Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Archive for September, 2008

Clearly I Was Drinking the Kool-Aid……

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 29, 2008

Now on to the picks, where in the theme of unpredictability I start with a real shocker: a winless team will break out this week and beat an undefeated team.

Okay, so maybe I was half right.  I did predict that a winless team would beat an undefeated team today in the NFL.  Problem is, I picked the wrong one.  I really thought the Rams would be the winless team to break out, and that the Bills were the team in danger of falling into a trap.  Instead, it was my Denver Broncos of all teams that were at the wrong end of the biggest shocker of the day: a 33-19 loss to league doormat Kansas City. This came as such a shock to me that I am now out of my eliminator pool.  Maybe I was looking at the game through orange colored glasses, but I could not come up with a scenario where this Chiefs team would be able to beat the Broncos, even at Arrowhead.  This was the Chiefs’ first win in nearly a year, dating back to October 21 of last year.  How was I supposed to expect Kansas City to score more points today than they had in their first three games combined?  The answer to that question is maybe the Broncos defense really is that bad, in which case they have a problem.  Larry Johnson nearly had 200 yards on the ground, including a 65 yard jaunt on the second play of the game.  Johnson is of course a Pro Bowl back, one of the best, but he is running behind an offensive line that is a mess.  If there was ever a game for Denver’s defense to get back on track, it should have been this one.  Then again, it may seem strange to say this after they surrendered 33 points and 6.5 yards per carry to the Chiefs, but it was really the defense that managed to keep the Broncos in the game.  Consider:

– The Broncos held the Chiefs to a field goal after the aforementioned scamper by Johnson on the first possession of the game.  The Broncos proceeded to hold the Chiefs to another field goal after a quick fumble gave KC the ball at the Denver 26.

– The Chiefs’ average starting field position was the 46 yard line, which does not speak well for the special teams (more on that in a moment).  Even a mediocre offense (like the Chiefs) doesn’t need to do much to get a minimum three points with that kind of starting field position.

– One of Kansas City’s touchdowns came after a fumble recovery allowed them to start at the 2-yard line for a gimmie touchdown.  That is not on the defense.  

– The Broncos held the Chiefs’ to a 5-of-13 conversion rate on third down, and Kansas City only converted 1 of 4 in the second half.  

– Despite four Denver turnovers on the road, they were an onside kick recovery away from being in position to drive for the tying score from midfield with plenty of time on the clock.

Are you sensing a theme here yet?  The Broncos’ defense, while giving up gaudy numbers, actually dug in and kept the score closer than maybe it should have been.  The Broncos offense was guilty of four turnovers, including two that came right after the team actually started to build momentum.  Any team that commits four turnovers on the road will never win, period, even against a so-called bad team.  The Broncos’ turnovers gave Kansas City progressively more and more confidence, and the Chiefs’ were able to feed off their crowd.  Even if the fans aren’t buying tickets they way they used to there, the ones that show up still cause noise and havoc for visitors.  The Chiefs were able to feed off that with each turnover the Broncos’ offense committed.  

The Broncos were also guilty of red-zone inefficiency.  Denver ended up with no points on a 28-yard missed field goal near the end of the first half (to be fair, Matt Prater drilled two 50-yarders later in the game, so this is not on him).  The Broncos also couldn’t covert from the four yard line in the fourth quarter when they had a chance to cut the game to three.  To be a good offense in the NFL, you need to convert in the red zone.  Coach Mike Shanahan said in the postgame the Broncos were only one of four in the red zone today.  That will never get it done, especially on the road.

The special teams was atrocious once again.  The Broncos allowed countless Kansas City kick returns that set the Chiefs up in excellent field position.  This was a major issue last year and has continued to be a problem the Broncos have been able to get around until today.  It didn’t help that the turnovers also gave the Chiefs’ continued excellent field position, but those two things combined are never a good recipe for success.

This is not to say the defense was faultless at all.  Obviously they need to do a better job stopping the run.  Despite their efforts to keep the team in the game, the 65-yard run by Johnson really set the tone and gave the Chiefs’ confidence they didn’t have coming in.  The front four still has yet to put any pressure on any quarterback they’ve faced in the early going this season, and that’s a problem too.  The secondary has had issues, the chief one being that Champ Bailey does not have a chance to make plays when opponents keep throwing at the other cornerbacks, all of whom happen to be struggling at the moment.

This game proved that every game is unpredictable and you can never truly know how any game is going to unfold, no matter how clear it seems on paper.  The Dallas Cowboys joined the Broncos as surprise losers today, in a home game where they were a double digit favorite.  Three of the top four college teams lost this weekend (USC, Georgia, and Florida).  The important thing for the Broncos to remember is they are 3-1 at the quarter mark of the season.  Last year they were 2-2 at this point, so already there is overall improvement.  One game does not make a season for sure.  The Broncos still have the look of a good team, but perhaps today’s game was a much needed lesson for a young team about life in the NFL.

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Week Four Picks Footnote

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 28, 2008

***One change one hour before kickoff***:

– Browns over Bengals: Carson Palmer is out with an elbow injury, which means Ryan Fitzpatrick is now the starter.  I don’t know about you, but this should clearly mean bad news for the Bengals offense.  Cleveland still does not have the look of a contending team, but Ryan Fitzpatrick under center for Cincinnati?  That more than negates Cincy’s home field edge.  Cleveland wins what is easily the dud game of the year, not just the week.

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Week Four Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 26, 2008

So you think it’s easy to predict the outcome of football games?  Sometimes it is, but most of the time it’s not.  Take last week’s Miami runaway at Foxboro.  Who on Earth would have predicted a Miami win, let alone a 5 touchdown effort (4 rushing, 1 passing) from Ronnie Brown?  The Dolphins didn’t just win, they blew the Patriots out the way they were expected to be blown out.  Countless people got bounced from their eliminator pools last week because of that game.  (Thankfully I wasn’t one of them).  The Patriots seemed like a cinch pick, if nothing else because they were coming off a road win that they collected even without Tom Brady.  Even branching out beyond the NFL, did anyone, save Oregon State alumni, really believe the Beavers had anything better than a 0 percent chance to beat USC last night?  Sure, Oregon State was playing at home, they had a hostile crowd, and they had historically played well vs. USC at home, but these factors didn’t seem to override the fact that USC has clearly looked like the best team in the country in the early going.  USC had steamrolled Ohio State 35-3, and the players and coaches were saying all the right things about how they weren’t looking past Oregon State and how they were taking their Pac-10 opener seriously.  Still, Oregon State jumped out to a big halftime lead, and managed to hang on for the win at the end.  Football is a very unpredictable game, which is what makes it so great.  As much as I would like to be able to predict the outcome of every game and make loads of money in Vegas, the truth is the games are fun to watch because you don’t know what will happen.  Every game is unique, and there are surprises seemingly every week.  It is the very unpredictability of the games that makes every week must-see viewing.  Given this unpredictability, I suddenly don’t feel so bad about predictions gone awry already, and am even pleased at some that have worked out.  Now on to the picks, where in the theme of unpredictability I start with a real shocker: a winless team will break out this week and beat an undefeated team.  See below:

Last Week: 13-3 (.812) Season: 30-17 (.638)

– Rams over Bills: We start with a major upset alert.   This is a classic example of a trap game.  The Bills may be 3-0, but they needed a late rally to hold off the underachieving Raiders at home last week.  Buffalo by all rights should be 2-1 if not for poor clock management late in the game by Oakland.  The Rams have been beyond awful the first three games of the year, but they have made a quarterback switch to Trent Green.  Like the Vikings with Gus Frerotte last week, I believe the Rams will get a lift with Green under center.  Not to mention, the players are trying to save Scott Linehan’s job already.  You know the formula, it’s a desperate team playing at home, and I say the Rams pull the shocker.  Their offense has way too much talent to keep stinking like this.  Those of you in eliminator pools should think twice about this matchup. 

– Cardinals over Jets: This is really a difficult game to pick.  Arizona gave a great effort at Washington last week, while the Jets looked lost against San Diego.  Brett Favre does not look as though he has his timing down with his receivers yet, and it will take time for the Jets’ offense to get in sync.  This has the potential to be a high scoring game, and if Arizona’s passing attack continues to click, they will put more points on the board than the Jets.  Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are without question one of the top three receiver duos in the league, and Kurt Warner looks as though he has found the fountain of youth.

– Bengals over Browns: Dud game of the week.  0-3 vs. 0-3.  Will either head coach be around by the end of the year?  Cincinnati gets the nod here because they will be at home, and because they actually showed a pulse against the Giants last week.  T.J. Houshmanzadeh has come out of hiding (12 catches last week), and if Chad Johnson/Ocho Cinco actually joins him the Bengals offense could be dangerous again.  Cleveland can’t keep sticking with Derek Anderson at QB can they?  I hate to say I told you so, all you national folks that were on the Browns bandwagon in August.

– Jaguars over Texans: This will be a close game, if nothing else because the Texans seem to play better against Jacksonville then anyone else.  The Jaguars made a statement last week at Indy, and they should carry that momentum to a home win this week.  Houston is a mess early, and they may also need to  ponder a quarterback switch.  The Texans have more talent than their play so far indicates, but it’s too much to ask them to win a road game right now.  It would not be a surprise if this is Matt Schaub’s last start in Houston for awhile. 

– Titans over Vikings: Tennessee has to rank among the season’s top early surprises.  Their defense gave another phenomenal performance last week against the Texans.  If they can shut down Adrian Peterson on Sunday, the Titans may just have the look of a team that can keep it going and be a player to win it all.  It will be interesting to see if they stick with Kerry Collins when Vince Young comes back, but something tells me Jeff Fisher is the right coach to prevent that from becoming a soap opera.  The Vikings were much improved last week, but it is difficult to give them the nod in a road game right now.

– Broncos over Chiefs: For the second straight home game, Kansas City is close to a non-sellout, absolutely unheard of in barbecue country.  This really has the look of a complete mismatch, a Broncos offense averaging 38 points per game vs. a Chiefs team that hasn’t scored 38 points combined in three games this season.  The Broncos do have to guard against a letdown here, because it is a division game and the Broncos historically have not played well at Arrowhead.  On the other hand, if last year’s Broncos team could win there by two touchdowns, this year’s club should have no problem with the offense playing at a record setting pace.  Kansas City goes back to Damon Huard at QB, but is that really an improvement over Tyler Thigpen?  On that thought, let’s add Herm Edwards to the “Will he last the season” question. 

– Chargers over Raiders:  Speaking of coaches, is this Lane Kiffin’s last game as Raiders coach?  Oakland does have their bye following this game, so his dismissal would not be a surprise.  Oakland should have won last week at Buffalo, but bungled the game away late.  The Chargers woke up and looked like their old selves last week against the Jets, so naturally all the national pundits are right back on the San Diego bandwagon.  Oakland should play hard in this division game, and they do have the backing of the Black Hole, but San Diego should find a way to steal this one.  The Chargers really could be unbeaten if not for a couple of bad breaks.

– Cowboys over Redskins: This is not the gimmie it appears for Dallas.  In fact, if the game were at FedEx Field instead of Texas Stadium, my pick might well be reversed.  Washington always plays Dallas tough, and the Cowboys could be in trouble if Terrell Owens is held to two catches like he was last week.  The Redskins do look like they’re getting their offense in sync and their defense is forcing turnovers.  There is no question that the NFC East is the best division in football, and every game will be close and hotly contested.  The Cowboys win this one, but expect it to go down to the wire.  The difference is Tony Romo will show more poise than Jason Campbell in the quarterback battle.

– Buccaneers over Packers: This will be one of the best games of the week.  Green Bay is looking to bounce back from last week’s home loss to Dallas, and Aaron Rodgers faces his first hostile road environment as a starter.  Tampa Bay pulled a surprise last week at Chicago, and Brian Griese is somehow playing excellent football (407 yards passing last week!).  This is essentially a coin flip game that is likely to be decided by the turnover battle.  That being case, I’m going with the better, more aggressive defense, and that would be the Buccaneers.  It is easy to forget that Tampa Bay won the NFC South last year. 

– Panthers over Falcons: Hard to believe that both of these teams are 2-1.  Carolina should benefit from playing at home, while the Falcons struggled in their one away appearance so far this year.  Matt Ryan is actually playing well for a rookie, but Carolina’s defense will be stiff test.  The safe bet here is that Steve Smith should have a big game for the Panthers at home, and that they should be able to win this game without too much trouble.

– Saints over 49ers: I really, really, want to pick the upset in this game, but the Saints will be very difficult to beat back at the Superdome after two road games.  This should be a high scoring shootout.  San Francisco is scoring points with the Mike Martz offense, while the Saints offense is as talented as anyone in the league.  This is a must win game for New Orleans if they want to keep pace in the NFC South, so that is the sway factor for the Saints.  San Francisco will keep this game close though, and I still say the Niners will crash the playoff party in January.  I have a sneaking suspicion i might come to regret this pick on Sunday afternoon. 

– Eagles over Bears: This should be a good Sunday night game at Soldier Field.  The Bears will be desperate after blowing one at home to Tampa Bay last week, while the Eagles are coming off a big win against Pittsburgh.  Philadelphia has Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook coming in less than 100 percent, which should help the Bears defense, but Chicago has not shown it can move the ball with any consistency offensively.  If the Eagles want to be a player in the NFC, this is the kind of game they need to win, and a hunch says they should have enough to pull this one out.

– Steelers over Ravens: This should be one the purists will love, a tough, physical, defensive battle in the AFC North.  Pittsburgh is reeling after getting sacked nine times in Philly last week, and will be without top back Willie Parker.  That being said, Baltimore has not played a road game yet, which means this is the first for rookie QB Joe Flacco.  I’m sure the Ravens would prefer a much less hostile environment for their rookie signal caller get his feet wet on the road, and that right there is the sway factor.  I simply can’t back a rookie QB in a road game like this.  Pittsburgh wins. 

BYE: Miami, New England, Indianapolis, NY Giants, Detroit, Seattle

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This Actually Feels Possible….

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 22, 2008

The Broncos are 3-0.  They lead the AFC West by two games.  Their offense is a machine, averaging 38 points a game, on pace to break the season scoring record set by New England last year.  Jay Cutler has thrown for 914 yards and 8 touchdowns in three games, while his top target Brandon Marshall, is on pace to break Jerry Rice’s record for receiving yards in a single season.  That even takes into account Marshall missing week one due to suspension.  As he continues to put up huge numbers, the other receiving targets will become even more dangerous.  The Broncos have also shown they can run the ball, even if it’s not the primary mode of attack.  Selvin Young averaged 5.9 yards on 11 carries yesterday, forcing the Saints to respect the run enough that the Broncos’ pass attack could be even more dangerous.  The Broncos offense has been by far the best in the league through the first three weeks of the season, and that alone makes them a real threat to do damage all year, perhaps a season earlier than expected with everyone so young.  For the Broncos to truly go where they want to go though, their defense has got to get better. 

The Broncos blew a 21-3 second quarter lead for the second straight week.  They gave up 502 yards of total offense to the Saints, including 414 through the air by Drew Brees.  They continued to give up big plays in the passing game, including a 74 yard pass to Robert Meachem to set up a Saints score.  They allowed the Saints to convert 8 of 14 third down attempts.  The fact they gave up 30 points for the second straight game is a red flag as well.  Considering these ominous signs on the defensive side of the ball, it’s easy to forget the Broncos are 3-0, and they have found a way to win these high scoring shootouts.

Consider that the Broncos won yesterday despite not scoring a point in the fourth quarter.  Yes, the defense gave up huge numbers but they did make plays when they needed to.  The defense scored a second quarter touchdown on a Nate Webster fumble return TD.  They came up with a stop on fourth and goal at the end of the first half.  They came up with a critical pass deflection on a two point conversion try that would have tied the score at 34 with ten minutes to play.  They came up with a stop on 3rd and 1 late to force what ultimately became Martin Gramatica’s missed field goal.  D.J. Williams actually seems to be on his way to a Pro Bowl season, having posted 16 tackles yesterday. 

There does seem to be enough talent on the defensive side of the ball that one can be optimistic improvement will be shown.  Keep in mind with the Broncos offense clicking on all cylinders, the defense doesn’t need to be spectacular, it just needs to be above average.  Or to put it another way, they need to be able to dig deep to come up with a big play when needed.  The Broncos know they have the offense that can score in bunches, particularly with a franchise quarterback and a star receiver leading the way.  They also know they have talent on defense.  The balance of power has shifted in the AFC with the Broncos joining the Titans, Bills and Ravens as the early division leaders.  (If ANYONE had those four teams leading their divisions at any point this season, than I’m Fred Flinstone).  The Broncos know they have a chance to do something special this season, and suddenly their season schedule doesn’t seem so daunting. 

As a side note, I can’t think of any other time in Broncos history where they were a 10 point favorite at Arrowhead Stadium, as they are for Sunday’s game.  Not only that, I’m wondering if it’s worth catching a weekend fare to Vegas, just so I can bet the farm the Broncos will cover, because I know the Broncos will put at least 30 points on the board, and even as suspect as the defense has been, they’ll at least be facing a Chiefs offense that couldn’t put 30 points on the board if 11 random fans were selected out of the stands to play defense.  If the Chiefs offense does in fact light up the Broncos D, than I will officially start to get concerned.

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Week Three Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 19, 2008

It never fails every year, the NFL offers us surprise after surprise.  Early 2-0 teams include the Cardinals, the Titans, the Broncos and the Panthers.  This does not mean any of them are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs (the Broncos actually started 2-0 last year too before finishing 7-9), but it does go with the theme of things turning upside down every year in the NFL. 

Meanwhile, THREE of my playoff picks, Minnesota, Jacksonville and San Diego sit 0-2, in addition to another team expected to do well by many (but not by me), the Browns.  Each of these teams has its entire season on the line already here in week three.  Just because any of these teams began 0-2, it does not mean that they are down and out.  In fact, one win can be all it takes to get things jump started.  I bring this up because the Giants started 0-2 last year after a tough loss at Dallas in week one and getting blown out at home by Green Bay in week two.  The Giants were staring 0-3 in the face with trip to Washington to play the division rival Redskins, and found themselves up by seven with 58 seconds to play, and the Redskins with first and goal at the 1.  The G-men were desperate.  A Redskins touchdown would send the game into overtime, and the fate of New York’s season could very well have depended on a coin toss to determine possession in overtime.  The Giants could have easily folded but the didn’t:

– First and Goal: Jason Campbell spikes the ball to stop the clock

– Second and Goal: Jason Campbell fade route to the corner of the end zone incomplete, well defended

– Third and Goal: Ladell Betts run for no gain, Giants defense steps up

– Fourth and Goal: The Giants defense blows up the line of scrimmage, stopping Clinton Portis for a two yard loss to preseve the win and save the season. 

The Giants win in Washington jump started a six game winning streak and sent them on their way to season that culminated in a Super Bowl victory.  Now, this is not to say that any of the 0-2 teams are guaranteed to have that kind of run if they pull out a win Sunday, but it does show that they are not necessarily dead and buried just yet.  One win is all it can take to jump start a season.  I suppose this could also apply to Miami, Kansas City, Cincinnati and St. Louis, who all sit at 0-2, but let’s not get too carried away here.  The teams mentioned above with playoff expectations are good teams that have simply stubbed their toe early and still have enough talent to rebound.  Bad teams are just bad and they have dug themselves a hole for a reason. 

 Now on to the picks.  We haven’t exactly been stellar the first two weeks but it’s still early. 

Last Week: 8-7 (.533)   Season: 17-14 (.548)

– Bills over Raiders: The Bills are quickly emerging as the surprise team of 2008.  If you take a look at their early season schedule, they could be a very hot team indeed.  Last week’s tough road win in Jacksonville proved the Bills are a team to be reckoned with.  The Raiders? Lane Kiffin is still very much on the hot seat, and let’s be honest: a win in Kansas City doesn’t really count right now.

– Patriots over Dolphins: It’s amazing really.  The Patriots never cease to amaze me.  Every time I think they’re done, they go and pull out a win they’re not supposed to.  It really doesn’t seem fair they get to take advantage of this complete mismatch on Sunday.  Is this perhaps a week Bill Belichick opens up the offense for Matt Cassel? The Dolphins seem like they’re playing for 2010, not 2008. 

– Giants over Bengals: The Giants continue to prove everyone wrong who said they were not going to return to the playoffs this season.  They went on the road last week, in a trap game to boot, and blew the Rams out of the stadium.  Now they get a Bengals team that has no identity whatsoever right now and is coming into a hornet’s nest.  Where exactly has Chad Johnson (or Ocho Cinco whatever the hell he is called now) disappeared to anyway? The only question here is the margin of victory for the G-men.

– Ravens over Browns: One of my upset picks of the week.  The Ravens are coming off an unexpected bye and will get Willis McGahee back.  The Browns offense has sputtered for a whopping 16 points in two games, and now gets the Ravens ballhawking defense on the road?  The Ravens at 2-0 seems bizarre and very misleading, but I don’t see how the Browns will be able to move the ball on them.  Yes, the Browns are desperate and their season is on the line, but this never had the feel of a contending team this year.  The Brady Quinn watch is on along Lake Erie.

– Eagles over Steelers: One of the top two games of the week without question.  I’ve gone back and forth on this game so much, I might as well flip a coin to make the pick.  Pittsburgh is clearly one of the top teams in the AFC, especially on the defensive side of the ball.  Philadelphia showed it can plays with the big boys in Dallas, and their offense is averaging 36 points over the first two games.  It’s really the unstoppable force versus the immovable object here.  I say home field advantage sways the unstoppable force and the Eagles offense to a win by a field goal.

– Titans over Texans: Tennessee would improve to 3-0 with a win, which would have to rank among the season’s early surprises.  The Titans defense has been terrific in the early going, which is a trademark of a Jeff Fisher coached team.  Kerry Collins gave a serviceable performance at QB last week, but the Titans did struggle to move the ball against Cincinnati’s suspect defense.  The Texans should be anxious to play after last week’s surprise bye, and it would not surprise me to see them put up some points.  I still say Houston is at minimum an 8-8 team by the end of the season.  Tennessee ultimately wins this game, but an upset is not out of the realm of possibility here. 

– Jaguars over Colts: Another upset alert.  Jacksonville has nothing less than its entire season on the line here, for they can’t afford to go 0-3.  They have always played the Colts very tough, even in Indy.  The Colts offense is still struggling to find itself, and Peyton Manning will have to once again work behind a patchwork offensive line that is looking to get healthy.  Jacksonville will look to run the ball, particularly with Colts’ run stopping safety Bob Sanders out of the lineup due to injury.  Even after pulling out the win last week, the Colts still seem very vulnerable. 

– Broncos over Saints: This could very well be another high scoring game.  The Broncos are averaging 40 points a game, and they’re facing a Saints team with plenty of explosive weapons.  This is a trap game for Denver after two division games and another next week.  The Saints are coming off a loss last week and don’t want to fall to 1-2.  It will be interesting to see if the Broncos have an answer for Reggie Bush after they got carved up by Darren Sproles last week, but it will also be interesting to see if the Saints suspect secondary has an answer for Denver’s passing game.  If Santana Moss ran wild last week, I don’t think the Saints will be able to stop Marshall, Royal and company.  The Broncos at 3-0 would rank as one of the season’s early surprises for sure.

– Falcons over Chiefs: Kansas City is starting Tyler Thigpen at QB, which tells you all you need to know about this game.  KC’s one real offensive threat, Larry Johnson, is upset about the direction of the organization after two games.  Atlanta is returning home where they won in week one, and the Falcons should have enough to beat one of the struggling franchises in football.  I don’t think anyone expected Matt Ryan to start his career 2-1 before the season.  Then again, I’m sure any rookie QB would give his non-throwing arm to face the Lions and Chiefs in two of the first three games of his career. 

– Cowboys over Packers: Besides Pittsburgh-Philly, a top game of the week for sure.  The Cowboys have been arguably the best team in football through two games, and will face a Packers team that is also undefeated, and will be playing under the lights at Lambeau.  If Aaron Rodgers passes this test against the Cowboys defense, then I guess I will have to start eating crow.  I have to admit I didn’t think Rodgers would be successful especially early in the year, but he is starting to prove that wrong in a hurry.  Green Bay will benefit from the Lambeau crowd, but Dallas is a team on a mission this season.  The Cowboys will find a way to pull this one out in a high-scoring thriller.

– Cardinals over Redskins: Something seems very weird about picking Arizona to start the year 3-0, but the Cardinals seem to be finally showing that potential we’ve been hearing about for five years.  The Redskins did show some toughness coming from behind to beat the Saints last week, and they will benefit from playing at home.  This is another game I might as well flip a coin to pick really, but a hunch says the Cardinals passing game will click enough to give Arizona the W.  If Arizona wins this game on the road, we might have to acknowledge for the first time since well, maybe ever, that the Cardinals are for real.

– Bears over Buccaneers: Chicago lost a tough game on the road last week, but their defense seems to be back to the level of two years ago when they went to the Super Bowl.  Tampa Bay is a good defensive team as well, so this should be a low scoring game.  The difference will be the Bears being able to make one play than the Bucs to squeak out a win in their home opener at Soldier Field.  Frankly, I just can’t back Brian Griese on the road.

– 49ers over Lions: Last week San Francisco made me have confidence in my pick that they would be playoff team this year.  As J.T. O’Sullivan settles into the Mike Martz offense, we should see his numbers begin to climb.  The Lions have been dreadful defensively the first two games, so the Niners should be able to rack up the points in this one.  It seems impossible to really back Detroit in any scenerio until they prove they can stop making silly mistakes throughout a game.

– Vikings over Panthers: Minnesota has already hit the panic button, yanking Tarvaris Jackson for Gus Frerotte under center.  The Vikings will be playing at home, and they do have their season on the line in this one, for it would be very difficult to climb out of an 0-3 hole (especially with a trip to Tennessee next week).  The Panthers get Steve Smith back, which should actually help their offense, and Jake Delhomme is playing very well after Tommy John surgery in the offseason, but the Vikings are desperate team playing at home, and Minnesota pulls the mini-upset. 

– Seahawks over Rams: This is much more a pick against the Rams than it is for the Seahawks.  Seattle is a mess at the wide receiver position.  The Seahawks are so banged up there they had to sign Koren Robinson off the street and make a trade for Keary Colbert, who wasn’t being activated on game day in Denver.  Both will get significant time this week, which makes me wonder if the Seahawks will have any cohesion at all offensively.  Yes, the Rams have been awful the last two games, but it’s not like the Seahawks have been anything to write home about.  Seattle gets the win because they’re playing at home, but this will be a very sloppy game and an upset would not come as a complete shock if the Rams offense gets in any kind of rhythm. 

– Chargers over Jets: In the Monday nighter, San Diego goes with the weekend theme of a desperate team with their season on the line already.  The Chargers have suffered two heartbreaking losses in the first two weeks, and are certainly way too talented to end up at 0-3.  LT’s toe could be a lingering issue all year, but Darren Sproles has proven he can be a playmaker.  Brett Favre isn’t exactly going to be afraid of playing on the road, but the emotion of the home crowd and the desperation of the Chargers makes this a no-win for the Jets this week.

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WOW!

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 15, 2008

I still can’t believe that game.  The fact that the Broncos own a 2-0 record and just beat the defending division champs is the tip of the iceberg.  Where to begin?  Is the story the big numbers put up by the offense?  Even at that, is the focus on a career passing day for Jay Cutler, a franchise record for receptions in a game by Brandon Marshall, or the clutch play of Eddie Royal?  Is it the clutch drive at the end of game, culminating in a wild two point conversion to take the lead?  Is the story the officiating crew of Ed Hochuli giving the Broncos a huge break in the game’s final 90 seconds?  The answer is probably some combination of the above, all winding together to result in one of the most exciting finishes in Broncos history. 

Mike Shanahan certainly showed a lot of gusto going for the two point conversion and the win, and on the top of that running the exact same playused to score the touchdown.  It’s extremely rare that a coach will elect to roll the dice with a two point play as opposed to kicking the extra point and playing for overtime.  This is the kind of out of the box thinking that made Shanahan a great coach in the first place.  He is telling his team with that decision that he is going for it this year.  He is telling them that he believes this offense can get the job done.  He has confidence that his team can get three tough yards and convert the two point play with the game on the line.  This could very well end up paying more dividends than just a two point conversion to win a game.  This could have a positive impact on the entire season, giving the offense confidence that they can get the job done, even in adverse circumstances. 

The Broncos’ offense through two games is averaging 40 points a game, which is obviously phenomenal.   Even in the Super Bowl championship years, the offense never consistently lit it up to quite that degree.  This might actually be the first year of the Mike Shanahan era where the running game isn’t the primary focus of the offense.  If the first two games are any indication, the Broncos are really opening it up this year.  Jay Cutler seems extremely confident in his third year, completing 70 percent of his passes through two games for 650 yards, 6 touchdowns and only 1 pick.  Brandon Marshall shattered the team’s single game reception record yesterday with 18 grabs against the Chargers.  Eddie Royal is looking a star through two games in the other wide receiver spot.  Tony Scheffler is evoking memories of Shannon Sharpe at the tight end position.  It is clear that passing seems to be the Broncos’ primary mode of attack this year.  They did get good hard running yesterday from Andre Hall and Selvin Young, and I still think Ryan Torian will be in the picture somewhere when he returns from injury, but this could be the first Mike Shanahan team not to be focused primarily on running the ball.  Regardless, this is one of the best offenses in football in the early going.

The defense and special teams on the other hand has some serious issues.  Darren Sproles alone carved the Broncos up yesterday for a 102 yard kickoff return touchdown and a 66-yard touchdown reception.  Granted, Sproles is a heck of a player, and on both of those plays he had more than enough speed to blow by everyone.  That aside, giving up big plays were the Broncos’ biggest Achilles heel last season, and early on it seems like it could be rearing its ugly head again.  In some ways it’s hard to get a good read on the Broncos performance when you see they held LaDainian Tomlinson to 26 yards on 10 carries.  A closer look though reveals that Tomlinson played with a bum toe, and Sproles rushed for 7.6 yards a carry in addition to his two big scoring plays.  The Broncos also gave up a 48-yard touchdown pass to Chris Chambers and watched their defense give up scores on FIVE consecutive possessions.  If the Broncos want to be an elite team in the league, they need to shore that up in a hurry.  Even next week’s game against the Saints poses a big challenge with threats like Reggie Bush, so the defense will definitely need to get better.

A quick thought on the Jay Cutler fumble that was ruled incomplete in the waning moments: yes, it did look a fumble to me.  That being said, Ed Hochuli did the only thing he could do given the rules.  Since the whistle had blown, he couldn’t give the ball to San Diego.  The Chargers probably should be upset about the ruling, but they still had an opportunity to stop the Broncos on fourth down, and on the two point conversion.  Even after that, they still had time for a quick drive to get in field goal range.  The Broncos should not apologize for winning this game, and if the Chargers believe they were wronged, they should have sucked it up and made a stop.  Since they didn’t do that, the Broncos have nothing to apologize about.

The bottom line is the Broncos are 2-0, and are in sole possession of first place in the AFC West.  Thing is, they were in the exact same position a year ago, so nothing is assured yet by any means.  The Giants started 0-2 last year and won the Super Bowl, so everything should be taken with a grain of salt.  I do think this year definitely has a more positive vibe overall for the Broncos than last year, and it certainly looks like they will definitely be playing into January this season if their current play keeps up.

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Week Two Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 12, 2008

This NFL season is certainly shaping up to be very intriguing on a number of fronts.  Could we possibly have a playoffs that doesn’t include New England OR Indianapolis?  It could be possible if Matt Cassel proves to be no Tom Brady and the Colts take too long to get it together after their disastrous week one effort.  Are the Jets the new favorite in the AFC East, or is Buffalo for real?  Are the Steelers ever going to get their due for being consistently good?  Is the Bears defense back to the level of two years ago?  Who is going to win the awful NFC West?  It’s only one week into the season, and a number of my season picks are threatening to blow up in my face already.  I keep telling myself it’s still early, but it is possible that my AFC Super Bowl pick may not be all its cracked up to be. I still think Jacksonville’s defense will not allow them to be a disappointment.  Was I nuts to pick the 49ers to win the NFC West?  I still maintain they’ll be a surprise by the end of the year.  Was I drinking the Kool-Aid on the Minnesota hype?  I still think they have a team that is scary talented.  Am I underestimating Aaron Rodgers? I have to admit he looked very good in week one.  We’ll see if he can maintain it over the long haul.  Are the Chargers in trouble without Shawne Merriman?  Or is that wishful thinking on my part?.  It did seem like someone forgot to tell them the season started for three quarters against Carolina.  Speaking of the Panthers, are they once again a contender in the NFC? That offense could really come alive when Steve Smith returns from suspension in week three.  How praytell did the Falcons win a game, let alone dominate? I reserve judgement until I see them against someone other than Detroit.  

At least I got a few things right in week one.  The Cowboys dominated on the road.  The Browns looked lost and confused.  The Giants looked dominant like you would expect a defending champ to be.  The Bengals REALLY stink, or did you see Joe Flacco score on a 38-yard touchdown run while jogging through the Bengals defense? The Seahawks looked horrible on the road.  Brett Favre can still play a little.  Donovan McNabb looks poised for a big season.  The Raiders are a mess akin to Days of Our Lives as usual.  The Broncos offense could be scary good.  Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.  Perhaps that was more the Raiders are awful.  

One thing I know, this could be a season unlike any other.  Or maybe it will be just like any other.  For 11 consecutive seasons, there have been at least five teams in the playoffs who did not qualify the previous year.  With the exception of the 2006 Seahawks, the Super Bowl loser has missed the playoffs every year since 2000.  Even at that the Seahawks only made it past the first round the next year thanks to Tony Romo’s butterfingers.  Here are the numbers:

2000 New York Giants – Lost Super Bowl XXXV
2001 New York Giants – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2001 St. Louis Rams – Lost Super Bowl XXXVI
2002 St. Louis Rams – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2002 Oakland Raiders – Lost Super Bowl XXXVII
2003 Oakland Raiders – 4-12 record, no playoffs

2003 Carolina Panthers – Lost Super Bowl XXXVIII
2004 Carolina Panthers – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2004 Philadelphia Eagles – Lost Super Bowl XXXIX
2005 Philadelphia Eagles – 6-10 record, no playoffs

2005 Seattle Seahawks – Lost Super Bowl XL
2006 Seattle Seahawks – 9-7 record (made playoffs, 2nd round exit)

2006 Chicago Bears – Lost Super Bowl XLI
2007 Chicago Bears – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2007 New England Patriots – Lost Super Bowl XLII
2008 New England Patriots – ??????

This does not bode well for the Patriots in light of Tom Brady’s injury.  I know, I picked the Patriots to return to the AFC title game, but I also said they were done if Brady went down.  It will be interesting to see if the Patriots continue the trend of Super Bowl losers struggling the next year.  On one hand, it is hard a fathom a team threatening history one year and missing the playoffs the next year.  On the other hand, the Patriots missing the playoffs this year would be right in line with what the NFL is about much of the time. I still shudder when I think of the Broncos going 6-10 in 1999 after winning back to back Super Bowls and being favored to compete for a third.  After all there is the old cliche “On any given Sunday……”   Now on to the picks.

Last Week: 9-7

– Jaguars over Bills: I have to admit I really struggled with this one.  The Bills dominated Seattle last week, and the Jaguars look like they could be in trouble.  Still, I can’t picture the Jaguars 0-2, especially with Jack Del Rio having a week to drill discipline into his team before the home opener.

– Cardinals over Dolphins: Surprise stat of the week: the Cardinals actually went 6-2 at University of Phoenix Stadium last season.  The Cardinals at 2-0 would rank among the season’s early surprises, but it would be an even bigger surprise if Chad Pennington had a big day against what is becoming one of the league’s most underrated secondaries.

– Jets over Patriots: Brett Favre’s home debut in New York puts an extra charge into this one, plus the Jets would just love to stick it to the Patriots in the wake of Spygate last year.  I have a feeling Matt Cassel will find the road to be much more daunting than Gillette Stadium.  Oh, and he doesn’t have the luxury of facing the Chiefs.

– Titans over Bengals: No Vince Young for Tennessee, but it won’t matter.  There are high school teams that tackle better than Cincinnati’s defense.  The Bengals offense looked a little confused too last week.  Carson Palmer under 100 yards passing?  The Marvin Lewis watch begins in Cincinnati.  I say 75 percent he’s axed before the year is over.

– Steelers over Browns: Pittsburgh will run away with the AFC North.  The Browns proved last week that they are a ways from the elite against Dallas.  This one will be competitive due to the rivalry factor, plus an emotional under the lights home crowd in Cleveland, but the Steelers are the class of the division and they will prove it.

– Vikings over Colts: Chalk this one up as the most intriguing game of the week for me.  Is this an elimination game of sorts already?  The Colts cannot be confident heading into the loud Metrodome after getting shelled at home in their opener.  Minnesota needs Tarvaris Jackson to show that potential we keep hearing about, but the Vikings defense will follow the Bears blueprint and harass Peyton Manning.  Peyton, meet Jared Allen.  Good luck.  The Colts at 0-2? It seems beyond crazy, but it might just happen.

– Broncos over Chargers: Denver’s confidence is sky high after destroying the Raiders on the road, plus Brandon Marshall is back.  If D’Angelo Hall couldn’t cover Eddie Royal one on one, how are the San Diego corners going to handle him and Marshall?  The Chargers pass rush will really miss Merriman, plus Antonio Gates is hobbled.  The Broncos might allow a high rushing day for LT, but their offense will be enough to win a shootout and enjoy a large lead in the AFC West.  San Diego at 0-2? Seems really crazy, but it just might happen.

– Chiefs over Raiders: Dud game of the week.  The rivalry is nasty enough that the game could actually be fun to watch, but these are two of the worst teams in the league.  The Chiefs are reportedly having trouble selling out Arrowhead for this game, which tells all you need to know about the state of football these days in Kansas City.  Still, the Raiders are a mess in every way, and Larry Johnson will run for enough to get KC a rare W.  

– Giants over Rams: The G-men’s biggest challenge will be overcoming a 10-day layoff after opening the season with their Thursday night win over Washington.  St. Louis was maybe the worst team in week one, so there is nowhere to go but up.  This seems like it could be a trap game for New York if the Rams’ offense wakes up (Torry Holt 1 catch for 9 yards last week – are you kidding me?).  Still, the Giants should be able to rely on their championship experience and pull out a win.

– Saints over Redskins: New Orleans will really miss Marques Colston, who is out 4-6 weeks.  Still, Drew Brees has enough targets for the team to score offensively.  The Redskins looked like they didn’t know which end was up offensively last week.  If that continues, New Orleans will win a low scoring affair.

– Bears over Panthers: This should be a great game.  Both teams pulled shockers in week one, so it’s hard to say which of these teams is better right now.  The Panthers are without Steve Smith for another week, so that gives an edge to the Bears defense.  Chicago won on the road during their Super Bowl run two years ago, and the hunch is they’ll find a way to pull out this one.  This one really could go either way though.

– Packers over Lions: Aaron Rodgers played well last week in the spotlight, and the Packers look like they have a statement to make.  Detroit? The Lions should be embarrassed losing to Atlanta.  Home field advantage won’t help the Lions if they keep playing like that.  This won’t exactly be a difficult road environment for Green Bay’s young signal caller.

– Buccaneers over Falcons: Brian Griese gets the start for Tampa so that gives slight pause.  Still, the Falcons aren’t playing Detroit anymore.  Matt Ryan could be in for a rude awakening this week against Monte Kiffin’s defense.  Tampa Bay almost stole one last week and could be just good enough to make things interesting in the NFC South.  On a side note, I am kicking myself that I didn’t rank Michael Turner higher in fantasy this year.  He could have some big games this year even though he’s playing for the Falcons.

– Seahawks over 49ers: Seattle is still really banged up, and I really want to pick the upset.  Thing is, Seattle has a tremendous home field advantage, and there is no reason to back San Francisco on the road right now after the way they played last week.  Besides, Matt Hasselbeck has got to play better this week doesn’t he? This could be a really sloppy game.

– Texans over Ravens: This game has been moved to Monday night due to Hurricane Ike, which makes it the first Monday night game in Texans history.  Even though it won’t be nationally televised,that’s enough for me in this toss-up matchup.  Baltimore’s defense is still good, but I still want to see Joe Flacco on the road.  Houston is a much better team than what they showed last week.

– Cowboys over Eagles: This too will be a fantastic game.  In a way it’s a shame one of these teams will have to start the year 1-1.  I like the Cowboys in what should be a raucous atmosphere for their home opener, on a Monday night no less.  Still, the Eagles pose a big challenge.  The sway factor will be a monster game from Terrell Owens, eager as always to show Andy Reid and company they did him wrong.

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How’s that For Openers?!?

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 9, 2008

Wow.  That’s all I have to say after watching the Broncos absolutely trash the Oakland Raiders last night to cap off week one.  I certainly didn’t expect a 41-14 blowout win.  Sure, I am always an optimist about my team and always can come up with a reason why they will win, but I sure didn’t expect complete domination to that degree.  Only on one other occasion in their history have the Broncos scored more points in an opener (I still remember that day vividly. I was sitting in the south stands as a sixth grader when the Broncos trounced the Bengals at Mile High.)  Sure, they were playing the Raiders, who true to their tradition kept shooting themselves in the foot, but it is impossible to not be optimistic and excited as a Broncos fan after their effort last night.  Taking into account everything that happened around the league in week one, I am more convinced than before that the Broncos will return to the playoffs.  If they can can score 41 points without Brandon Marshall, imagine when he’s back next week. 

Eddie Royal’s performance last night was phenomenal: nine catches for 146 yards and a touchdown, all while going against one of the league’s premier corners in D’Angelo Hall, who received a $66 million contract from the Raiders in the offseason.  The Broncos certainly look like they have a steal in the draft in Royal, who when paired with Brandon Marshall should be even more explosive.  Throw in Tony Scheffler, who came up with a huge 72 yard catch last night, and Darrell Jackson, who caught a 48 yard touchdown pass, and Jay Cutler certainly doesn’t have a shortage of targets.  The running game should benefit from the weapons in the passing game, and the offensive line seems in better shape than last year.  It is a testament to rookie left tackle Ryan Clady that you didn’t hear his name called at all last night.  That means Clady did his job, not allowing a sack and not getting called for a penalty all night. 

Defensively the Broncos weren’t spectacular, but they got the job done.  The Raiders gashed them on the ground in two games last year to the tune of 185 yards per game.  Last night they rushed for 150, which is a slight improvement, but the Raiders still ran for over five yards a carry.  The Broncos will have to shore that up, and will get a good test next week with LaDainian Tomlinson.  The Broncos certainly took advantage of the opportunities presented to them by the Raiders’ ineptitude offensively, and that’s part of what a defense needs to do.  They did get good pressure on JaMarcus Russell a number of times, which is something they weren’t able to do last year.  As the season goes on though, the Broncos will need to make sure they can consistently stop the run and put pressure on the QB.  Last night the run wasn’t much of a factor for the Raiders because the Broncos jumped out to an early lead, but the Broncos will need to stop the run in order to win close games. 

The Broncos have a huge game next week with San Diego coming into Mile High.  The Broncos are the only team in the AFC West with a win in week one.  Just one week into the season, the Broncos find themselves in a conference where the defending champion Patriots have lost their MVP quarterback for the year, the perennial powerhouse Colts looked confused in a week one loss, the chic pick Jaguars got stunned in their first game, and the favorites in their own division, the Chargers, lost on the last play in their first game.  The AFC is wide open for the taking, and the Broncos find themselves in the thick of it with a number of other teams.  This should definitely be a wild ride in the NFL this year.

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Week One and Season Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 5, 2008

Football is finally back!  I know, they’ve been playing the preseason games for a month but that doesn’t count.  Last night’s win by the Giants over Washington officially kicked off the year.  Count me among those that feels the Giants are really being slighted and are not being given the respect a defending champion should deserve.  Yes, they lost their top two defensive ends (Michael Strahan to retirement and Osi Umenyiora to a season ending injury in preseason) but they still the defending champs, and last night they played like it.  The Redskins looked lost offensively most of the game, in large part because the Giants managed to get pressure on Jason Campbell.  Eli Manning didn’t have a great game, but he made enough plays early to give the Giants the lead, and Plaxico Burress proved he is still the real deal. 

I am genuinely baffled how many people are predicting a bad year for the Giants.  My hometown newspaper, the Denver Post, predicted a 20-19 Redskins win yesterday.  Of the 16 experts on espn.com, only one is predicting the Giants to win the NFC East (to be fair they actually didn’t last year) and seven of those experts believe the Giants will miss the playoffs.  The Sports Guy on espn. com is offering the following: Prediction No. 9: The Giants finish either 7-9, 6-10 or 5-11.   Plleeeasseee.  If you know anything about football, you know that is unlikely for a defending Super Bowl champion, particularly one with a tough defense that has proven over the years it can win on the road.  At least Sports Illustrated is picking the Giants to go 9-7 and win one playoff game.  I’m not saying the Giants will repeat, or even that they’re a lock to win the division (the Cowboys are loaded and dangerous and perhaps the favorite in the NFC).  I’m simply saying the Giants should at least get a little more respect than they’re getting.  Their next two games are at St. Louis and home against Cincinnati.  It’s very possible the G-men will begin the season 3-0, and there are several idiots out there thinking they won’t make the playoffs?  If they were playing in the AFC maybe, but not in the mediocre NFC.

Now, to be fair, I offer my picks for the season, and I have as much chance of being wrong as anyone else (and probably will be).  It is easy to forget that there is numerous turnover in the league every year, and there will always be surprise teams, as I offer a couple of shockers below. 

NFC EAST CHAMP: Dallas (13-3)  The Cowboys blew an opportunity last year with a home playoff loss.  The offense returns loaded as ever, and if everyone on the roster behaves this is the team to beat in the NFC, and maybe in the league.  The addition of Pacman Jones is huge if he stays out of trouble, as he is one of the top kick returners in football and a solid corner.  Zach Thomas also shores up the linebacking core.  Tony Romo and Terrell Owens have a clear chemistry that will allow the offense to light it up again this season. 

NFC NORTH CHAMP: Minnesota (10-6) I still believe the Vikings would have been a real player for the Super Bowl if they had gotten Brett Favre.  Tarvaris Jackson will have pressure on him all season, but with Adrian Peterson back there the Vikings will score a lot of points.  The league’s top run defense got even better with the addition of Jared Allen.  Expect at least 15 sacks out of him. 

NFC SOUTH CHAMP: New Orleans (10-6) The Saints have as much offensive talent as anyone and were a real disappointment last year.  This year they should be able to turn it around and be able to win a division that is up for grabs.  Reggie Bush should explode in his third year with a healthy Deuce McAllister accompanying him at running back.  The key will be how well their defense performs.  Carolina could be a darkhorse here, but they are likely to wear down with so many key players having a history of injury. 

NFC WEST CHAMP: San Francisco (9-7) This is my real surprise pick.  The 49ers have stunk it up in recent years, and start a no name quarterback in J.T. O’Sullivan.  Thing is, Mark Martz has taken over as offensive coordinator and brings receiver Isaac Bruce with him from his old days in St. Louis.  Martz has had success with all kinds of quarterbacks (Kurt Warner in 1999 anyone?) and the Niners will benefit from playing in an awful division.  I actually thought about Arizona here, but the Cardinals will continue their pattern of underachieving in the desert. 

NFC WILD CARDS: New York Giants (11-5) Philadelphia (10-6)  Both teams play in the rugged NFC East, which produced both wild card teams last season.  The Giants, as mentioned above, are much better than the respect they are being shown, and will prove it by returning to the playoffs.  The Eagles prospects could well depend on the health of Donovan McNabb, but they finished last season with a bang and should continue that momentum into the season. 

You may notice the absence of Green Bay.  I stand by my opinion that they made a colossal error rejecting Brett Favre in favor of Aaron Rodgers, and that distraction will carry over.  You don’t simply replace a legend quarterback, it doesn’t happen.   I don’t think the Seahawks will make it because they have benefited for years playing in a weak division, but their lack of running game will kill them, in addition to the fact that they don’t have many stars that jump off the page. 

NFC WILD CARD ROUND: New Orleans over Philadelphia, N.Y. Giants over San Francisco

NFC DIVISIONAL ROUND: Dallas over N.Y. Giants, Minnesota over New Orleans

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Dallas over Minnesota

AFC EAST CHAMP: New England (12-4) The Patriots will be very good once again.  The health of Tom Brady does seem to be a question mark, and a caveat here is that if he goes down they are done.  The Patriots will not challenge for 16-0 again but will be able to win the division without much difficulty thanks to a friendly schedule.  Randy Moss should have another big year. 

AFC NORTH CHAMP: Pittsburgh (11-5) The Steelers have a tough physical defense that will help them win a lot of games, particularly in cold weather late in the year.  Rashard Mendenhall could be a rookie of the year candidate and will help ignite their offense and will complement Willie Parker. 

AFC SOUTH CHAMP: Jacksonville (12-4) One of my other surprise picks.  This has traditionally been an automatic for Indy, but the Jaguars are ready to break out.  Their defense is without question a top five unit, and the offense will benefit from the addition of Jerry Porter at wideout.  The Jaguars nearly upset the Pats in the playoffs on the road last year.  David Garrard is underrated as a passer and it wouldn’t shock me to see him in the Pro Bowl. 

AFC WEST CHAMP: San Diego (11-5) The Chargers biggest question is if they can stay healthy.  LaDainian Tomlinson appears healthy and ready to go, but Antonio Gates does not.  Shawne Merriman declined surgery so he could play this year, and that will be interesting to see if that affects the Chargers.  Still, there is enough talent that they are the division favorites considering the rest of the division. 

AFC WILD CARDS: Indianapolis (10-6) Denver (10-6)  The Colts will still make the playoffs even if they don’t win the division.  Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning and the offense will be good as usual.  Call me crazy, but I think there could be a leftover effect from their stunning playoff loss to San Diego last year.  The Colts in recent years have debunked the theory they can’t win on the road, but something doesn’t seem right about this team entering the season.   As for the Broncos, I realize this looks like a hometown pick, but I expect big breakout years from Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall.  The run defense can’t possibly be any worse than last year, yet the Broncos still managed seven wins as bad as it was.  Slight improvement in that area should lead to a few more wins, and the fact they have four games against the Chiefs and Raiders will put them in the playoffs.

I’ve left out several good teams, many of which would make it if they were playing in the NFC.  The Jets will barely miss out of the postseason, and it won’t be Brett Favre’s fault they don’t get there.  The Jets made several improvements in the offseason, but a difficult early schedule will put them behind an eight ball they won’t be able to get in front of.  The Titans are a solid team that made the playoffs a year ago, but this year they will also fall just short.  I believe the Browns, one of the “hot” teams in this year’s media, were a fluke last year.  It would not shock me to see Derek Anderson usurped as the starting QB by Brady Quinn at some point, and that will doom the Browns. 

WILD CARD ROUND: Pittsburgh over Denver, Indianapolis over San Diego

DIVISIONAL ROUND: Jacksonville over Pittsburgh, New England over Indianapolis

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Jacksonville over New England

SUPER BOWL: Dallas over Jacksonville    

The Cowboys have every piece necessary to win it all.  They came very close last season, and I believe they too would have beaten the Patriots in a Super Bowl rematch had they had the chance.  Last year’s playoff loss will serve as motivation all year and this season they will be able to get it done. 

Before we wrap up, I also offer my selections for the rest of week one.  Picks do not take point spread into account:

– Bills over Seahawks: The Bills are an intriguing team, and the Seahawks are banged up. 

– Dolphins over Jets: A mini upset, but the Dolphins will be significantly improved.  Chad Pennington gets revenge.

– Patriots over Chiefs: The question is will Kansas City even get a first down.  This is a complete mismatch.

– Ravens over Bengals: Both teams will be bad this year.  Cincy has a potentially explosive offense, but the Ravens defense will help them pull this one out at home.

– Steelers over Texans: Houston is improving, but a rough assignment for the opener.

– Cowboys over Browns: This will be a good game, but the Cowboys pull it out on the road.

– Colts over Bears: Colts win opener at new stadium, Bears quarterback woes continue

– Jaguars over Titans: Jaguars win tough road opener in a key division game off the bat

– Broncos over Raiders: Even without Brandon Marshall, the Broncos make enough plays to win on the road

– Chargers over Panthers: No Steve Smith, no chance for Carolina.  Chargers roll at home

– Eagles over Rams: Philadelphia rolls at home against a Rams team trying to figure out its identity

– Lions over Falcons: Dud game of the week…Two bad teams square off at the Georgia Dome

– Vikings over Packers: Adrian Peterson begins spectacular season with Monday night show at Lambeau…Packers see how life will be without Favre

– Saints over Buccaneers: Saints win emotional opener at the Superdome against division rival

– 49ers over Cardinals: I’m shocked how many people are picking Arizona to win this game….Niners will be surprise team this season

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