #1 team in the NFL. If Shawn Merriman decides to have major surgery and misses the entire season than I would have to move San Diego down a spot to #2. However, at this point it doesn’t seem like the Chargers feel it is an injury that should cost him the season. If he chooses non-major surgery or something other than the major surgery and can still play most of the year than I would keep SD here at #1. It sounds more like the injury causes him pain as opposed holding him back, meaning he should be able to play, and play at his full ability, so for now I’m keeping SD at #1. Tomlinson is still the best RB in the League when healthy and Rivers took some major steps last season. He also has some decent receivers to throw to now with Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson to go along with the best TE in the game, Antonio Gates. They have a great OL. The defense is extremely talented. All 3 units of the defense—D-Line, LB’s, and secondary—are strong for the Chargers. The Chargers have an excellent special teams unit, solid in all areas. Norv Turner doesn’t knock your socks off as a coach but he led the team to an 11-5 record, an upset win at Indy in the playoffs, and then had his entire team injured against the 17-0 Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Now that the Patriots, Colts, and Steelers have all won a Super Bowl, it seems like it should be San Diego’s turn. However, there are a few worrisome signs besides the health concerns. They were fortunate in a number of areas and when that happens to a team their luck often turns back the other way in the next season. Their Yards Per Game and Yards Per Point numbers last season suggested that they were fortunate to win as many games as they did. They also benefited from good luck with turnovers and during the regular season they had great luck staying healthy. Still, San Diego figures to play one of the easier schedules in the NFL this season. Regardless, I think that overall, the Chargers are the top team in the NFL. I think they’ll win the AFC West and go into the playoffs as the #1 seed. I see them beating Jacksonville in the Divisional Playoffs and then getting revenge against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game to reach the Super Bowl for just the second time in team history. I’m predicting the Chargers will defeat New Orleans in the Super Bowl to win the Championship for the first time in franchise history.

(2) New England: If the Patriots had won the Super Bowl last year I would have them ranked #1. Psyche is just a huge factor in sports, particularly—in my opinion--in a grueling contact sport like football. Last season they were able to focus on trying to go undefeated and they used the Spygate bullshit as motivation. They got all the way to brink of immortality and then had it taken from them. And after all of that work, they ended up with something worse than if they had gone 8-8 and missed the playoffs. What happened to the Patriots? They started the year looking like perhaps the most dominant team of all time and ended the year eking out wins and trying to hold on until they finally couldn’t pull the last game out. What happened? I think one thing that happened in the second half is the weather changed. That may sound stupid to some, but those some don’t know football. Wind, air temp, snow, rain, field conditions; all of these things can make an offense--particularly one driven mainly by a passing game—sputter. They also got every team’s best shot every week and had to deal with a lot of pressure. I think the age of the defense became more of a factor later in the season. Still, they reached the Super Bowl 18-0. As for what happened in the Super Bowl, it’s obvious that the New York defensive line was an incredible force that one of the best offensive lines in football was unable to stop, and at times couldn’t even contain it all. No team had gotten that kind of pressure on the Patriots and it totally changed the game. Another thing that I am convinced of is that Tom Brady was greatly effected by the injury to his foot that he suffered in the AFC Championship Game. He was off in that game against the Chargers and off in the Super Bowl in a way that he has never been before. And he wasn’t just off when under pressure, he was just not throwing well, even when making simple passes or when given plenty of time and throwing to an open receiver. There was something physically wrong with Brady for sure. Still, what will be largely forgotten about the Super Bowl and the Patriot’s loss, is that Brady rallied the team and drove them down for a late TD to put the Pats ahead and in position to win the game. They appeared to have the game won several times as the Giants made their desperation drive. There were possible interceptions dropped, sacks missed by fractions of a second, and one really silly pass completion when the Giants were backed up and Eli was scrambling, that was—weather people want to look at it rationally or not—mostly blind luck. That may be “taking something away from the Giants” but anyone who thinks luck doesn’t play a major part in sports is a chimp. “The Immaculate Reception” is perhaps the most famous play in NFL history, and because the Steelers became a dynasty that victory is sort of grouped in with the rest of the Steelers great achievements. But in reality, the Steelers should have lost, and just completely lucked out. Yes, Franco Harris makes an unbelievably heady play to catch the ball off the deflection and take it to the house, but if the Raiders had gone for the interception or just let the pass be completed and then made the tackle the Steelers would have lost. In the Super Bowl, clearly Eli and David Tyree deserve a ton of credit for making something happen and seizing the moment, that’s why they’ve been touted as heroes. But it was still a lucky ass play and the Patriots should have won the game. That’s what will be forgotten: that regardless of the Giants pass rush or Manning’s success passing the ball, the Patriots had the game won and a number of things went against them to cause them to lose at the last moment. Anyway, it’s going to be tough to put last season behind them. They have to play San Diego and Indy on the road, so it’s unlikely (in my opinion) that they’ll be undefeated after 8 games, but what if they are? Part of me believes that if the Patriots had lost to the Colts or the Eagles or the Ravens or the Giants during the regular season, they would have won the Super Bowl. The offense can’t possibly be as good as it was last year. Defenses seemed to be figuring out ways to slow down the Pats at the end of last year and teams will have had a full off-season to figure out better ways to defend Moss and Welker. Defensively, the line backers are another year older, as is Rodney Harrison, and they lose Junior Seau, Rosevelt Colvin, Randall Gay, Eugene Wilson, and most importantly Asante Samuel. Also, the Patriots have some of the same troubling warning signs that the Chargers have. They increased by 4 wins last year, and usually when a team makes a big increase in wins, they fall off a bit the next year. Their Yards Per Point numbers suggest that they could fall off significantly on offense and defense this season. They also had great fortune with turnovers and health. They had 4 close wins (by 7 points or less) and no close losses in the regular season last year. All those things point to a drop off, but even if the Pats win 5 less games in 2008 they will still be 11-5. And, despite playing a few of the very best teams in the game, the Pats have perhaps the easiest schedule in the NFL. They are still in the threesome with Indy and SD above the rest of the League, and perhaps they will win a 4th championship this year and put last year’s Super Bowl loss behind them, but I rank them #2 going into the season because of that inevitable 18-1 hang over. They’ll win the AFC East again easily and I see them entering the postseason as the #2 seed. I think they’ll beat rival Indy at home in a classic in the Divisional Playoffs, but this time they’ll lose the AFC Championship Game, falling to the Chargers in San Diego.

(3) Indianapolis: As mentioned, the Colts are also facing health questions going into 2008. However, I trust that Manning will be okay and Sanders and Freeney will still be great even if not 100%. And if Marvin Harrison is just 85% of the WR he was before the injury it will still be a lot better than no Marvin at all. They still have a ton of weapons on offense and defense is now a strength for Indy as well. They could definitely improve on special teams. I also feel that while Tony Dungy is very adept at building winning teams and keeping a team together and focused over a long regular season, he is not an asset as an in game coach. The Colts also have some of those same warning signs that the other two top teams have: their YPP numbers suggest that they could allow more points and score less points this year. And they were fortunate in the turnover department. Also the Colts play one of the most difficult schedules in the League this season. But they are still one of the top 3 teams in the game and if things fall into place they could win another championship. I’m calling for them to win the AFC South again and go into the playoffs as the #3 seed. I think they’ll stomp the Jets at home in the Wild Card Playoffs but then come up short on the road against the Pats in the Divisional Playoffs.

(4) Jacksonville: After the top 3 teams I think there is a significant drop, but the Jags are the best of the rest. I think the best 4 teams in the NFL all reside in the AFC. Though the Giants won the Super Bowl last year, the AFC is still clearly the superior conference. Jacksonville isn’t even the toughest team in their own division, as they play in the AFC South along with the Colts. But Jacksonville is a great team that had a breakthrough season in 2007 and comes back in great shape going into 2008. They have good running backs, a good line, and a smart and talented QB who doesn’t make mistakes. Unfortunately they have no receivers but the running game is strong enough to carry the load on offense. Defense is their strength, as they have one of the top defenses in the NFL. They play very good special teams. The Jags improved by 3 wins last season and their YPP totals suggest that they could drop off a little this year. But with a great ground game and a shutdown defense, I’m predicting they will reach the playoffs again as a Wild Card team, entering the postseason as the #5 seed in the AFC. I have them beating Pittsburgh on the road again in the Wild Card Playoffs but I think they’ll fall to the Chargers on the road in the Divisional Playoffs.

(5) Dallas: To no one’s surprise, the Cowboys are the most hyped team going into 2008. They do have a great offense, a strong defense, and a good special teams unit. Wade Phillips hasn’t had much success in the playoffs but he’s done okay as a head coach in the regular season. But if Dallas loses T.O. for any amount of the year it will be a terrific blow, and he has a tendency to get injured. They have a stud TE in Jason Witten but they have zero depth at WR. It will be interesting to see what Pac-Man Jones brings to the team defensively and as a return man. Dallas went 13-3 last season and some of their numbers suggest a drop off. They improved by 4 wins last year which is a lot. Their Offensive YPP suggest the offense wasn’t as good as it seemed (and we sort of found that out at the end of the year) and they had 4 close wins (7 points or less) and only 1 close loss. They also face a tough schedule in 2008. I do not see Dallas winning the division again, but I do see them getting into the playoffs as a Wild Card team. I think they’ll be the #5 seed in the NFC and have to go to Seattle again in the first round of the postseason. I think they’ll fall in the Wild Card Playoffs again on the road to the Seahawks.

(6) Minnesota: The Vikings go into the 2008 season with some expectations following last year’s 8-8 record and nearly making the playoffs. They have a super running back, and a super OL, and they also have one of the best defenses in the League. However, they have nothing at WR and I’m not a fan of QB Tarvaris Jackson. But if Jackson can keep from screwing things up the Vikings should be okay running AP and Chester Taylor behind the best line in football. They shouldn’t need that many points to win games. The defense was already among the game’s best and then they added sack master Jared Allen. I think the Vikings will have their best regular season since 2000 and win the NFC North. I see them entering the postseason as the #2 seed in the NFC but getting upset at home by the Eagles in the Divisional Playoffs. You must have a quarter back in the postseason, and I don’t thin they’ve got one.

(7) Green Bay: This is the part of the rankings where I’m not really confident. I mean, I know that Green Bay has a ton of talent throughout the roster and that they should be good, but what will they be like under Aaron Rogers? He should be helped by the fact that they have a balanced offensive attack and he’s certainly been studying and watching long enough to know what to do with the ball now that he’s got a chance. He looked good in the Cowboys game last year but that was just a little snippet. Despite the unknown, I still like them a lot because they have a strong defense and play good special teams. There are a number of factors that point towards a bit of a step back this season but I tend to go with my gut even in the face of evidence. Their YPP numbers suggest a fall off on offense and defense. They also improved by 5 wins last year and that’s a big swing. In addition, they won 5 games by 7 points or less and only lost 1 such game. Still, I think the Packers will rally around Rogers and maintain something close to the level of play that they had last season. This wasn’t a fluke and it wasn’t just Old Man Favre. This is a good team. However, this is the NFL, and not every good team gets the breaks they need to get in the playoffs. They’ll have a winning record but the tie-breaker numbers won’t come up for them and they’ll miss the playoffs in their first year without Favre.

(8) Philadelphia: For some reason I’m really feeling the Eagles this year. They still don’t have any play makers at receiver but they usually manage to be an explosive offense anyway. If McNabb gets hurt it’s of course all down the drain but I think he’ll finally get through a full season in 2008. And the Eagles have won of the best offensive weapons in the game in Brian Westbrook. The Eagles always have a strong defense and they should again this season led by a very good secondary that now includes Asante Samuel. Last season the Eagles played the toughest schedule in the league and this it is much more reasonable. I think they’ll be the surprise winner of the NFC East and go to the playoffs as the #3 seed in the NFC. I predict they will get by the Bucs at home in the Wild Card Playoffs and then stun the Vikings on the road in the Divisional Playoffs to reach the NFC Championship Game. I see it ending then with a loss to the #1 seed Saints in New Orleans.

(9) New Orleans: The Saints had a disappointing season last year but I’m calling for a rebound season in 2008. The offense should be high powered again, especially with Deuce McAllister back on the field and the edition of TE Jeremy Shockey. Shockey will make Marques Colston even better and I think McAllister will be the key to Reggie Bush having his best season as a pro. The defense is still not great but it should be better. Special teams is a weakness but I do think that the Saints have a solid coach in Sean Payton and a very good quarterback and leader in Drew Brees. Drew Brees is my pick to win the MVP. I’m predicting the Saints will have their best regular season of the millennium and head into the postseason with homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, holding the #1 seed. I think they’ll beat the Seahawks at home in the Divisional Playoffs and then stop the Eagles at the Superdome in the NFC Championship Game to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. However, I predict that they will lose to the Chargers in Super Bowl XLIII.

(10) Seattle: Seattle’s run as a yearly contender may be coming to an end but I think they’ve got at least one more NFC West title in them. Shawn Alexander is gone, Matt Hassleback is aging and has a bad back, but they still have a lot and I think they’ll be good again in Holmgren’s last season. They will have a good offense again and their defense should be excellent. Special teams aren’t so good but Holmgren is a great coach and Hassleback is a good QB and a great leader of the team. Plus, Qwest Field is the biggest homefield advantage in the NFL today. I like them to finish on top in the NFC West as always and go to the playoffs as the #4 seed in the NFC. I think they’ll meet the Cowboys again at home and I predict they will get by them again in the Wild Card Playoffs. However, I see them losing to the Saints in the Divisional Playoffs.

(11) Pittsburgh: Sometimes it’s hard to know how good the Steelers really are because you have a tendency to overrate them because of who they are. This happens with the Ravens a lot and also with the Broncos, but it also happens with the Steelers. I don’t think they are one of the very best in the NFL but they’re still a really good team. They have great skill players on offense but fast Willie Parker is coming off a serious injury and the offensive line is a major question mark now that Alan Faneca has left town. Big Ben got sacked an obscene amount of times last year, and now his All-Pro center is gone. But they’ll still figure out a way to score some points and the defense will be stout again. They also had only 2 wins by 7 points or less last year and 5 losses by 7 or less. However, they will be playing arguably the toughest schedule in the NFL this season, after playing one of the easiest last year. I think they will find a way to win as they usually do and will take the AFC North title and enter the playoffs as the #4 seed in the AFC. But I have them losing at home again to the Jaguars in the Wild Card Playoffs.

(12) Cleveland: It seems weird that the Browns didn’t make the playoffs last year because they were a legitimately good team. They have some of the most talented skill players of any offense in the game. Braylon Edwards has blossomed into a prime time receiver and this year he’s joined by Dante Stallworth. Kellen Winslow is a horrible individual but when healthy he’s a weapon at TE. Jamal Lewis runs behind an excellent offensive line, and as long as Derek Anderson can stay healthy this offense should put up some points. Anderson didn’t play as well down the stretch last season and it will be interesting to see what kind of year he has in his second season as the starter. I don’t think Brady Quinn has what it takes to be a successful QB in the NFL, so if Anderson bombs I think the Browns are screwed. Defense is the weaker part of the Browns game, particularly pass defense, as their DB’s other than Sean Jones are liabilities. The front 7 is okay though and they play good special teams. I don’t think the Browns were a fluke last year but I do see some signs pointing towards a bit of a step back. They improved by 6 wins last year and did that playing against the 2nd easiest schedule in football. This year they have what appears to be a pretty tough schedule. Also, their YPG and YPP numbers hint at a drop off. I think Romeo’s boys will have another competitive season but I don’t see the postseason in their future. I think they’ll finish up at 8-8 which would be just their 3rd non-losing season of the decade.

(13) New York Giants: What a peculiar team the G-Men of this generation is. I have to say that I never thought that team would win jack shit. It seemed there were too many “ME” guys; there was the distraction and the pressure of the Big Apple; there was an overrated and mentally weak QB; there was a joyless and out of touch head coach that the players and the media all hated; and a bunch of guys that like to run their mouth and bitch and pout and right books ripping each other. The first step towards winning Super Bowl XLII came when Uncle Tiki took his smile and good looks to that propaganda machine known as Fox News. He was a diva and undermined the coaching staff. People thought he would be impossible to replace, and I’m not saying he wasn’t a great player, but the Giants had plenty of offensive weapons to help fill the void. Also, I’ve come to believe that it’s easier to replace a starting running back than a starter at a lot of other positions. The Giants had their usual up and down season and managed to get into the playoffs at 10-6. Eli had looked good in his last two regular season games but he still had to prove he could even win a playoff game. Who knew he would lead the team to 3 consecutive road victories over 3 division champions and then lead an upset of an 18-0 Patriots team. Despite all of this, I still don’t think that playoff run means that all of the sudden the Giants are going to be a dominant regular season team and Eli will be one of the top QB’s in the game this year. Trust me, I believe that Eli is a big game quarterback; I just don’t think he’s Peyton and I don’t think the Giants are the Colts. Michael Strahan is gone, Usi is out for the season, and they traded away Jeremy Shockey for nothing. I have questions about their running backs too. Defensively I thought they would still be able to put pressure on the QB even without Strahan because they are loaded at DL, but now that Usi is gone too I think they’re in trouble. They have average LB’s and below average DB’s. They are a mediocre special teams club. They had good luck with injuries last year and they won 5 games by 7 points or less and lost just 1 game by 7 points or less. I think a bit of a drop off is coming but they are still the defending champs. I predict they will have another up and down year and end up 9-7 but they will not win the tie-breakers and will stay home for the playoffs, unable to defend their crown.

(14) Tampa Bay: The Bucs haven’t been able to maintain consistency since Jon Gruden took over in 2002 and led them to their only Super Bowl title. They had losing records in each of the next two seasons, then went 11-5 in 205. They followed that up with a 4-12 season in 2006 and then went 9-7 last year. So, will this be the first time they manage back to back winning seasons under Gruden? I think they have a very good shot. They have a decent offense and a good defense and they play good special teams. Their Defensive YPP from last year suggests that they weren’t quite as good defensively as their points allowed total said they were. They had great luck with turnovers and played an easy schedule. They improved by 5 games last year and they could take a step back in 2008. But they play what looks like another light schedule and I don’t see why they can’t be just about as good as last season. I think they’ll get back to the playoffs by winning the Wild Card and enter the postseason as the #6 seed in the NFC. However, I think they’ll go out in the Wild Card Playoffs again, this time losing at Philly.

(15) New York Jets: I know, I know; romantic pick. But it’s really not that big of a stretch. The Jets were 10-6 in 2006 and last year they played in 10 games decided by 7 points or less and went just 3-7 in those games. They fell off by 6 wins and they are going to rebound this year. They don’t have a very daunting schedule. With Alan Faneca joining the team and playing guard on the same side as the improving D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Thomas Jones should have much more success in his second year in New York. The wide receiving corps are a not deep or great but Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles are very good receivers, they just haven’t had a quarterback in years. Now they have one of the best, who can still throw it, can still lead, and is going to be damned motivated to make something of this year. They should be an okay defensive team and a decent special teams club. I would have called for about a 7 win season with Chad Pennington and with Favre I’m predicting a winning season and the final spot in the playoffs as the #6 seed in the AFC. I think the fairy tale ends there and the Jets will fall in Indy in the Wild Card Playoffs.

(16) Washington: Over the years I have had a tendency to overrate the Redskins. I may be thinking too highly of them here as well, but I just don’t see them being that different under Jim Zorn, as most of the coaches have stayed on. They have a good OL and some decent skill players on offense. If Jason Campbell is able to succeed in Zorn’s system they could be a dangerous offense. Defensively they are okay and might be better than that if Jason Taylor has one more great season left in him and is as motivated as I think he is to make the Tuna look like a moron. They play solid special teams and I think they’ll be a very competitive squad in 2008. I look for them to win as many games as they lose this year.

(17) Arizona: Another team that I always seem to be overly optimistic about. The Cardinals finished 8-8 last season for their first non-losing season of the decade. This year they really need to build on that accomplishment. I think the OL and the defense will be improved in Whisenhunt’s 2nd year and they have great skill players on offense. Once the season begins I believe Anquan Boldin’s situation will go away. It’s not going to go away to the point that he’ll want to stay in Arizona but he’s going to play and play hard. The special teams unit for the Cards has not been good but the main issue for the Cardinals is obviously under center. Kurt Warner has won the job away from Matt Leinart, and while that doesn’t seem like a good sign for their future, I think it’s the best thing for their success this year. If Warner gets hurt or struggles I don’t think Leinart is the worst option. Either way I don’t think it’s that bad of a deal. Arizona jumped up 3 wins last season and they had a very easy schedule but I think they’ll be competitive again. I predict they won’t have a second straight non-losing season but they will avoid losing 10 games for just the 3rd time this decade.

(18) Baltimore: It’s hard to know how good this Baltimore team can be. The defense has a lot of the same old faces but they are older now. However, the Ravens defense is still going to be good so if John Harbaugh can figure out a way to get even a little bit more offensively than offensive “genius” Brian Billeck could, they have a chance to compete. The OL may struggle without Jonathan Ogden, the WR’s are suspect, and most importantly the QB situation may not be settled all year. If Troy Smith plays for the Ravens this year I think they will be a very competitive team. Kyle Boller is worthless and should not be given anymore chances. If you get to a point where you’re 2-7 or something you can start working Joe Flacco in but Smith needs to be given a shot to make the team a winner. The Ravens have what looks like a very tough schedule but there are a number of signs pointing to a bounce back season in 2008. They had an 8 game drop last year and they should rebound. Their YPG numbers and YPP numbers say that they were better than their record suggest last season. In addition, they had horrible luck with injuries and turnovers. I predict the Ravens will regain respectability this season and will finish .500 in 2008.

(19) Carolina: I’ve never been a big believer in Carolina. They’ve actually gone through some changes this off-season, parting ways with DeShaun Foster, Drew Carter, Justin Hartwig, Mike Wahle, Mike Rucker, Kris Jenkins, and Dan Morgan. They drafted Jonathan Stewart, tackle Jeff Otah, and OLB Dan Connor. They signed Muhsin Muhammad, and DJ Hackett. They should have an average offense and a good defense. They face a much easier schedule this year but I really think the key is Jake Delhomme. If he is healthy and if he plays more like he did in the early 2000’s than like he did in the last few years, they could be competitive. Steve Smith is head case and they'll miss him in those 2 games he's suspended, but he's still one of the very best at WR when he plays. I’m predicting a .500 record.

(20) St. Louis: The Rams were one of the NFL’s most disappointing teams last season and Scott Linehan needs his team to rebound if he wants to keep his mob. In fairness, the Rams were crushed by injuries last year. They fell off by 5 wins last season, going just 1-4 in games decided by 7 points or less. Their YPG and YPP numbers from last season suggest they should improve on both sides of the ball and they were a better team than their 3-13 record showed. Marc Bulger and Torry Holt are healthy again, Steven Jackson has finally come to an agreement with management, and even though the Rams no longer have Issac Bruce they should have a good offense in 2008. They play good special teams and there’s a chance they could have a decent defense this year. There are some question marks on this team but I think the breaks will be more in the Rams’ favor this year. I see them rebounding and I’m predicting a surprise winning record but not a postseason birth.

(21) Tennessee: The Titans have managed to go 8-8 and 10-6 in the last two seasons, but I see tougher times ahead in 2008. To me, Vince Young is a below average QB who is able to do some positive things because of his athleticism but will never be a great passer. The Titans offensive skill players are bottom of the barrel types and the OL is not going to be as good this season. They have a very good defense but have a weak special teams unit. Last year they were one of the healthiest teams in the league and they went 6-3 in games decided by 7 points or less. I think they’ve been very fortunate the last two seasons and that this year their luck will desert them. I see a huge drop off coming for the Titans. I’m predicting 5 less wins and a last place finish in the AFC South.

(22) Houston: The Texans completed the best season in their 6 year history in 2007, going 8-8. They’d be much better off if they didn’t play in the tough AFC South but they do and they’ll have one of the 10 hardest schedules again this season. With any luck Matt Schaub will stay healthier this year and Ahman Green and Chris Brown will stay healthy enough to give the Texans a decent running attack. Andre Johnson is a major weapon and they really need him to stay healthy. They have a mediocre offense and when their skill players are injured it’s a serious problem. They have a below average defense but Mario Williams has a chance to be a dominant player at DE and they have a strong special teams unit. The Texans had some bad luck in the turnover department last year or else they may have had a winning record, but I’m predicting a step back this year. I don’t think they will be a really bad team but I think they’ll be very average and with their schedule I see another 10 loss season.

(23) Oakland: I’m sure a lot of people would rank them much lower and I may be crazy but I think they are getting closer to mediocrity. JaMarcus Russell really didn’t play much last season but he is bound to show more in his second year. Rookie RB Darren McFadden could make as big of an impact as Adrian Peterson, and Justin Fargas is a solid RB that can work with D-Mac to for a nice rushing combo. The OL again has some question marks and they are very weak at WR but the offense should be better overall this season and they have a good defense. They had bad luck with injuries last year and went just 2-4 in games decided by 7 points or less. They will be facing a fairly easy schedule this year and I think they will be competitive. However, I think this thing is going to move in baby steps, and so I’m predicting just 2 more wins this year.

(24) Buffalo: I’m not sure how the Bills have managed to go 7-9 in each of their last two seasons. It seems like they should be worse than that. Last year they were 15th in the AFC in total offense and 16th in total defense. Both of their QB’s suck and they are quite thin at OL. Defensively they are unable to stop the pass at all. The Bills did have some tough luck with injuries last season and their schedule isn’t that tough. But I look for a drop back to a season more like you would expect, with double digit defeats.

(25) Chicago: Bears management has totally screwed up a situation that they could have turned into a perennial contender. Instead, I believe the Bears’ days of being one of the better teams in the NFC are now over and that they are really better off trying to rebuild. I know Rex Grossman is an incredibly frustrating player but they are choosing to go with Kyle Orton as the starting quarterback. Isn’t that kind of like choosing to walk out in the rain without an umbrella instead of taking along the one that sometimes leaks? Their starting running back is the wrong Adrian Peterson. They have one of the weaker offensive lines in the game. Their WR’s are awful. They could have the most horrible offense in all of football this season. And at this point their often overrated defense is merely okay. They play good special teams but it’s not really a good thing that their best player is basically just a kick and punt returner. The Bears fell off last season and finished with a losing record and this year I’m predicting a continuation of that decline and double digit losses.

(26) Cincinnati: I actually have an irrational feeling that the Bengals will be a surprise team this year, but I’m going to base my prediction on logic. They have a great QB and great skill players but there are some potentially problematic health issues. The OL is a question mark and they have a poor defense and a bad special teams unit. They are going from one of the easier schedules in the league to one of the hardest. I’m predicting double digit losses and a last place finish in the AFC North.

(27) Denver: Denver was one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL last season. Their 7-9 record was their first losing season since 1999 and they had very tough luck with injuries. They also play an easy schedule this year so I’m tempted to think that they will bounce back but there are simply too many potential problem areas. There are question marks at nearly every single position on both sides of the ball. Denver does not have a very good special teams unit and their QB (Jay Cutler) has yet to prove himself to be the type of player they expected when they drafted him in the first round of the 2006 draft. I think another tough season is coming for the Broncos, and in fact I’m predicting double digit losses in 2008.

(28) Detroit: Remember when Detroit was 6-2 last season and it looked like Jon Kitna was going to backup one of the more memorable preseason predictions? They lost 7 of their last 8 and I’m inclined to think that the Lions are closer to the 1-7 team than the 6-2 one. Obviously they have a great set of receivers but they have a major question mark at RB and Kitna is not really a big plus at QB anyway. They have a very weak defense and play poor special teams. I’m predicting a regression and a return to double digit losses.

(29) San Francisco: The hiring of Mike Martz would seem to ensure a major lift in the offensive production of the 49ers but I don’t think they have the personnel to do it. Their QB’s are perhaps the worst in the NFL, the OL is a major question mark, and they aren’t loaded with talented receivers. Also, I expect Martz will actually make the Niners’ best player—RB Frank Gore—less of a force. On defense, SF’s front 7 is good but their DB’s are bad. I think the Niners will struggle mightily again, and I’m predicting 11 losses again in 2008.

(30) Miami: I get that Bill Parcels has a reputation for taking over struggling franchises and quickly building them into winning teams, but he’s only the GM of the Dolphins, not the head coach, and they won 1 game last season. I think the signing of Chad Pennington was a great move for them, and they have a good OL, but they have a shortage of great skill players on offense. The defense is below average, particularly now that Jason Taylor is gone. The Dolphins fell off by 5 wins last season and surely they’ll improve on their total of 1 victory. They had better YPG numbers than you would have thought for a 1 win team and they went just 1-6 in games decided by 7 points or less. They had more injuries than almost any team in the NFL last year and they played one of the hardest schedules in the league. So a lot of things point to a better season for the Dolphins and I’m predicting that they will improve next year. But they will still end the season with the worst record in the NFL.

(31) Kansas City: The Chiefs are in complete rebuilding mode and should struggle mightily again this season. They face serious question marks at QB and the lack of depth among the receiving corps is also a point of concern. Larry Johnson missed half of last season due to injury and even if he is able to remain healthy this year he may not be the back that he was a few years ago. Even if he is, the KC offensive line is awful and defenses are going to stack the line against the run because they don’t fear the KC passing game. The Chiefs defense is mediocre and their special teams unit is poor. I’m also not at all a Herman Edwards fan. They fell off by 5 wins last season and they should be able to improve at least some this year. They have one of the easier schedules this year but I’m predicting only a slight improvement and another year of double digit losses.

(32) Atlanta: I normally try to be as objective as possible when making predictions because it really does no good to skew your predictions by going with your heart. But last year I couldn’t help my self and I picked the Falcons to go 9-7 and make the playoffs as a wild card team. I also predicted that Bobby Petrino would be named Coach of the Year, and that Joey Harrington would be named Comeback Player of the Year. This year I am not projecting such lofty achievements but it isn’t really a backlash from last year. I still think that my prediction of 9 wins for the Falcons last season was not that ridiculous. Vegas had the Falcons over/under win total at 7.5 going into the season. And when I looked at the schedule I saw a decent number of winnable games. This year I actually think the Falcons’ schedule is a good deal easier but I think the Falcons are the worst team in the NFL. It’s okay, they’re rebuilding and you have to start somewhere. The Falcons are starting almost from scratch. They have a new head coach, a new defensive coordinator, and a new offensive coordinator. They will be starting a rookie quarterback behind a line that enters the season as a bit of a question mark. The Falcons rush defense is atrocious and their pass defense is very poor. Right now the special teams unit looks like the strongest. While things look bleak, the Falcons’ YPP numbers from last season suggest that the Falcons will improve on both sides of the ball this year. I think they will win 1 additional game this season and go 5-11.

The NFL Blog: 2008 Preview and Predictions

2008 NFL Predictions

o Division champions are in bold italics; wild card teams are in bold.
o Teams with identical records as another team or teams in their division are placed in order based on NFL tie-breaking procedures.
o Playoff teams are seeded based on NFL seeding and tie-breaking procedures. Each team is numbered in order of where I think they will finish in conference playoff standings. Playoff positions are to the right of each team in regular font within these little things: {#}.
o Team records are listed in regular font: #-#.
o I also rank each team from 1 to 32 and team rankings are listed to the right of each team in bold parentheses:(#); rankings are based on how I think each team compares with the rest of the league, without taking into consideration conference, division, or schedule; rankings do not indicate where I think they will finish in the standings.
o I also rank each division in the league from 1-8 in three different ways: Depth Rank is based on the combined quality of the four teams in the division; Power Rank is based on the strength of the top two teams in the division; Overall Rank is a ranking based on a combination of the Depth and Power rankings. Division rankings are in parenthesis to right of each division, along with number of teams with winning record (Win), number of teams with 11 or more wins (W), and number of teams with 11 or more losses (L).

(Depth Rank: #5; Power Rank: #4; Overall Rank: #4; (Win: 2); (W: 1); (L: 2))
1. New England 13-3 {2} (2)
2. New York Jets 9-7 {6} (15)
3. Buffalo 5-11 {15} (24)
4. Miami 4-12 {16} (30)

North (Depth Rank: #4; Power Rank: #6; Overall Rank: #5; (Win: 1); (W: 0); (L: 0))
1. Pittsburgh 10-6 {4} (11)
2. Baltimore 8-8 {7} (18)
3. Cleveland 8-8 {8} (12)
4. Cincinnati 6-10 {9} (26)

South (Depth Rank: #2; Power Rank: #1; Overall Rank: #1; (Win: 2); (W: 1); (L: 1))
1. Indianapolis 11-5 {3} (3)
2. Jacksonville 10-6 {5} (4)
3. Houston 6-10 {10} (22)
4. Tennessee 5-11 {14} (21)

West (Depth Rank: #8; Power Rank: #7; Overall Rank: #8; (Win: 1); (W: 1); (L: 1))
1. San Diego 13-3 {1} (1)
2. Denver 6-10 {11} (27)
3. Oakland 6-10 {12} (23)
4. Kansas City 5-11 {13} (31)

East (Depth Rank: #1; Power Rank: #3; Overall Rank: #2; (Win: 3); (W: 1); (L: 0))
1. Philadelphia 11-5 {3} (8)
2. Dallas 10-6 {5} (5)
3. New York Giants 9-7 {7} (13)
4. Washington 8-8 {10} (16)

North (Depth Rank: #3; Power Rank: #2; Overall Rank: #3; (Win: 2); (W: 1); (L: 2))
1. Minnesota 11-5 {2} (6)
2. Green Bay 9-7 {9} (7)
3. Chicago 5-11 {14} (25)
4. Detroit 5-11 {16} (28)

South (Depth Rank: #6; Power Rank: #5; Overall Rank: #6; (Win: 2); (W: 1); (L: 1))
1. New Orleans 11-5 {1} (9)
2. Tampa Bay 9-7 {6} (14)
3. Carolina 8-8 {11} (19)
4. Atlanta 5-11 {15} (32)

West (Depth Rank: #7; Power Rank: #8; Overall Rank: #7; (Win: 2); (W: 0); (L: 1))
1. Seattle 10-6 {4} (10)
2. St. Louis 9-7 {8} (20)
3. Arizona 7-9 {12} (17)
4. San Francisco 5-11 {13} (29)

AFC Wild Card Round
#3 Indianapolis over #6 New York Jets
#5 Jacksonville over #4 Pittsburgh

AFC Divisional Round
#1 San Diego over #5 Jacksonville
#2 New England over #3 Indianapolis

AFC Championship Game
#1 San Diego over #2 New England

NFC Wild Card Round
#3 Philadelphia over #6 Tampa Bay
#4 Seattle over #5 Dallas

NFC Divisional Round
#1 New Orleans over #4 Seattle
#3 Philadelphia over #2 Minnesota

NFC Championship Game
#1 New Orleans over #3 Philadelphia

Super Bowl XLIII
#1 San Diego over #1 New Orleans

Division/Conference/Super Bowl Winners
AFC East: New England
AFC North: Pittsburgh
AFC South: Indianapolis
AFC West: San Diego
NFC East: Philadelphia
NFC North: Minnesota
NFC South: New Orleans
NFC West: Seattle
AFC Champion: San Diego
NFC Champion: New Orleans
Super Bowl Champion: San Diego

Team Rankings
1. San Diego
2. New England
3. Indianapolis
4. Jacksonville
5. Dallas
6. Minnesota
7. Green Bay
8. Philadelphia
9. New Orleans
10. Seattle
11. Pittsburgh
12. Cleveland
13. New York Giants
14. Tampa Bay
15. New York Jets
16. Washington
17. Arizona
18. Baltimore
19. Carolina
20. St. Louis
21. Tennessee
22. Houston
23. Oakland
24. Buffalo
25. Chicago
26. Cincinnati
27. Denver
28. Detroit
29. San Francisco
30. Miami
31. Kansas City
32. Atlanta

Conference Depth Rankings
1. NFC East
2. AFC South
3. NFC North
4. AFC North
5. AFC East
6. NFC South
7. NFC West
8. AFC West

Conference Power Rankings
1. AFC South
2. NFC North
3. NFC East
4. AFC East
5. NFC South
6. AFC North
7. AFC West
8. NFC West

Overall Conference Rankings
1. AFC South
2. NFC East
3. NFC North
4. AFC East
5. AFC North
6. NFC South
7. NFC West
8. AFC West

Awards and Honors
AP NFL Coach of the Year: Andy Reid-Philadelphia
AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year: Deuce McAllister-RB-New Orleans
AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year: Mario Williams-DE-Houston
AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson-RB-Minnesota
AP NFL Most Valuable Player: Drew Brees-QB-New Orleans
AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: Darrin McFadden-RB-Oakland
AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jerod Mayo-LB-New England

Awards and Honors Comments: I couldn’t really think of a strong candidate for Coach of the Year so I went with Reid, figuring he might be seen as a sympathetic figure because of his family problems, and because I think Philly would be a surprise NFC East division winner. I don’t think they’d ever give it to Norv Turner and Sean Payton won the award in 2006. I think Reid will win it over Brad Childress of Minnesota. I didn’t have a strong candidate for Comeback POY either. I couldn’t think of a QB other than Matt Leinart perhaps, and I didn’t like that idea. The three RB’s I had in mind were Ronnie Brown, Deuce McAllister, and Cadillac Williams. Cadillac’s recovery has been slow, and the Dolphins are taking it very slow with Brown. At least Deuce is playing in preseason games, although he is almost 30. I’m tempted to go with Ricky Williams but it just seems like too much of a fantasy situation. He might not play that much once the season starts, he might not be that good, he might get hurt again, he could freak out again or fail a test or something, etc, etc. I picked DeMarcus Ware to win the Defensive POY last year and he had 84 tackles, 14 sacks, and 8.5 TFL but Bob Sanders won the award. I’m tempted to pick Ware again because he is a stud and he plays for the Cowboys, and a Linebacker has won the award in 5 of the last 13 years, more than any other position during that time. I’m going with Williams instead because he had 8 of his 14 sacks in December and I think he could explode for an even greater year in 2008. DE’s have won the award 4 times in the last 13 years.

Tom Brady won the Offensive POY last season but that was a bit of an anomaly. He had the greatest season for a QB in NFL history. No QB is likely to have a season anything like that in 2008. Brady was just the 3rd QB to win the award in the last 14 years; the other 11 years the award has gone to a running back. That’s why I’m going with Adrian Peterson. If he stays healthy he may have a huge year yardage and TD wise, running behind an excellent offensive line. LT is always a safe choice for the award, but he’s coming off injury. Since 1987, 23 players have been named MVP or co-MVP; 16 have been QB’s; 7 have been running backs. I was going to go with a QB for sure. I just don’t know if Brady will have the same sort of year as last season, and he comes into the season with a leg injury. Peyton is coming off the knee injury and Phillip Rivers is coming off a serious knee injury. McNabb is too risky due to injuries. Big Ben is going to be sacked 100 times and Garrard doesn’t have flashy enough stats. Brett Favre is too fantasy like. Eli Manning made himself a legend in the postseason but I’m not ready to predict him doing it for an entire regular season. Brees has been prolific in his two years in New Orleans and I think they’ll be one of the best teams in the NFC this year so I decided to pick him for my NFL MVP choice. In the 41 year history of the NFL Offensive ROY, RB’s have won the award 31 times; WR’s have won 7 times and QB’s have won 3 times. The most obvious RB choice I see is the most highly touted one--Darren McFadden—even if he is playing for the Raiders. The 41 year history of the Defensive ROY is more spread out, although LB’s have taken home 20; nearly have the awards. DE’s have won 8; CB’s have won 6; DT’s have won 5; and Safeties have won 2. However, LB’s have won the last 5 awards and 7 of the last 8. So I’m going with an LB and I picked Mayo because he appears to be the most talented and in the best position to shine.

Predicted Stat Leaders
QB Rating: Tom Brady
Passing TD: Peyton Manning
Passing Yards: Drew Brees
Rushing Yards: Adrian Peterson
Rushing TD: Adrian Peterson
Receptions: Jerricho Cotchery
Receiving Yards: Larry Fitzgerald
Receiving TD: Randy Moss
Sacks: Mario Williams
Tackles: Patrick Willis
Interceptions: DeAngelo Hall
Forced Fumbles: DeMarcus Ware

Predicted Stat Leaders Comments: These are all almost complete shot in the dark guesses. Nobody is going to be real accurate guessing stat leaders year in and year out. They’re different every year. The defensive stats are particularly difficult to predict.