Thursday, September 08, 2005

I Will Not Steal From Hank Williams, Jr.

Tonight. 9 p.m. ABC. Yes, folks, we’re talkin’ football today. I’m so excited, I don’t even know how to kick off this column. So excited, in fact, that I just made coffee…and forgot to add the grinds. At least I have a cup of filtered hot water.

Actually, I wish I could kick off the column like the NFL is kicking off its season, a potential playoff preview with the Oakland Raiders and the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. And that’s only the beginning to an opening week that is seemingly creative genius.

Each Week One match-up seems to have a story behind it. Take the opening game for instance. The Raiders are being touted as the most improved team over this offseason, having added phenom Randy Moss and versatile tailback LaMont Jordan (grumble, grumble), re-signed speedy WR Jerry Porter, and drafted Fabian Washington, the corner from Nebraska who ran a combine-best 4.28 40.

And then you have the Pats, who are obviously the champions of the world. But they face numerous question marks entering the season, spurred by the loss of various starters. Teddy Bruschi won’t play a down this year; Roman Phiefer retired; David Patten is in Washington; last year’s hero, Troy Brown, looks to be at the bottom of the depth chart; Ty Law is in New York; Tyrone Poole is 33 and coming off an injury. Then again, the latter two sat out the bulk of last season.

That’s not to mention Romeo Crennel’s departure to Cleveland and Charlie Weiss coaching the Irish – and very well, at least by one week’s judgement. But remember the genius behind this all is Bill Belichick. And, as Bill Simmons aptly pointed out a month ago, he’s newly single, meaning that he has no ball and chain keeping him from the practice facility at ungodly hours picking apart game film.

I wish I could predict a Patriots crumble. Hey, I’m a Jets fan, and we’re on the brink of greatness. It’s just those damn Patriots standing in our way. And no matter how mediocre the Jets looked last year, just remember that they played New England well. A good sign, or at least I hope.

But I digress. The J-E-T-S are also entwined in an interesting story Week One, matching up against the Kansas City Chiefs. The premise here? The Jets D allowed the fourth least points in the NFL last season, but only scored the 17th most on the other side of the ball. Kansas City scored the second most points in the NFL and ranked 29th in points given up. Ouch.

This is also reflected in the Colts-Ravens match-up. The Colts scored by far the most points in the NFL last season, and are pitted Week One against one of the league’s most solid defenses for the past few years. And to bolster that, the Ravens upgraded at corner from Gary Baxter to Samari Rolle. Their secondary is rounded out with Ed Reed, arguably the best at his position, and Will Demps at safety, not to mention Neon Deion at nickel.

And the Raven’s D doesn’t end there. Not only do they still have Ray Lewis, possibly the most feared linebacker in the game (and you’d be that feared, too, if you allegedly killed a guy), but they re-signed Peter Boulware for a fraction of what they were paying him a year ago in addition to Tom Polley at linebacker. Up front, they’ve once again transplanted Terrell Suggs. Back at his college position of DE, he lines up opposite of Anthony Weaver, with Kelly Gregg and Maake Kemoeatu wedged between them at DT. Not too shabby at all, though they would have benefited 10 fold by winning the Corey Simon sweepstakes (which was ironically won by their Week One opponents).

I hate to place any doubt in Peyton Manning and his crew, but if there was a week they were possibly outmatched, it’s this one. Sure, he still has his triumvirate of targets in Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Brandon Stokley (though there’s a chance he’ll miss Week One). And in case he’s in trouble, he always has Edge James out of the backfield and a meaty target in TE Dallas Clark.

A few other notable Week One match-ups: Chicago at Washington (perennially underachieving teams ridden with injuries), Cincinnati at Cleveland (one of these teams won’t be stuck in a rut this season), Arizona at NY Giants (two teams that are significantly improved from last season…and I’ll be there to watch), and of course the Monday Night NFC Championship rematch, but this time with Atlanta hosting Philly.

I guess we’ll see how it goes. In all likelihood, I’ll be talking about football tomorrow again, seeing as how I’m more excited than ever about the season starting. And something tells me tonight’s game will be something to chatter about. But, before I depart, I must get my pre-season predictions down. Because when the season is over, I want to be able to point back to this and say, “I told you so.” That, or “damn, I’m a moron.” Whichever is applicable.

AFC East
1. Patriots, 12-4
2. Jets, 11-5
3. Bills, 9-7
4. Miami, 6-10

AFC North
1. Baltimore, 11-5
2. Pittsburgh, 10-6
3. Cincinnati, 8-8
4. Cleveland, 2-14

AFC South
1. Indianapolis, 13-3
2. Jacksonville, 9-7
3. Houston, 8-8
4. Tennessee, 3-13

AFC West
1. Oakland, 12-4
2. San Diego, 10-6
3. Denver, 9-7
4. Kansas City, 5-11

NFC East
1. Eagles, 13-3
2. Giants, 10-6
3. Cowboys, 10-6
4. Redskins, 5-11

NFC North
1. Minnesota, 12-4
2. Green Bay, 9-7
3. Detroit, 7-9
4. Chicago, 6-10

NFC South
1. Atlanta, 11-5
2. Carolina, 9-7
3. Tampa Bay, 7-9
4. New Orleans, 5-11

NFC West
1. Seattle, 10-6
2. Arizona, 8-8
3. St. Louis, 7-9
4. San Francisco, 3-13

True, there’s a little discrepancy between the wins and losses, but hey, these are just blind predictions. I’m still going to make predictions, on every game, week by week. You can pretty much figure out the playoff scheme from here, but my late-round predictions are:

Oakland over New England in the AFC Championship.
Minnesota over Philly in the NFC Championship.
Minnesota over Oakland in the Super Bowl.

A bold prediction, maybe. But the Vikes have been on the brink for quite some time, and with their beefed up D and Daunte Culpepper lobbing touchdowns like was playing Madden on rookie, I think it’s a legitimate consideration.

As for tonight, I’m thinking Oakland 27, New England 21.