Looking into the NFL crystal ball
Vail, CO Colorado
The long wait is almost over.
After what seemed to be a terribly lengthy offseason that spent far too much time focused on one particular player ” I won’t even mention his name, so we don’t have to even talk about a certain No. 4), the NFL regular season is just around the corner. Starters have been named, rosters have been set, and of course, fantasy football teams have been assembled. As Thursday’s kickoff rapidly approaches, here are my predictions for the upcoming season.
AFC playoff teams
AFC East: New England Patriots (14-2)
A Super Bowl loss, even one as crushing as the Giants’ victory was, won’t keep the league’s best team from contending for the league title once again.
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
In their second year under head coach Mike Tomlin, the Steelers will turn some heads with a good offense, both on the air and on the ground, and a very physical defense.
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
Peyton Manning’s knee will be just fine, as will Marvin Harrison’s and the Colts should put up their routine 12-plus win season.
AFC West: San Diego Chargers (12-4)
Even if Shawne Merriman’s knee doesn’t hold up, the Chargers are too talented to not be considered Super Bowl contenders.
Wild card: Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5)
Despite a difficult division and a tough schedule, the Jaguars will be successful with a very physical defense, an elite running game, and a cautious yet effective quarterback.
Wild card: Denver Broncos (10-6)
With a young and rising offense, the Broncos will win some games, but must figure out their defense before they will be considered a contender.
NFC playoff teams
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles (12-4)
With Donovan McNabb two years removed from surgery and Brian Westbrook coming off the best season of his career, the always underrated Eagles will sit atop the NFC.
NFC North: Minnesota Vikings (11-5)
Adding Jared Allen to an already stacked defense will allow the Vikings to overcome a young and unproven quarterback to win a very clouded division.
NFC South: New Orleans Saints (11-5)
A defense improved by the acquisition of Jonathan Vilma and an offense overflowing with talent will help the Saints prove last season’s 0-4 start was a fluke.
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks (9-7)
Despite a difficult schedule and a banged up receiving core, Seattle should manage at least nine wins, which will be more than enough to win the NFL’s worst division.
Wild card: Dallas Cowboys (11-5)
Clashes caused by an excess of troubled players on the roster might keep the Cowboys from winning the NFL’s toughest division, but it won’t hold them out of the playoffs.
Wild card: Green Bay Packers (10-6)
The Pack will fall just short of the NFC North crown, as their defense and run game will be less able to make up for quarterback struggles than their divisional rival Vikings.
Regular season awards
NFL MVP: Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia
The man who does it all and never receives proper recognition for his value will soar even higher this year and take home the league MVP title.
Offensive Player of the Year: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis
Manning probably won’t reach his monstrous totals of 2004, but he will retake Tom Brady as the top fantasy QB in the NFL, assuming his knee is as healthy as we think.
Defensive Player of the Year: Mario Williams, Houston
Super Mario will build on a very strong 2007 and should properly justify his selection as first overall ahead of Reggie Bush in the 2006 draft.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kevin Smith, Detroit
After almost breaking Barry Sanders’ career rushing record in college, Smith has his chance to start for the Lions and will be a yardage machine.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Chris Long, St. Louis
The son of Hall of Famer defensive end Howie Long, Chris will be given plenty of chances to show why he was chosen second overall in the 2008 draft.
Comeback Player of the Year: Larry Johnson, Kansas City
After a poor start to 2007 and a broken foot halfway through the season, L.J. will rebound with an improved line and regain some of his impressive form from 2006.
Coach of the Year: Andy Reid, Philadelphia
Reid will be properly rewarded after his team rises from its struggles in recent years to recapture its place among the elite of the NFC.
Wild card round
INDIANAPOLIS over Denver
PITTSBURGH over Jacksonville
MINNESOTA over Green Bay
Dallas over SEATTLE
NEW ENGLAND over Pittsburgh
Indianapolis over SAN DIEGO
PHILADELPHIA over Dallas
NEW ORLEANS over Minnesota
NEW ENGLAND over Indianapolis
PHILADELPHIA over New Orleans
SUPER BOWL XLIII
New England over Philadelphia
Super Bowl MVP: Tom Brady
Home teams are capitalized