Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
08 Sep 2005
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 we think the New England Patriots have the best chance of any team in the AFC to make it to the Super Bowl. Perhaps we think they have a 20% chance to make it, and we 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 Cleveland this season. OK, so we pick New England to win the AFC. Even based solely on this opinion, there is four in five chance the pick will be incorrect. So we are all going to be mostly wrong.
We're going to make picks anyway.
You will find picks here from most of the members of the of the Football Outsiders staff. The new guy whose name you might not recognize is Tim Gerheim, who wrote the Houston and San Diego chapters for the book and is going to be "assistant editor," meaning that he gets to fix everyone's grammar all year. On each table you will also find picks based on the DVOA Projection System, which you can read about here, and a staff consensus. Will Carroll just sent us his picks and a few "surprises" comments, which is why you will find a little less commentary from him.
As many of you know, last year we won King Kaufman's expert predictions contest when the staff consensus correctly picked 10 of 12 playoff teams (9.5, actually, since the consensus had a tied pick for one division). Here's a prediction we feel we can make with confidence: We are not going to repeat as champions of the expert predictions contest. There are just too many good AFC teams to accurately pick that conference, and frankly there are not enough good NFC teams to accurately pick that conference, since most of us think at least one seriously flawed team in the NFC will end up bumbling its way into a wild card.
|Mike Smith||Patriots||Ravens||Colts||Broncos||Steelers, Jets|
|Mike Tanier||Patriots||Steelers||Colts||Broncos||Chiefs, Chargers|
|Vivek||Patriots||Ravens||Colts||Chiefs||Chargers, Steelers||Will||Patriots||Steelers||Colts||Chargers||Jets, Bengals|
|DVOA System||Patriots||Steelers||Colts||Chiefs||Broncos, Bengals|
Picking the teams that won't make the AFC playoffs is much easier than picking the teams that will make it. Cleveland is rebuilding, Tennessee is rebuilding but from a better position, Miami has no offense, Oakland has no defense. Everyone else in the AFC has legitimate playoff hopes, so let's knock them out one at a time. Jacksonville's offense is a myth caused by the division they play in. I think Kansas City could be spectacular but all it takes is for one or two of those offensive players over 30 to get injured and the whole thing will collapse like a house of cards. Jon Quinn is the backup quarterback, okay? I love the Chargers but the schedule is just killer. I love the Buffalo defense but that offense is going to be bad, and the problem isn't Losman as much as it is the offensive line, which means switching to Kelly Holcomb won't fix anything. I've been picking the Texans all summer, saying with just a little improvement on both sides of the ball, they would snag a wild card with an easier schedule than better teams from the other divisions. But upon further review, the offensive line still stinks, so they go 9-7 and miss out. When I sent my picks to King Kaufman, I said the Jets would win a wild card, and they would with Houston's schedule, but those holes on the lines and in the secondary can't be masked when you play so many well-coached teams. (I've changed my AFC picks roughly every five minutes for three months now.) As bad as the Pittsburgh offense has looked this preseason, I think that their defense should be able to drag the team to ten wins. Same goes for the Ravens, and I wanted to pick the Bengals, so we go with three teams from one division in the playoffs. I'm not sure why so many people are down on the Broncos -- the defensive line is a little worse, the punting a little better, so they'll go 10-6 and lose in the first round of the playoffs yet again.
I hate predicting this many repeat playoff teams, but I can't avoid it. Pittsburgh's schedule is too easy for them not to make at least the Wild Card. Baltimore's looks even easier, which is why I have them winning the division. I'm not going to do something stupid like pick against New England. The Colts can put up 30 points on anyone in the league, and now with Corey Simon maybe they can regularly hold their opponents to under 30. The only really surprising pick is probably Kansas City winning the West. But they were much better than their record indicated last season. Sure their offense is a little old, but they've improved enough on defense to make up for it. The Chargers get the final wild card spot from me, beating out Buffalo.
Why do I like the Ravens to come out of the AFC? I think the defense is still pretty good, and I don't think the offense is going to be as bad as it has been. I know a lot of people see Jamal Lewis's tough off-season as a reason not to like the Ravens, but I actually think it might encourage them to use Chester Taylor more, and I'm a Chester Taylor fan. When I look at the Patriots and Colts, I actually like them better than the Ravens, but I just feel like the Ravens are a team that might be better at the end of the year.
The Steelers have looked flat in preseason, but they'll pull it together well enough to go 11-5 and take the North. The West is wide open, of course; I like the Broncos' buttoned-down style on offense and deep defense, and I think the Chiefs' defense will pull together enough to go 10-6. Picking the Chargers came down to picking Marty Schottenheimer over Brian Billick to win a game when it matters most.
The AFC is almost an impossible conference to handicap. I seriously thought about eleven different teams to possibly make the playoffs. The two I am most confident about are the Patriots and the Colts. I cannot imagine the Colts losing their division, and although I believe some good breaks for the Bills or Jets could get them past the Patriots, both have too many questions to make me comfortable picking them. In the North, I think the Bengals, Steelers, and Ravens will all be very close. I question how the Steelers are going to match the production they got last year from Bettis and Burress, and Roethlisberger was clearly playing above his head. I take the Bengals over the Ravens because I trust Marvin Lewis to fix the Bengals' run defense more than I trust Kyle Boller to be a good quarterback. In the West, I am breaking with our prediction model because I hate what Denver did this off-season, and I think the Chargers defense will seriously regress this year. I agree with some that the Chiefs could completely fall off this season, but I am betting that they hold off Father Time for one more season. As for the Bills and Ravens, I think things shift back towards defenses a bit this year, but if Denver, San Diego, Pittsburgh, or the Jets edge them out, I would not be surprised.
I think the loss of the coordinators and the brutal early schedule catches up with the Patriots enough this year that they could end up having to play at Indianapolis in the playoffs. I'm not sure I really believe that the Colts can win that game even if it were played on the moon -- then again, think of that passing attack in zero gravity! -- but I think there's a good reason why we've never seen a three-peat in the Super Bowl era. Kansas City will have just enough defense to win the West, but not enough to win in the playoffs. If Boller isn't horrible, the Ravens should win the North. After all, the Steelers are supposed to be good this year, which means they probably won't be. The Jets will be doomed by a tough schedule and Pennington's shoulder. San Diego will struggle early as it realizes how much tougher it is to win as a favorite, but they'll rebound in time to sneak into the playoffs along with everyone's favorite up-and-coming team, Jacksonville.
I'm picking the Patriots to win the East. At this point it would just be silly not to. J.P. Losman might be athletic, but he's still a spaz, and the Dolphins' starting quarterback could end up being the same guy who once gave himself a concussion by head-butting a wall. In the North I like the Steelers, but if Roethlisberger turns into a pumpkin, don't be surprised to see this team run the ball 50 times a game. Unless the Ravens go to the single-wing, Kyle Boller renders their offense useless, and the Browns will have to be content with the fact that they already won their AFC North title â€¦ in the preseason. The Colts will edge out the Jaguars in the South and Denver will somehow win the West without Maurice Clarett -- and because the aged Chiefs offense will literally turn to dust sometime around Week 12. The Jaguars will just fall short of the post-season again, and the Chargers will fall back to earth while the Jets and the Bengals nab the wild card.
I feel like all the insipid commentators I like to rag on for constantly picking last year's division winners to be this year's division winners. But I don't think you'll find many people to disagree with either the Patriots or the Colts as repeat champs (again), and after writing about them in PFP I'm really high on the Chargers. I don't like last year's 15-game winner though: I have the Steelers finishing 3rd in their division as Roethlisberger and the rest of the offense crash to earth like Mir. I like the Texans as a wild card team for two reasons: I'm from Houston, and I think they're the second-best team in the AFC South, whose teams gets to feast on the slow wildebeests from the NFC West.
The one glaring omission in the AFC playoff picture is the Jets, and each time I penciled them in, Chad Pennington's shoulder erased that choice. After his promising 9 for 10 performance his first preseason game, Pennington has regressed. Replace his shoulder and this team fights for AFC supremacy ... It is hard to call a team with Trent Green and Priest Holmes the surprise team of the year, but the Chiefs are my early â€œOn the Wagonâ€? pick after I went against them a month ago in the Scramble for the Ball Over/Unders. The Kansas City front office finally realized that two straight years with a terrible defense under different coordinators meant that the personnel needed to change. Kendrell Bell and Derrick Johnson are much welcome additions, and opposing quarterbacks will not be able to be as daring anymore with Patrick Surtain and Sammy Knight ... It is now or never for Kyle Boller, who should have enough around him to knock off the Steelers for the AFC North crown.
|Mike Smith||Eagles||Vikings||Panthers||Seahawks||Packers, Bucs|
|Mike Tanier||Eagles||Vikings||Panthers||Seahawks||Rams, Falcons|
|Vivek||Eagles||Vikings||Panthers||Rams||Cardinals, Falcons||Will||Eagles||Lions||Saints||Seahawks||Rams, Panthers|
|DVOA System||Eagles||Lions||Bucs||Seahawks||Panthers, Cowboys|
If you read Pro Football Prospectus, my picks are obvious, except for the Vikings. For a long time I expected to say Detroit Lions here, and everyone knows I like Kevin Jones and they have a promising young defense, but Harrington still just doesn't look like he gets it -- the good preseason performances came because nobody was putting on a complicated pass rush in the first two games. So instead of Detroit as division champ and the Vikings as wild card, I'm going with Vikings as division champ and -- eek -- Tampa Bay as wild card. I know this will come back to haunt me, but it isn't just the DVOA thing. That offense really was much better with Brian Griese at the helm, Michael Clayton is awesome, the defense is still pretty good, and the schedule is easy except for the games against the AFC East and the Panthers.
Yeah, I have Chicago winning the NFC North, though it's mainly by default. Green Bay is ready for a huge collapse with the decline of their offensive line and their defense's inability to stop anyone from running the ball. The Vikings have added a ton of players on defense, but their offense will struggle to overcome the loss of Randy Moss and Matt Birk. The Lions are a complete mess at quarterback. Joey Harrington will be replaced by Week 7, but Jeff Garcia isn't much better. That leaves Chicago with a solid defense and multi-faceted running attack. If Kyle Orton doesn't screw up royally, which is a big if, there's no reason the Bears can't win the division. The Eagles should easily win the East with at least 11 wins. Carolina is the class of a poor division. Seattle's defense can't be as bad as it was last year. Maybe if I keep picking Arizona to make the playoffs they actually will one of these days and make me look like a genius.
In the NFC, the question is whether anyone has caught up with Philadelphia, and my answer is yes, the Panthers have. I still think the NFC is fairly weak top to bottom, but I like what the Panthers have done (especially signing guard Mike Wahle), and I think they'll have a fairly easy division schedule. The Packers and Bucs as wild cards? I don't know. It's hard to find six playoff teams in this conference.
The division champs are all by-the-book selections. I liked the Cardinals as a Wild Card earlier in the offseason, but I am not sold on their offensive line or running game. Many FO'ers are picking the Falcons to crash and burn, but I see their defense and special teams giving them lots of opportunities to win. It will be another year of 8-7 and 7-8 teams battling for a Wild Card (or maybe the South or West crown) in the NFC.
Unlike in the AFC, I had trouble finding six playoff-worthy teams in the NFC. The Eagles to win the East remains the easiest selection around, even with the TO issues. I do not really like the Vikings or the Seahawks, but I think the competition in their divisions is just too weak. It would be great for Detroit fans to have a good season, but I just do not trust their quarterback situation with either Harrington or Garcia. The Packers have too many holes on the offensive line and did not improve their defense (although I like the Jim Bates hiring). The South is actually a quality division, and I could see the Bucs, Panthers, or Falcons winning it. I am going with the Bucs because I think they still have a strong enough defense, and their offense under Brian Griese was actually pretty good. Add in Cadillac Williams and their continued domination of Michael Vick and I think they take the division. I will say that unlike some, I think one of these years Michael Vick will recapture his 2002 form and the Falcons will be very good. I just think that may be a year away. As for the Rams, the defense was really good in 2003 so it should not be as bad this year. Also, I am officially on the Steven Jackson bandwagon.
All the pieces seem to be in place for Carolina. I put more stock into the second half of last season because this is a team that has had recent success; it didn't come out of the blue to 6-2 down the stretch. If they avoid last year's injuries, they should win the South. I'll take Minnesota by default in what I expect will be an awful North. Philly would still win the East even if the TO thing blew up several times during the season. Dallas should rebound nicely this year if Bledsoe doesn't hold them ball for 10 seconds on every pass play. Hand off, dump it off on screens, don't get killed, and let the defense and the schedule do their job. Seattle will win the West easily, but St. Louis will edge out Atlanta for the last playoff spot, as Mike Martz aggravates fans all season.
Anytime you see the name "Drew Bledsoe" next to "featured quarterback" you've got yourself a date with a top-15 pick in next year's draft. Eli Manning and Patrick Ramsey will battle for the title of "the next Drew Bledsoe," and the Eagles will wrap up the East by early November. Conventional wisdom suggests that the Vikings should probably win the North easily, but conventional wisdom also says that head coaches shouldn't scalp tickets. Knowing that, I'm taking the Packers. I was a year too early in picking the Panthers last season, so I'm taking them again this season, and the 2005 version of the NFC West could look a lot like the 2005 version of the NL West. The San Diego Padres will be played by the Arizona Cardinals, who will win any division for the first time since 1975. Yikes. The Seahawks will squeak into the wild card with a losing record and the Vikings will get back to the playoffs despite their head coach.
When the biggest question mark on your team is a petulant superstar who's going to play for you even if he's not happy about it dammit, you're going to win the NFC East. Minnesota had better win, since they have more cap space this year than a ten-gallon hat. I like the Panthers a lot, and I definitely buy into the FO-conventional wisdom that Atlanta's brutal schedule and overrated quarterbacking will lead to a regression to the mean, i.e. 8-8. The Rams and Cowboys seem like the best of the rest in the weak-sister conference. Seattle only gets the nod as the undeserving 6th because they get to beat up on the Niners twice (not to mention the talent-free Titans) and I just don't trust Arizona.
Take my NFC playoff spot, please. Sorry about the stretch with Henny Youngman reference, but this is one of the weakest NFC conferences in recent memories, with only three teams as clear cut +.500 teams for me â€“ Minnesota, Philadelphia and Carolina -- but it should be a dogfight for the NFC title between those three (more on that below). I potentially see three 8-8/9-7 teams making the playoffs this year ... Expect another ulcer-inducing season for the Rams and Marc Bulger (10 interceptions in the red zone), but one that will be just good enough to sneak into the playoffs ... As much as we all here have killed Michael Vick, this Falcons team has the leg power and speed on defense to win games. Ed Hartwell will be one of the best offseason pickups and will make Keith Brooking look even better ... Dennis Green has plucked quarterbacks off the scrap heap in the past (Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon) en route to the playoffs, and he could do it this year with Kurt Warner. JJ Arrington will be offensive rookie of the year as well.
Aaron: Indianapolis Accurately picking the winner of the AFC this year is like accurately guessing which Scrabble tile is the next one out of the bag. But Indy's easy schedule makes them the "E". I feel very confident in saying that the AFC Championship will match the Colts and another team that can probably beat them with running and defense. But I don't know which team that is going to be -- although the Patriots are still the best guess -- and Corey Simon at least gives Indy one player who might help them stop that team from running all over them. Remember that Green Bay lost to Dallas seven straight times between 1993 and 1996, but in the 1996 playoffs, the Panthers knocked off Dallas, the Packers knocked off the Panthers, and Brett Favre -- at the time, known for being unable to win the big ones -- finally won the Super Bowl.
Al: Indianapolis It's this year or never for this team. I vote for this year.
Mike Smith: Baltimore I'm not a Kyle Boller fan, but I wasn't a Trent Dilfer fan, either. I think the offense can be just good enough, and the defense can be very good.
Mike Tanier: Indianapolis The defense looks runny, and opponents are stocking up on defensive backs so they can stop Peyton. But a 6-0 division record is likely, and all of the other division champs will be facing tougher schedules. If the playoffs go through the fast track at Indy, forget about it.
Ned: Indianapolis I just have a hard time not seeing them with the most wins in the conference. Corey Simon is not the greatest player, but I was leaning Colts even before they signed Simon. If the Colts play New England, even in Indy, I maybe would lean towards the Patriots, but odds are they do not meet again. If the Colts are hosting the AFC Championship against anyone else, I think they will win.
Russell: Indianapolis Real original line of thinking coming here -- if the Colts can get home-field advantage, I think this is the year they make it past New England and to the Super Bowl, perhaps over Kansas City in the championship game after taking out New England in the divisional round.
Ryan: Indianapolis In a perfect world, I would be able to make this pick anonymously just to avoid having Rodney Harrison show up at my door with the inevitable questions about disrespect. Well, I have nothing to hide and if anyone's interested (I'm talking to you Mr. Harrison); I spend most of my time in Framingham, MA under the name Schatz. The laws of probability suggest that the Colts have to win a game eventually, even if it's by accident. I think this is the year.
Tim: New England New England beats Indianapolis in the AFC Championship game for the 50th time in a row, this time how 'bout in the RCA Dome for a change. After the game, Peyton Manning's head explodes.
Vivek: Indianapolis A tough schedule and a weakened defense will wear down the Patriots this year. Not enough to prevent them from taking the AFC East, but enough to keep them out of the AFC Championship game. Playing the role of AFC contenders this year will be the Colts and Chiefs. Peyton will finally climb that hill and take the Colts to the Promised Land.
Will: New England
Aaron: Philadelphia Sure, I suppose it could be Carolina or Minnesota, or even Seattle, but one of those teams would have to have nearly everything go right and have a number of things in Philadelphia go wrong in order to be favored in the NFC Championship game.
Al: Carolina I just can't pick the Eagles. Something will go wrong with that team at some point in the year. As I wrote a few weeks ago, this year's Panthers remind me a lot of the 2003 Patriots.
Mike Smith: Carolina I love the front four and I have trust in Jake Delhomme.
Mike Tanier: Philadelphia Every other team in the NFC is hoping Terrell Owens does something flaky. Only the Seahawks and Vikings have the talent to stand up to the Eagles if TO is playing; look for an Eagles-Seahawks title game in Philly, Home of the NFC Title Game.
Ned: Philadelphia The Eagles were head and shoulders above the conference a year ago, and I see no reason why that is different this year. The team had one weakness, run defense, and the insertion of Trotter a year ago seems to have solved that problem. Even an improved Panthers, Seahawks, or Vikings will not be enough to catch the Eagles.
Russell: Carolina The NFC is still well behind the AFC in terms of overall quality, but the depth will be somewhat improved over last season. Philadelphia has come back to the pack a little bit, and I believe Carolina, Seattle and Minnesota will be much improved. All are Super Bowl threats, but I like Carolina to emerge from the pack, even if they have to go on the road in the playoffs.
Ryan: Philadelphia The Eagles will beat the Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. Seriously.
Tim: Minnesota Minnesota over Carolina, which is purely fantasy because I don't think Philly knows how to lose before the conference championship game. But I'll root for it because I'm bored with the Eagles.
Vivek: Minnesota This is Dante Culpepper's show now. The offense will not be as potent as it was in the pas, but Culpepper will make Nate Burleson and Troy Williamson 1,000 yard receivers. Like the Chiefs, the Vikings knew that they had to upgrade on defense and did just that during the winter. Fred Smoot and Darren Sharper will prevent a repeat of last year when opponents dropped 27+ points on the Vikings nine times. The law of averages finally sets in and the Eagles will not make their fifth straight appearance in the NFC title game. Rising to the top of the NFC will be the Panthers courtesy of their defense. Take Julius Peppers, a returning Kris Jenkins, Pro Bowler Dan Morgan and the top two pickoff men in the NFC (Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas) and you have the makings for a potential shutdown defense. The Vikings take this battle 17-13. Did you ever think the Vikings would win a defensive battle in the playoffs?
Will: St. Louis
Aaron: Philadelphia I picked Indy to win their conference since they have the best chance, by far, of being one of the final two in the AFC. I'll pick Philadelphia to win the Super Bowl since they have the best chance, by far, of being one of the final two in the NFL. If the Super Bowl really ends up Eagles-Colts, remember back to my preview from last year's Super Bowl, when I predicted that the Patriots would beat the Eagles because nearly all of Philadelphia's offensive weapons are designed to take advantage of teams with bad linebackers. Which position is Indy's obvious weakness? Yep.
Al: Indianapolis No one will be able to stop the Colts indoors this season.
Mike Smith: Carolina John Fox doesn't get enough credit for what a good coach he is. Even with the injuries that nearly devastated the team last year, the players who were on the field looked ready to go.
Philadelphia Indianapolis I am required to pick the Colts so I do not jinx my Birds. But if this game goes down, the Eagles will stop Peyton more often than the Colts stop Donovan.
Ned: Philadelphia I think they are the best team in football. I think Andy Reid is the second best coach in football. I think Donovan McNabb does not turn the ball over three times no matter who they face.
Russell: Carolina I would like to state for the record that it was only after I made this pick that I went back and checked Dr. Z and realized he picked the same matchup and winner. Carolina over Indianapolis in SB XL, as the Panthers' defense does enough to harrass Manning and mug his receivers to slow the Colts down.
Ryan: Indianapolis Surprisingly, this matchup will be a defensive struggle and the game will be decided when former Eagle Corey Simon sacks McNabb, recovers the fumble, and outraces Terrell Owens to the end zone as time expires.
Tim: New England The owners will begin exploring rules to forbid shared revenues from entering the state of Massachusetts after the Patriots win their 4th in 5 years -- by 3 points. It's too bad, too, because it would be really funny to watch Al Michaels interview Zygi Wilf at midfield.
Vivek: Minnesota I wonder if Randy Moss will call Culpepper to congratulate him after the Vikings win the Super Bowl. What a quarterback showcase â€“ the best since the Jim Kelly-Troy Aikman matchups of Super Bowl XXVII an XXVIII.
Will: New England
CONSENSUS: Philadelphia (Since Mike Tanier picked the Colts but isn't actually picking the Colts.)
|Aaron||Al||Mike Smith||Mike Tanier||Ned|
*Thanks, Joe Gibbs!
Aaron: USC over Georgia
Al: Louisville over Boston College (yes, I know nothing about college football)
Mike Smith: USC over Iowa
Mike Tanier: USC over Texas
Ned: Texas over Louisville
Russell: USC over Texas (each with one loss; USC at Arizona State, Texas at Ohio State)
Ryan: USC over Virginia Tech
Tim: Texas over USC (more homerism)
Vinny: Ohio State over USC (just shoot me)
Vivek: USC over Iowa
Will: USC over Texas (yeah, way out on a limb there)
Aaron: I feel like a robot, reciting the same list of surprises in five-minute interviews on radio stations all over America. They're all in the book, aren't they? Atlanta collapses despite the best efforts of Ed Hartwell. Seattle finally wins a playoff game, but not two. Matt Hasselbeck and Kevin Jones are great, Bobby Engram is swell, Reggie Wayne has better numbers than Marvin Harrison, Brett Favre gets injured, Ben Roethlisberger regresses (and then improves in 2006). No backup running back who has been described in the preseason as a possible candidate to vulture touchdowns from the starting running back actually vultures any touchdowns from the starting running back. Mike Shanahan actually sticks with Mike Anderson all year. Josh McCown starts at least five games. Andre' Davis, not Kevin Curtis or Brandon Stokley, is the top third receiver in fantasy football. The Tennessee Titans learn to play defense around midseason, making them the hot second half team and a popular pick for 2006. Football Outsiders material appears in a very surprising place, not counting the New York Daily News. Boston sports radio station WEEI continues to not return my phone calls.
Al: Chicago and Arizona make the playoffs in the NFC. Brett Favre finishes in last place in his last season. Steve McNair has a resurgence with Norm Chow and a terrible defense that forces him to throw the ball every down. Miami plays playoff spoiler with a nice late season run. Coaches that won't be on the sidelines in 2006: Jim Haslett, Mike Tice, Mike Sherman, Steve Mariucci. Ricky Williams gets hurt in his first game back from his drug suspension and is never heard from again.
Mike Smith: Tim Rattay has a good enough year to turn himself into this year's Drew Brees and turn Alex Smith into this year's Philip Rivers. Daunte Culpepper misses the deep threat of Randy Moss and the protection of Matt Birk and struggles through a mediocre year. Ben Roethlisberger regresses while Eli Manning progresses, causing a debate about which team took the best quarterback in 2004. (Philip Rivers continues to sit on the bench.)
Mike Tanier: Bears are around .500. Ravens, Jets, and Raiders disappoint.
Ned: Well, I think the Bengals are my biggest surprise. I just think that offense by the end of last year (or at least before Palmer got hurt) had reached the upper echelon. They made great strides on defense under Lewis, and I think they will continue to improve. Other teams I like more than most include St. Louis (best offense since 2001), Tampa Bay, and Washington who I think finishes second in the division. I think Clinton Portis bounces back this year, the Colts' defense is a top 10 unit, and J.P. Losman plays pretty well. On the negative side, I think Pittsburgh struggles, Jacksonville finishes in last place, and Dallas finishes under .500. I would bet against Drew Bledsoe and Kurt Warner, but is that really a surprise?
Russell: Nick Saban will edge the Dolphins towards .500 and have them back in the playoffs next year. I like everything I've heard from him this summer. Miami will be a tough game for every opponent and will finish around 7-9 with several narrow defeats. Biggest disappointment: Pittsburgh. I don't like the vibe at all from Steel-town. Something tells me Roethlisberger is headed for not just a disappointing season, but an awful one. He was very shaky by the end of last year and looked lost at times this preseason.
Ryan: Charles Rogers will avoid injury and finally have a big year. The Miami Dolphins will end the season with negative total rushing yards. Kyle Orton will be the best rookie on the Bears, even though he'll spend a lot of time on his back. Braylon Edwards will have a better season than Mark Clayton, and Charlie Frye will have a better season than Kyle Boller. Matt Cassel will start a game during the regular season, and Sunday Night Football will adopt a new format: no announcers!
Tim: I like the Dolphins to be closer to 8-8 than 4-12. (I suppose that means 7-9.) Randy Moss or no, Oakland should still lose more than they win. The Saints' late-season surge brings them to 7-9, and they lose a tiebreaker with the Seahawks, ruining the feel-good story of the year.
Vivek: Dick Vermeil will shed a tear only once on camera this season ... Jay Fiedler wins more games this year for the Jets than Chad Pennington ... Dallas rejuvenates Peerless Price ... Tom Coughlin will be the first head coach let go ... Charlie Weis will almost double Romeo Crennel's win total ... No Patriot wide receiver will play in the secondary.
Will: Saints become the big story, playing inspired football while being homeless. The Cowboys just miss the playoffs after injuries collapse them late. Brett Favre is injured early in the season. Dolphins are better than expected and Nick Saban wins coach of the year. Colts offense sputters. Michael Vick continues to regress. Eli Manning starts to look like Ryan Leaf minus the mood swings. Bears go 1-15.
88 comments, Last at 15 Sep 2005, 9:05pm by thad