Thursday, June 28, 2007

Are You Ready For Some Football?’s getting to be that time of year again. The new NFL season is just around the corner - okay, it’s still two months away, but ESPN has been running Ultimate Depth Chart articles on their web site for about a month now, sizing up which teams and divisions and players and whatnot are the best in the league, and those have piqued my interest.

Not that it takes all that much - this part of the year is low tide for me when it comes to sports, although I did glean some minor enjoyment from watching the San Antonio Spurs thrash the hapless Cleveland Cavaliers, from watching the Mighty Ducks win a Stanley Cup for Teemu Selanne, and from listening to the Indianapolis 500 on the radio (which is always a highlight of the sports year).

Summer should be about baseball, but it’s hard to find anyone to watch baseball with (because most people think it’s boring to watch, which is incorrect, but since there aren’t any fast breaks or two-minute drills in baseball, few people can be bothered to pay attention long enough to see what actually happens). Also, I’m a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan, and it has been plain for a number of years now - going on one hundred even - that the Cubs just aren’t committed to winning.

(And really, in the big business world of sports, why should they be? Most teams need to win in order to drive ticket sales. The Cubs are one of the few teams in all of major league professional sports that can lose more games than they win most years and still sell out every game.)

That pretty much leaves the NFL, although I’m starting to doubt that this year is going to be much fun for Colts fans, because the Horse is going to have a hard time defending its World Championship Of All Football. But the season hasn’t started yet, and everything is fresh and new - and the Sporting News pro football book just came out. Good old Scott-J got me hooked on these preview magazines about five years ago, and I always look forward to the new Sporting News NFL book every year. Scott prefers the Athlon books, but I’ve just never cared for them.

Mr. Maier...I presume that you are looking forward to the upcoming NFL season very much, right? I don’t dislike the Patriots, but’s just no fun staring down the barrel of that gun every year. The Patriots, as far as I’m concerned, were the best team in the league last year. The Colts won the Super Bowl, yes...but the Patriots were, overall, the better team.

And they’re the best team in the league this year, too. No significant losses in personnel, along with big additions (WRs Randy Moss and Donte’ Stallworth and LB Adalius Thomas), mean that it’s going to be a lot of fun to be a New England fan this year. The schedule is a bear, though - they host San Diego and have to go to Dallas and Indianapolis, plus survive six division games in an AFC East that will be much more competitive than people think. Bold prediction, though: NYJ will surprise New England in the season opener. Bolder prediction: San Diego will come to Foxboro a week later and send the Patriots into week three sans a win. Less bold prediction: after that Chargers game, the Patriots won’t lose again until next season.

Of course, that all hinges on Randy Moss working and playing well with others. If he still acts like a bitch, then New England is going to crash and burn, à la the Eagles two years ago with Marker Boy. Bill Belichick is the best coach in the league, but he’ll have his hands full if Moss behaves the way he did in Oakland. This will be fun to watch, though - and if Moss does act like a baby and the Patriots still find a way to win the World Championship Of All Football, then Bill Belichick passes Mike Krzyzewski as the best coach in all of sports.

To a lesser extent, Justin is going to have some fun this year, too, as a Cowboys fan. The Cowboys aren’t as good as the Patriots, but they play in a much weaker division and have a much easier schedule - two, count ‘em two, tough games, including a home game against New England and a road game against Chicago. New Orleans is the team to beat in the NFC - yes, I still think the Bears are overrated and will stand by that until Rex Grossman manages to wrap his head around the concept of consistency - but Dallas should give them a run for their money. The only wild-card is new head coach Wade Phillips, who is a fine defensive mind, but a lousy head coach - he’s going to have his hands full trying to deal with the most interfering owner in the league when it comes to football decisions. If the Jerry Jones-Wade Phillips marriage (competitive sports union, for you Bible beaters) doesn’t work, Tony Romo could throw for 4000 yards and 24 touchdowns and it wouldn’t matter.

Is there a surprise waiting in the wings like New Orleans last year? San Francisco is expected to not suck, which sort of surprises me, but the only real surprise I can see is if Miami competes with New England for the AFC East title. The Dolphins have a tough schedule - New England twice makes any schedule tough - but if Trent Green plays up to expectations and Cam Cameron has more success this time around as a head coach, then the Dolphins are going to turn some heads. The defense is good enough to keep them in some tough games, and if Trent Green and the sometimes-impressive Chris Chambers click, it could be a fun year in Miami.

As for the Colts? It’s hard to say. The defense has been decimated by off-season defections, but that could be a blessing in disguise. The Colts had a decent draft, including inheriting almost the entire roster from National Championship runners-up Ohio State, and the offensive nucleus is still in place. The schedule is rough - home games against New Orleans, New England, and Denver, and road games against Baltimore and San Diego. The chances of the Colts getting a higher playoff seed than New England are slim, which almost guarantees another January playoff game in Foxboro.

As an added bonus, the Colts will have to find some way to ignore all the bitching that people are going to do about the fact that the new stadium is over budget and dragging the city into the toilet - since professional sports teams and their stadia provide zero economic benefit* to their home cities and bankrupt the taxpayers. Oh, and the mayor wants to raise taxes to pay for a new crime initiative. Let’s blame that on the Colts, too. Matter of fact, while we’re at it, let’s see if we can get the Colts charged with the Kennedy assassination. Of course, if corporations were paying the income taxes they were supposed to be paying, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. So start flaming the CEOs, you moral crusaders, and quit complaining about the Colts.

I was going to make a list of my picks for division winners and the playoffs, but what's the point? New England is going to win the Super Bowl, there are only 4-6 elite teams in the league (New England, San Diego, Indianapolis, New Orleans, and maybe Dallas and Chicago), and there are no mid-range teams that are going to present major problems for any of the elite or almost-elite teams. If Miami were in the NFC, that might make for an interesting storyline. But even if they have a much better season than they are expected to have, they still have to get through New England, San Diego, and Indianapolis. That's not going to happen.

* - Untrue, and intended with much sarcasm.


Last King of SCOOTland said...

i was going to comment, but i decided to write my own preview-ish.

Justin said...

I cannot wait until football starts...Thanx for preview..