By Timothy Braun,
5:01PM, Mon. Sep. 3, 2007
Playing the psychic game is rather difficult, just ask the singing psychic of Texas, Fran Baskerville, who obtained her future-seeing powers when she was struck by a lumber truck after a visit to the beauty parlor. Now, Fran forecasts what’s to come only with the gift of song and about three chords she’s learned on a Gibson guitar.
In an effort to view the forthcoming National Football League season I stood on the shoulder of I-35 awaiting the right vehicle this summer. Yet, the traffic on I-35 moves so slowly, I was unable to find the appropriate force to give the powers I require. So, I did what I always do when it’s time to predict the future, I put on Daniel Johnston’s Hi, How Are You, grabbed a bottle of white liquor, and started to write.
Let’s start with the NFC. In golf, the competition is usually Tiger Woods against “The Field.” In the NFC’s run to the Super Bowl, it's just “The Field.” I see no monster team in this conference and wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if any of these teams snagged some luck and made a push to the Big Show. But, here is how I think the conference will breakdown.
This team could be very good or really bad and my cash is on the latter. The defense is aggressive with the return of Chad Greenway and Pat Williams, the running game looks adequate, but I simply can’t stomach the quarterback situation? Name two playmakers on the offense, two players that strike fear into the heart of the opposition? Neither can I. The most respected player on offense is guard Steve Hutchenson.
Deep down inside, I hate making this call, I would like to place the Vikings in this slot, but Detroit has a sadder schedule. I can see this team getting hot on Thanksgiving and roaring to a strong finish. Who does Detroit play on the Turkey Day classic this year …
2) Green Bay
Green Bay is youthful, selecting 34 players in the last three drafts, and could shock the league by winning this division. However, I still see this club as a year or two shy of the playoffs. Keep your eye on rookie receiver James Jones, he could be rookie of the year.
I’ve come to calling Rex Grossman the “bipolar bear.” One Sunday he is a Hall-of-Fame gunslinger. The next, he is Ryan Leaf’s drunk cousin. Anyone who has witnessed a Bears' game in the past century knows what the D can do. We saw last year how little-yellow-school-bus the special teams really are, or maybe aren’t is a better way to say it. Can Rex do what he must?
This ranking had nothing to do with the recent unpleasantness. The history of college coaches coming into the league has been rough, at best, and the Falcons really don’t have that much talent to begin with. Now, let's start a drinking game, shall we? Every time a commentator says the word “Michael” followed by “Vick” during a Black Bird’s game, take a shot of Mad Dog 20/20. I endorse the purple flavor.
3.) Tampa Bay
I don’t think this is a good club. The team had a nifty draft, but this squad is still rebuilding. In the post-Warren Sapp era Tampa has had no true identity. Shouldn’t Jon Gruden teams have a strong uniqueness, a strong voice?
This is simple. The defense is healthy and new offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson has implemented a zone-blocking scheme that will go nicely with the rush of DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams. Count Carolina as one squad in this conference that could go 8-8 and make the playoffs.
1) New Orleans
Austin native and all-around cool guy – how many Austinites do we have that are considered all-around cool dudes now? Matthew McConaughey, the Wilson boys, Daniel Johnston, the cast of Real World: Austin – Drew Brees and the offensive gang will shine like crazy diamonds, but they will need to score around 38 points a week to win as the defense just looks cheerless. Personally, I think the Saints will be the most fun of all NFL teams to watch this fall.
4) NY Giants
Quick, name the lug protecting Eli Manning’s blindside? And now you know why I have the Giants in the cellar. At the end of the year, Tom Coughlin will be coaching the tight ends at Boise State.
I don’t like the way this franchise is constructed, with neglect for the college draft while building with free agency and trades. The ‘Skins can’t keeping adding bells and whistles. Because of the lack of a consistent roster, I have no idea if Joe Gibbs can still coach.
The drafting of Kevin Kolb from Houston shouldn’t have shocked, if you have been paying attention. The entire franchise is gearing up for one last blast. The defense is aged (Takeo Spikes, Jevon Kearse, and Brian Dawkins were all intimidating players when Bill Clinton was president) and Donny McNabb is at a crossroads. It is Super Bowl or bust for this team. I think it will be bust, and I think McNabb will have a big orange “C” on his helmet this time next year.
1) Dallas aka “Jerry’s Kids”
This team has good players and the season rides on new head coach Wade Phillip’s ability to communicate and gain the trust of the veterans. Rookie Anthony Spencer can gain 10 sacks opposite DeMarcus Ware in Phillip’ blitz-happy rendition of the 3-4 defense. I might be the only person in the state of Texas to write these next words, but I liked how hard Tony Romo responded to his blunder in last years postseason match against the Seahawks. The man has emotion.
Each year I hear how Arizona will be the “surprise team” and each year they struggle for mediocrity. With a rookie head coach and a young and arrogant quarterback who isn’t nearly as good as he thinks he is, why will this year be any different?
Name one good team that is as boring to watch as these Seahawks? I don’t see this team slipping in play, I simply view the Rams and Niner’s taking steps forward.
2) St. Louis
Here is the good news: The defense will be better this fall because it can’t possibly get worse than the squad from ’06. What I really like about St. Louis is the fine addition of tight end Randy McMichael who should catch around 80 balls this year in an offense still emerging. In a weak NFC, why can’t this team make the playoffs?
1) San Francisco
I know they are the trendy pick to do well this year, but I see the Mike Nolan era as a Nina Simone song: it’s all been slowly building to this year when the whole damn thing just explodes and you can’t help but yell “Yeah, baby!”
And now for the AFC, the Michael Corleone to the NFC’s Fredo. As opposed to its weaker older brother, the AFC boasts so many select teams, almost any could make the Super Bowl. In fact, I will argue that the fifth or sixth best team in the AFC would be the top in the Fredo conference.
I think this is a good place to reinforce that this is no joke. By using reason and analysis, I feel the AFC will unfold this way. I hope you are sitting down.
This team will start 0-6, then Brady Quinn will come in … and things will get worse. If I’m a Dallas fan, I am watching each Browns game with keen eyes as the Cowboys own Cleveland’s No. 1 draft pick next April, and it might just be the top. I think Brady Quinn is the next Joey Harrington and his selection will put the franchise back five years (look at the Lions if you think I exaggerate) and put poor Romeo Crennel on the unemployment line.
Carson Palmer deserves a medal for all the remarkably embarrassing garbage his teammates have committed off the field. On the field, the biggest issue with this team is the loss of Kenny Irons, the backup running back. Starter Rudi Johnson’s numbers dropped when Irons went down last year, and this year Irons got zapped for the whole fall. No one on defense makes me nervous. The Bengals are the bizzaro Vikings.
The team is old, and new running back Willis McGahee is brittle. The squad will be competitive, but in a strong AFC teams need to be more than competitive to get far.
The Bears: Three Rivers. I like everything about this team, sans the quarterback. The defense must carry the team, just as they have since 1976. I watched this team in the preseason closely and noticed several new blitz packages, primarily overloads and angle stunts. The Steelers will win this division and do well in January. NOTE: This season features the premiere of Steeler mascot “Steely McBeam.” The Steelers don’t need a mascot, especially one with the name of a, shall we say, performance artist/private entertainer.
Head coach Jack Del Rio has made no bones about it; he doesn’t believe in his quarterback situation, even before the dismissal of former franchise brick Byron Leftwich, and vocally desired the drafting of Brady Quinn. The chemistry of this team is dissolving. If September is mean to the north Florida team, I expect the Jags to point fingers in failure and fold like a house of cards.
Gonna challenge Tennessee for the two spot in AFC South. The Texans have the right quarterback, right linebacker, right receivers, and the right coaches. If they get hot and confident with a string of wins they could role to respectability. Watch out for rookie Jacoby Jones, he does ever thing Ted Ginn Jr. does at half the price.
The team doesn’t have much talent, but Jeff Fischer has gotten the quad to work together in fast fashion. Maybe losing the selfish Pacman Jones was a good thing. If this team takes a “US” against the world attitude with a capital U and a big fat S, the Titans will be hard to top.
Would you believe me if I said I think this team will be better than it was last year? I’ve been hearing a great deal about the Colts losing four starters from last year’s team, but they lost the guys who couldn’t tackle and run. Marlin Jackson has looked fantastic in this preseason, and where did rookie DT Ed Johnson come from? The major concern must be Tony Ugoh replacing Tarik Glenn at left tackle, Peyton Manning’s blindside. If Ugoh struggles, Manning will shift protection to that side. I just can’t see this team doing poorly this season.
After the less than humorous “Nick Saban Experience”, new head coach Cam Cameron will … ah, forget it. This team will stink like dead fish. That is all that needs to be said.
3) Evil aka New England
I have despised Evil ever since the smug Scott Zolack was the quarterback in the early ‘90’s. I have no evidence, just a gut call here, but I am certain head coach Bill Belichick eats a live child for dinner every night, with a side of fresh mayo. This team is looking more and more like the 49ers of the mid 90’s, with the wrangling of outside personnel that don’t fit the mold. Randy Moss is good on “go” routes and skinny post plays, but Evil has rarely used those formations in the past. I said this to my pastor at the age of eight and I write this now, I just don’t believe in Evil … not right now, not ever.
And here is why I don’t believe in Evil this year: when last we saw Evil in action they gave up a 21-7 lead over the Colts and lost the AFC Championship game. Now, Evil has spent much of the offseason upgrading it’s offense, and the adding of Wes Welker was a wise move which forced the NY Jets, the major rival in this division, to draft another defensive back. But the wide receiver core didn’t give up the two touchdown lead. The defense did. The only significant change to the defense is free agent linebacker Adalius Thomas, who had a rather lovely season last fall with the Ravens, but everyone has a good season in the Ravens defense. And what about the depth? One or two players go down on either side of the pigskin for any reason (see Rodney Harrison) and this team looks average with a bullet.
Now, let’s get to the marrow of Evil. This team has become the New York Yankees or the Notre Dame Irish of the NFL. The foes will bring their “A” game every Sunday. Each week will be Michigan vs. Ohio State, Michigan vs. Appalachan State, Andy Dick vs. Jon Lovitz. Each week will be a playoff game for Tom Brady and his bunch, and I don’t think they have the horses to ride the season out.
After a housecleaning of veterans, the Bills enjoy a young squad with speed in spades. The offense is looking smooth, slot receiver Josh Reed can find the soft spots in zone coverage and Lee Evans has nasty potential. If this team played in the NFC, they would be in the post-season. And don’t you just want to see this team to do well? Isn’t there something in all our hearts that bleeds for the small town franchise that got to the Big Show, but never drove away with the trophy?
1) NY Jets
Gang Green will win at least two games based on special teams performances. I like the running game, and the team has one full season under Eric Mangini who might be the next Bill Walsh. Remember, my dear amigos, Mangini was the understudy of the devilish Belichick, just as the late Bill Walsh was the understudy of some coach named Paul Brown. Keep your peepers on rookie Darrelle Revis, he can do it all.
4) Kansas City
Arguably, the most under-rated performance in the history of motion pictures must be the stilted and tightly wound show Philip Seymour Hoffman gave to the world in The Big Lebowski, a character very aware he is in over his head. The same can be said of Herm Edwards. I just hope by December the Chief’s are in the ground so we can all have one more glimpse of the legendary “You-play-to-win-the-games!” outburst.
Note: If you haven’t seen Hard Knocks, the Kansas City docu-drama on HBO, catch it. It provides a humanitarian insight to this game unlike any other.
The Raiders will be terrible in September. Better in October. Competitive in November. Then, I expect QB Daunte Culpepper will have grabbed the team with an understanding of the new coaching staff and what said coaching staff wishes to accomplish. Don’t bother paying attention to Oakland until you are drinking egg nog, or whatever is the nog of your desire.
2) San Diego
Three changes at the three most important coaching positions spells trouble regardless of who much talent your club has. By the way, Norv Turner’s record as a head coach is 58-82-1. I hope Tomlinson and Gates have good years. They’re both on my fantasy team.
This team goes 12-4 even with injuries. Travis Henry is the right running back for Mike Shanahan, and that is saying something, while Jay Cutler is the right quarterback for Mike Shanahan, which is really saying something. With untimely and saddening deaths of teammates Darrent Williams and Damien Nash in the offseason, has galvanized the team. The mantra of the franchise is to not waste a single moment of life.
Chicago, New Orleans, Dallas, San Francisco
Wild Cards” St. Louis, Seattle
Pittsburgh, Indy, NY Jets, Denver
Wild Cards San Diego, Tennessee
Super Bowl: Indy and New Orleans
Winner: The fans of football, as the score of this game could easily break 100 combined points.
Coach of the Year: Jeff Fischer, Tennessee Titans
MVP: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Defensive Player of the Year: Shawn Merriman, San Diego Chargers
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Darrelle Revis, NY Jets.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Jacoby Jones, Houston Texans.
Now, I see a nap and some brisket in my future.
You can learn more about Fran, the singing psychic here. Some folks think she be batty. I think she’s sweet.