Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
08 Sep 2004
OK, let's start with this basic rule: picks are essentially silly. We know that every season in the NFL, there are going to be teams that improve and decline for reasons that nobody predicted. Even sillier than picking the divisions is picking conference champions or the Super Bowl winner. Let's say I think that the Green Bay Packers have the best chance of any team in the NFC to make it to the Super Bowl. Perhaps I think they have a 20% chance to make it, and I think that six other teams have a 10% chance to make it, and eight other teams have a 2.5% chance to make it, and they will also play some games in Arizona this season. OK, so I pick Green Bay to win the NFC. Even based solely on my opinion, there is four in five chance my pick will be incorrect. So we are all going to be mostly wrong.
We're going to make picks anyway.
Every member of the Football Outsiders staff has made picks, except for Bob the programmer who doesn't follow football. We've even got picks from the new guys (Vivek and Vinny) and departing Scramble for the Ball co-author Ian. Those of us who follow college football are giving a pick for the BCS Championship as well. On each table I'm adding the picks based on the DVOA Projection System, which you can read about here.
-- Aaron Schatz
|DVOA System||Patriots||Ravens||Titans||Chiefs||Broncos, Jets|
*Each team has five picks for division title and three for wild card.
I know the Patriots are supposed to decline after the Super Bowl, but take away four wins and they can probably win the AFC East. I think the Jets will be strong competition, though. Before I started putting together the DVOA Prediction System, I had this strong feeling about the 2004 Jets that didn't seem backed up by any numbers. The schedule is easy, The Chad is a great quarterback, they have two great wideouts, a steady running game, and a defense of young players that seem primed for improvement. As the Prediction System developed, it moved the Jets higher and in line with my own hunches. Lest you think I did that on purpose, it also moved the Steelers lower and out of line with my own hunches, but I'm picking them anyway. I just can't see the Ravens having an offense of any kind, especially with Jamal Lewis due for a breakdown and a trial. I like both Denver and Kansas City but Denver is the more well-rounded team so they get my division pick. In the South, I thought it would be a very close three-team race, but at the last minute I'm pulling my Jaguars pick off the table. Yes, it was preseason, but the Jaguars' first-team offense did not score a single point, including getting shut out for an entire half by the Patriots' second and third stringers. Picking the Jets and Chiefs as wild cards means leaving off the Colts but they will have a higher DVOA than at least two NFC playoff teams and a ball that bounces one way instead of the other would put them in the playoffs.
My opinions haven't changed too much from when I went through the over/unders with Aaron in Scramble for the Ball. If anything, I like the Jets more now than before. They have a competent backup now in Quincy Carter who can at least tread water when The Chad goes down with his inevitable injury. I'm on the Jaguar bandwagon. I went with them over Denver for the final playoff spot because I just don't like Denver. No reason why, but I don't like the team this year. Plummer's going to cost them some games and their skill positions are just way too iffy. The AFC North is just a big cluster so I'm going with the team I'd like to see win. How can you not root for the Bengals to finally get a division crown after so many awful years?
The Jets are still a year away from reclaiming the division title -- the defense needs a year to gel again after the recent purge, but they're good enough to get a wild card spot -- and the Fins and Bills will mire in mediocrity, which leaves the Pats to inherit another division title. Da Stillers, guided by mid-season starter Ben Roethlisberger, will win the North by default -- the Bengals are still a year out, the Browns blow, and I still can't believe the Ravens do as well as they have the past few years. This will be the last year of Titan happiness, as Jax is getting too good and Houston will start to surprise people -- but the Colts are still good enough to make the playoffs. The Chiefs' bubble will burst, Bolts fizzle, and the Raiders still suck, leaving Denver to step up.
Only at Football Outsiders does picking the Jets in the AFC East not count as an unusual prediction. I think a healthy Chad Pennington slices and dices up defenses, Curtis Martin goes all out in his efforts to climb the career yardage leaderboard, and the defense plays well enough together to let Chad run the show. In the AFC North, Jeff Garcia will lead the arsenal of Browns offensive weapons to a division title. In the AFC West, Denver will churn out another no-name player turned 1,000 yard rusher, who this time will lead his team to a division title. Kansas City's offense will slow down a bit, but unfortunately their defense will remain terrible and they'll finish second. In the AFC South, Tony Dungy will turn the Indianapolis defense into a unit strong enough to let the offense ease the team into a division title. Jacksonville will win a large number of games, but finish second simply because they can't keep up with Indy. The two wild card slots will go to Kansas City and Jacksonville, with the Patriots surprisingly losing out to the Jaguars on tiebreakers.
Well, I thought I could be a pundit and try to use some actual logic to make these picks like everyone else. Or I could recruit a crack team of drunken chimpanzees throwing darts to make the picks for me. After all, with such parity in the league, and several surprise teams making the playoffs each year, why not let the monkeys select teams at random? The apes make some decent-looking AFC sleeper picks, picking the Jags, Jets, and Bengals to win their divisions, but nearly get fired when they pick this Denver native's nemesis to take the West.
It's so wide open that I wish I could predict seven AFC playoff teams. I feel like the teams with no chance are the Raiders, Chargers and Texans. That means the Chiefs and Broncos get four easy games apiece, so I had to put both of them in the playoffs, and I decided to stick the Colts in there even though they really didn't do anything to improve the team from last year. A lot of it has to do with my belief that Edgerrin James will be completely healthy and ready for a big contract year. Why the Browns, you ask? I don't like any teams in the North, but I do think the Browns had the best off-season of the foursome.
Boston College could win the AFC East, so anything less than 5-1 in-division for the Patriots will be a major disappointment. In the North, I think the Bengals are a good pick for 2005 but not this year, Garcia won't get it done in Cleveland (not that there's anything wrong with that) and Pittsburgh will get caught up in a QB controversy. It's now or never for the Colts, with rumors are that Edge wants to go home to Miami and the Colts may not be able to afford Harrison. The Titans are strong enough that they probably would win about 5 other divisions, but like the Red Sox, its all about location. I'll stick with the Chiefs in the West, who are still loaded top to bottom on offense. Take the over every week. Titans win the first Wild Card easily, Denver gets the second by default since they have experience and the rest of the AFC sucks.
I'm not exactly going out on a limb, except maybe in the North with Pittsburgh. I just don't trust Baltimore's offense. Can Boller play? Can Lewis run for 2,000 yards in leg irons? Pittsburgh seems to be one of those teams, like the Giants, that is good when people think it will be bad and bad when people think it will be good, so I'm going with Cowher's bunch. I think Denver will put it together enough to win the West. They'll miss Portis, but they'll have a decent running game, and I agree with Peter King that Plummer played very well last year. If he can stay healthy, I think they win the Division. Indianapolis is the class of the South. The Titans might need a year to get back to the playoffs and the Jags are also a year away. Kansas City will take a step back because their defense won't improve much under Gunther Cunningham and Dante Hall won't win three games for them by himself. But they're too potent to miss the playoffs. I like what I've seen of the Jets this preseason. Pennington has been tremendous. The defense might just give them enough to grab a wild card.
You really have no choice but to pick the Patriots in the East. The Dolphins are in danger of joining the Arena League and I don't think the Jets and Bills have quite turned the corner. I'm taking the Steelers because (a) I'm a Steelers fan, and (b) I'm not convinced that Ray Lewis can carry this team for another season. I also don't think Boller is the long-term answer -- and in the short term, if Jamal Lewis is out, the Ravens are in trouble. It's hard to pick against Peyton Manning, but the Colts' defense makes it easier -- that, and it's even harder to pick against Steve McNair, so I'm going with the Titans. Kansas City and Denver will battle in the West, but I give the Chiefs a slight edge because I like their uniforms better, and they've got the most potent offense in the league. And while the Jets and Jaguars are dark horse candidates to have big seasons, I've got the Colts and Broncos getting the wild card.
Granted, not much originality here, but there seems to be a clear separation of contenders and pretenders in the AFC. Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli have managed to improve the Pats again this off-season, so it's hard to go against them. The Steelers haven't done much to improve themselves, but I'm not sold on the Kyle Boller/Kordell Stewart tandem in Baltimore. Brian Billick has won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer, but at this point, I wouldn't hesitate in taking Dilfer over Boller and Stewart. Unless Ray Lewis or Deion Sanders start taking snaps, the Ravens can't generate enough points. Indy is clearly the best in the South but Jeff Fisher manages to reload and get the Titans in the playoffs again. Even without Clinton Portis, the Broncos improve as Jake Plummer stays healthy and thrives in Mike Shanahan's offense. The Chiefs wisely replaced D-coordinator Greg Robinson with Guenther Cunningham, who should really have his blood pressure checked at the end of every quarter.
It will be a cakewalk through the season for both the Chiefs and the Patriots, and look for them to lock horns in the AFC title game. Parity is the key word for the rest of the league, as a lot of 9-7 teams make the playoffs, and 8-8 teams stay home. The Colts have firepower but lack the defense. They'll be the Chiefs of 2003.
|DVOA System||Cowboys||Packers||Buccaneers||Rams||Eagles, Falcons|
I know I am supposed to be Mr. Objective Analysis but I'm allowed one pick that totally flies in the face of all statistical forecasting and that's the Redskins. My prediction system didn't have a variable for "replace clueless coach with Hall of Fame coach." I think Gibbs will find long-term that he doesn't understand how to work the salary cap, but in the short term we know he can work a playbook. I've already written a ton about the Packers and their underrated defense. There's too much turnover in Tampa to say "this is the same team as 2002 so they will bounce back" but I think that the new players can help win the division on their own merits, and the best of the 2002 players are still here. The DVOA Prediction System disagrees with me but I see the Seahawks winning the NFC West in such a cakewalk that Iraqi citizens will line the streets of St. Louis and San Francisco throwing candy and flowers at Matt Hasselbeck. As for the wild cards, I may be one of the only people to expect Dallas to play well again, and I may be one of the only people to think Philly's in store for a hard year, but I do think that in the end the Eagles will have the tiebreakers over the Cowboys. For the other playoff spot, I'll take the team with the mobile quarterback, the underrated RBBC, and the nonexistent pass defense over the team with the mobile quarterback, the underrated RBBC, and the nonexistent pass defense, and no Randy Moss.
It's a coin flip between the Redskins and Philadelphia for the NFC East. Both teams could end up with 13-14 wins. I'm guessing the Skins win a tiebreaker because luck just hasn't been on the side of the Eagles the past few seasons. I don't like picking against Brett Favre, but there's just too much love going the Packers way for me to pick them. Yes, that last team is correct. Arizona will sneak in as the final wildcard team. The Cardinals will finish the year with five straight wins to get into the playoffs. They should be able to handle Detroit and San Francisco in Weeks 13 and 14. In Weeks 16 and 17 they face Seattle and Tampa, who should both have their playoff spots sewn up at that point and could start resting their starters. That leaves Week 15, St. Louis at Arizona, as a pivotal game for the wild card. The Cardinals will light up their former defensive coordinator and make the playoffs for only the third time in thirty years.
I don't believe in Redskins, I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me. Dallas is close, but Philly reigns supreme. The Pack will win the North by default. The Falcons will do this year what many thought they'd do last year: actually win games -- I hear that Vick guy's pretty good. The Bucs actually win a few 1-point games, getting them a playoff spot. I just can't see the Seahawks as a successful team with those godwaful unis. I thought the same thing about the Bucs when they were in their Volunteer phase, and as soon as they changed colors, they started being a successful team -- think they'd have had as dominating a defense with a big orange Sapp butt roaming the field? So anyway, until the 'Hawks wake up and see the monstrosities that are their uniforms, no soup for them. The Rams hang on for the crown.
In the NFC North, the Packers will ride Ahman Green, Brett Favre and their strong secondary to a division title. In the NFC West, Seattle will cruise to a division title as their offense continues where it left off last year. San Francisco's young defense will get better, and Kevan Barlow and Brandon Lloyd will exceed expectations as the Niners finish second and snag a surprise wild card. In the NFC East, McNabb to Owens will overcome any other problems their team has as Philly takes the title. In the NFC South, Carolina's defense and Jake Delhomme will carry the team to the title. Atlanta's defense will show a stunning improvement and help this team make the playoffs as well.
The chimps throwing darts selection continues. They throw their support behind DVOA with a nod to the Cowboys and Bucs, then make ridiculous picks like the Niners and Lions. Hey I said this was random. If this works (and we should all hope it doesn't) an awful lot of so-called experts may be consulting their local zoos next August.
I'd feel a lot better about the Redskins if their offensive tackles would stop dropping like flies, but I love the Clinton Portis trade so much that I'll pick them anyway. Vikings over Packers is a close one, but I think a big part of the Packers' success last year was an injury-free offensive line, and I don't see that happening again. Oh, and insert the pre-written sentence here about how I'm only picking the Falcons to get to the playoffs if Mike Vick stays healthy.
Where has parity in the NFL gone? It seems each division has a standout team and then a bunch of "meh". The Eagles have to get it done this year, otherwise Chunky Soup might be forced to fire Donovan's mom. The North is considerably tougher, I won't be surprised to see Minnesota win this, but I can't bet against Favre. Atlanta is the trendy pick in the South so I'll go with it. Vick, Vick, Vick. What else do you need to know? There's the NFC champs, but methinks the clock is about to strike midnight on Delhomme. (Of course, I thought this about Brady in 2002.) I'll take New Orleans for a wild card, though. The other wild card goes to Seattle, who should give St. Louis a run for the division title but I'll take the Rams by one game. This will be the last year of this Rams run, so enjoy it if you're a fan.
I know Aaron won't agree, but I do see the Cowboys taking a step back this year, albeit a small one. The defense will keep them in every game, but I don't think they can keep Testaverde healthy for the whole year and Henson's probably not ready. All the comings (TO, Kearse) and goings (Vincent, Taylor) in Philadelphia appear to me to add up to the same thing: division title, first-round bye, and no Super Bowl. I saw McNabb hit TO for an 81-yard TD on the first snap of their preseason home opener. A couple series later, I saw him throw behind TO, who was triple-covered in the red zone, and Owens got leveled. Over/under on the number of those before we see a sideline blowup is three. I might be picking with my heart with Tampa, but I think their free-agency haul was an upgrade overall, even with the departures of Sapp and Lynch. I think they get a few breaks this year that went to Carolina last season and win the division while the Panthers miss the playoffs. Vick's return won't do anything to improve Atlanta's putrid defense, and when I last saw their top draft pick, CB DeAngelo Hall, he was getting burned by Randy Moss for a preseason TD. Speaking of Moss, he and Culpepper will get it together this year and push Green Bay for the North title. In the West, I think Seattle will win a few road games and the Rams will barely sneak into the playoffs.
Despite their injuries, the Eagles have to be the favorite in the East because (a) I don't think the Cowboys have improved enough offensively, and (b) I'm not convinced that even Joe Gibbs can turn around the Redskins in one season. If Minnesota can scrape together anything resembling a defense they could win the North, but as was the case last season, that's a big "if". I'm predicting that the 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are this season's 2003 Oakland Raiders. If Carolina can patch together an offensive line, they should be back in the playoffs. The same can't be said for the St. Louis Rams in the West. They're struggling on both sides of the ball and Mike Martz's nutty play-calling seems to only compound their problems. Anyway, I'm picking Seattle because I think they're good and because you have to love a team whose 27-year old quarterback looks like Dr. Phil when he takes off his helmet. I toyed with the idea of picking St. Louis as a wild card team, but I'm going with Matt Schaub and Atlanta (Wait, there's another quarterback in Atlanta?). I have Green Bay as my other wild card team primarily because I feel more comfortable going with Brett Favre over Vinny Testaverde or Aaron Brooks.
Like Bill Parcells last year, I think Joe Gibbs solidifies his genius status by getting the Skins back in the playoffs in his first year thanks to Mark Brunell. Brett Favre made some poor decisions down the stretch last year, but I think his Packers take the division title again. For some reason (Which way to the methodone clinic?) I'm picking the Saints in the South -- maybe Jim Haslett, Aaron Brooks & Co. gets their act together this year. Matt Hassellbeck proves last year wasn't a fluke as the Seahawks take the West. I don't think Terrell Owens makes that much of a difference for the Iggles (Donovan McNabb doesn't throw on rhythm the way Jeff Garcia and Steve Young did, and Owens isn't as effective when he's improvising) but they still take a Wild Card spot. The Rams also sneak into the playoffs as Mike Martz shows some confidence in Mark Bulger this year.
Look for the Michael Vick-Peerless Price combo to be what everyone expected last year and give the Falcons the NFC South Championship. It probably won't surprise you that I am yet another Football Outsiders writer who thinks the 2003 Panthers were somewhat of a fluke. The Eagles will have the East wrapped up by Week 14. Too much uncertainty at the quarterback position will hurt the Skins. The Vikings will take the NFC North crown, but with only 10 wins, edging out the Pack and what could be Favre's last charge.
AARON: New England. For a long time I expected to say "Denver Broncos" here. In the last two weeks I have changed my mind because there are just too many questions about the skill position players -- not only the running backs but also the departure of Shannon Sharpe, the aging of Rod Smith, and the fact that Ashley Lelie just doesn't seem like he's going to have that breakout people keep expecting. So, if not Denver, no other team in the AFC has the coaching, the depth, and the all-around talent on both offense and defense that the Patriots have. Will they buck the Super Bowl year-after curse to repeat as AFC Champions? Probably not. But is there another team more likely than the Pats to be AFC Champions? Probably not. I did come close to saying...
AL: New York Jets. Why am I so high on the Jets? Beats me. No one in New York seems to be this high on them. I'm a big believer in the Chad, especially with Justin McCareins as a second wideout this year. That passing attack could be ridiculous. Herm Edwards has been playing games with Lamont Jordan all preseason, by playing Columbia grad Jonathan Reese ahead of him. I can definitely see Jordan using that as inspiration and putting up some great numbers behind Curtis Martin. Defensively the Jets will be able to hang with anyone. They cleared out the dead weight from last year and brought in a new defensive coordinator. And where did they get their new coordinator from? Only from the best defensive team in the NFL over the past five years, Baltimore.
BENJY: Tennessee. As a Jets fan I'd LOOOOOVE to agree with Al and see Gang Green here but instead I'll call this McNair's last gasp.
IAN: Indianapolis. In the first round, Kansas City will out-gun Cleveland on the road, while Denver will hand it to Jacksonville as Lord Byron crumbles under the pressure of his first playoff game at Mile High. In the second round, Indy will knock out Kansas City for the second straight
season, while the Jets will stymie Jake Plummer and win their matchup. And in the AFC title game, the Colts will continue to cruise towards the Super Bowl.
JASON: Cincinnati. With Marvin Lewis at the helm and another year of... Oh wait, this pick was made at random. The Bengals? The monkeys are getting pretty drunk now.
MIKE: Indianapolis. Yes, I know I picked them only to enter the playoffs as a wild card, but I think they'll be a better team in January than they are in September. Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James will have a great postseason together.
PATRICK: New England. Again, it's all about the defense. Roosevelt Colvin will surprise everyone, including doctors, with a return to the Pro Bowl. Corey Dillon gives them the one thing they needed in the past, a running game. Tom Brady will make it through the playoffs without ever completing a pass over 12 yards.
RUSSELL: Denver. My brain tells me New England is the best team in the AFC and the NFL. But I just can't pick them for the simple reason that something -- injuries, bad calls, bad bounces, slight lack of motivation -- almost always brings the Super Bowl champion back to the pack. So call it a luke-warm vote for Denver in the AFC.
RYAN: Tennessee. Number one reason I'm picking the Titans: I'm not a big Pats supporter. Tom Brady smiles too much for me and Belichick plays the nerdy sourpuss too perfectly. Oh yeah, and the Pats are infuriating to watch because they are so good. So knowing that, I'm picking Tennessee because Steve McNair might be the smartest QB in the NFL and how can you not pull for a head coach who sports the mullet/moustache combo?
VINNY: Indianapolis. The bounces can't go the Pats' way every year. I'm going with Peyton and assuming Tony Dungy will have his no-name defense primed in January.
VIVEK: Kansas City. Everybody hop onto the Gunther Cunningham bandwagon. Yes, I know that the Pats are coming in to the season with the 15-game winning streak, and yes, even Paul Tagliabue made fun of the Chiefs' defense last year, but they will have a lot of 30-24 type wins this season. Trent Green is coming off a Pro Bowl season and that Priest guy isn't too bad either.
AARON: Green Bay. Again, I've written plenty about the Packers. No, Brett Favre today is not the Favre of 1996, but if the thumb is not causing him problems you're combining the end of his peak with the middle of Ahman Green's peak and the start of Javon Walker's peak. The defense was top ten for the last half of the year and should be again. Yes, I would be concerned about the Mike McKenzie situation but any other team that would compete for the NFC title has a question mark just as big, and probably more than one.
AL: Washington. There's litle not to like about Washington's chances in the NFC. Everything I said about them in the Scramble over/under series still applies. My only concern is that I'm making this pick a year too early.
BENJY: Green Bay. Call it Favre's last gasp, although the rest of the team is pretty good too.
IAN: Seattle. In the first round, Michael Vick will lead the Falcons past a stunned Carolina team, while Philadelphia handles the 49ers at home. In the second round, Seattle will beat the Falcons in a shoot-out, while Favre's tendencies to force the ball will once again cost him against the Eagles in the playoffs. And in the title game, Seattle will deny the Eagles a Super Bowl berth, leaving Philly fans calling for Andy Reid's head.
JASON: Dallas. Is it just me, or is anyone else very disturbed when they see Bill Parcells in those sweat shorts he likes to wear?
MIKE: Tampa Bay. After one down year, they're back. The Bucs added a lot of guys I like, including Derrick Deese and Mario Edwards, and I don't think the losses of Keyshawn Johnson and Warren Sapp are particularly troublesome.
PATRICK: Green Bay. What Brett Favre wants, Brett Favre gets. Late in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship, Pack down by five, number 4 comes hobbling out of the tunnel, leg heavily taped, and leads the team down the field for the game winning score.
RUSSELL: Green Bay. I can find reasons to eliminate my other NFC contenders more easily than Green Bay, so consider that a lukewarm pick, for the Pack. Minnesota's defense isn't good enough, the Rams are fading, the Bucs are old, Seattle has to prove it can win away from home and the Eagles will be under so much pressure by the time the playoffs arrive, they might just implode, leaving a lump of coal on the 50-yard line at the Linc.
RYAN: Philadelphia. When talking about last year's Super Bowl participants, I think Carolina might have a better chance of making it back to the Super Bowl than the Patriots, but I'm worried their offensive line won't hold up. The Eagles can't possibly lose four straight NFC Championship games, can they? Plus, I think Terrell Owens will be less of a distraction in Philadelphia than he was in San Francisco. More importantly, he should make Donovan McNabb all but forget the unforgettably awful duo of Thrash and Pinkston.
VINNY: Seattle. Seattle. Matt Hasselbeck rises to elite quarterback status. Grant Wistrom makes a difference on defense.
VIVEK: Philadelphia. The Eagles will come close to becoming the Buffalo Bills of the NFC championship game, but the fourth time is a charm as they will knock off the Vikings. With McNabb, Owens and Westbrook carrying the load full time, they'll have three potential Pro Bowlers at those skill positions. Remember that this team was killed by injuries to both lines last year. Add Jevon Kearse, and you have more a lot more talent. People knock the secondary after the losses of Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, but Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown and Michael Lewis are all about to hit their prime.
AARON: Green Bay. The Packers would have the weapons to attack the holes in the Patriots defense: a good third receiver and, if the Pats do end up missing Ted Washington, a great running back. Brett Favre retires after the game.
AL: Washington. Greatest... Coach... EVER.
BENJY: Green Bay. In the waning moments of the second quarter of a defensive stalemate, McNair's left keg gets ripped off below the knee on a sack by Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (He of The Greatest Name in FootballTM), and is lost in Al Harris' hair. After a few shots of cortisone and Wild Turkey, McNair claims "it's just a flesh wound" and hobbles out for the second half to toss three touchdown passes before passing out from blood loss. Green Bay is down by 5 with ten seconds left and the ball on the Titans 26. On fourth down, Favre and his Magic Thumb throw an apparent game-winning touchdown to Javon Walker. On the ensuing kickoff, Tennessee tries Home Run Throwback, but fresh-out-of-retirement Frank Wycheck's lateral to a streaking Andre Dyson is called a forward pass, ending the game. (WARNING: Actual game play may differ.)
IAN: Indianapolis. With Dungy whipping the defense into shape, the Colts are simply too good on both sides of the ball.
JASON: Dallas. The Sloshed Simian Selection System picks the Cowboys to take it all. Hey, they made the 2003 playoffs with Quincy Carter at the helm, so anything's possible, right? (Well, not the monkey pick of Green Bay as the first pick of the 2005 Draft... they were really drunk by this point.)
MIKE: Indianapolis. Edgerrin James puts on a show in his home state and reaps the free agent rewards a few months later.
PATRICK: New England. Payback for Super Bowl XXXI. Tom Brady is named Super Bowl MVP for the third time and at Joe Montana's Hall of Fame induction, people compare him to Tom Brady.
RUSSELL: Denver. In a repeat of Super Bowl XXXII, the Broncos edge the Packers in a close game after Brett Favre throws a reckless interception late in the game. Afterward, Favre announces his retirement in order to spend more time hunting and talking to Peter King.
RYAN: Tennessee. With Philly and the Titans, both teams struggle at times defensively, so it comes down to who has the most efficient offense. Without hesitation I'll take Steve McNair and the Titans; he's basically an older, wiser, more accurate version of McNabb.
VINNY: Indianapolis. Indianapolis. Meanwhile, Jim Mora is led off to the mental hospital in a straight jacket while babbling, "Super Bowl? Super Bowl?"
VIVEK: Philadelphia. Philly. Man, I hate TO but he's one hell of a player. One word: Difference-maker. (Ok, one hyphenated word.)
|Lions||Chargers (from Giants)||Dolphins||Browns||49ers|
*Note: Drunken monkey dart-throwing selectors at this point are praying to porcelain god.
MIKE: Texas over Georgia
PATRICK: Florida St. over Texas
RUSSELL: Oklahoma over Florida St.
VINNY: Georgia over USC
VIVEK: Oklahoma over Florida St.
AARON: You mean, besides the Jets? Fantasy breakouts include Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, Titans running back Chris Brown, Chargers wideout Eric Parker, and Cowboys tight end Jason Witten. Big rebound years from Keyshawn Johnson and Plaxico Burress. DeShaun Foster sucks (a surprise to everyone but me). Shannon Sharpe and Greg Gumbel make the CBS pre-game more watchable than the FOX pre-game. Drew Brees has a comeback in San Diego, making him the hot choice for teams that need a new quarterback in 2005. Shocking everyone who expects them to fall apart due to the retirement of dominating running back Ricky Williams, the Dolphins go 8-8. Shocking everyone who expects them to return to the playoffs because they are no longer dependent on the burnt out, overrated Ricky Williams, the Dolphins go 8-8.
AL: Arizona and Cincinnati both make the playoffs. Pat Summerall has his fastball back on ESPN. The Deion Sanders comeback is a success in Baltimore, but no one cares since they score less than one touchdown a game. Kurt Warner keeps the Giants in contention until the second half of the season. Steven Jackson ends the year with more rushing yards than Marshall Faulk. Jim Mora Jr. makes his dad proud and has a press conference tirade that is replayed every week on some highlight show. I make a spelling mistake in one of my colunms that Sid doesn't catch.
BENJY: Seahawks still fall short of expectations (see uniform rant above), Detroit becomes respectable, Jamal Lewis doesn't break 1000 yards rushing (trial or no), Ben Roethlisberger is the best rookie quarterback, and Keyshawn Johnson gets released after whining that Wayne Chrebet of the Jets has more receptions than he does.
IAN: Well, I'm the one who picked the 49ers. Also, Tennessee loses too many close games and finishes below Houston in the standings. Tampa finishes in last, and Jon Gruden finally realizes that a team full of veterans can't keep up with younger talent. Detroit plays strong all-around football and finishes in second place ahead of the Vikings. And Drew Bledsoe is horrible. Wait, that's no surprise...
JASON: Neon Deion re-retires when he realizes he is now only the 38th-most flamboyant player in the league. Jerome Bettis and Eddie George compete in the game show "Let's Ruin My Legacy!", but can't unseat returning champion Emmitt Smith. UPN starts a reality series starring Ricky Williams and Ryan Leaf. Football Outsiders replaces Jason with Koko the Drunken Chimp by Week 8, since he's been doing most of Jason's work anyway. Nobody notices the difference.
MIKE: Champ Bailey turns in a disappointing year and does little to improve the Broncos' defense. Sean Taylor is the league's best rookie. Steven Jackson logs more carries than Marshall Faulk. Jordan Gross becomes the NFL's best left tackle, but nobody notices because the Panthers struggle through a 7-9 season. Paul Zimmerman gets through an entire mailbag without mentioning wine.
PATRICK: Mike McMahon is starting in Detroit by Week 6 as Joey Heisman just can't connect with the talented young receivers. The Chiefs lose a game and Dick Vermeil doesn't cry. Justin Gage, though not a rookie, has an Anquan Boldin-type breakout season. Ron Dayne rushes for 1200 yards this year. John Madden says something that makes sense. Jamal Lewis spends eight weeks with the Ravens, then gets eight years in the pen.
RUSSELL: Much like the NHL's annual crackdown against obstruction penalties, the NFL zebras will be flag-happy in the season's first month, but come playoff time, defensive backs will once again be mugging receivers without fear of penalty.
RYAN: Marc Bulger will struggle in St. Louis, Mike Martz will go crazy because of it, and the Rams trade for Kurt Warner. When Kyle Boller struggles (and he will), Brian Billick will be faced with the decision of replacing him with Kordell Stewart - the only quarterback in the league last season with a worse QB-rating. Joe Theismann, Eric Dickerson and Lisa Guerrero will take over Monday Night Football - and Guerrero will be the smart one.
VINNY: Jeff Garcia gets hurt, William Green is led off in cuffs, Kellen Winslow insults the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and Butch Davis is canned, all by Week 9. (Yes, I'm actually a Browns fan). ESPN finally realizes how painful it is to listen to Paul McGuire and fires him, resulting in him hanging out on the streets of Buffalo with an Etch a Sketch, screaming to every passerby, "Watch this! Look at this! Watch this!"
VIVEK: Curtis Martin, worn down after nine seasons of hits, loses his grip on the full-time starting job; Remember, Herm Edwards' Jets "play to win the game," so here comes the Lamont Jordan era. Stephen Davis is a major fantasy bust. Kurt Warner plays well enough to keep Eli Manning on the bench for all but three games. Steve McNair stays healthy all season.