As an avid football fan and someone who adores the gladitorialism and strategy that goes into a football game, I am never more excited than in the month of August when training camp has begun, pads are donned, and the gridiron is once again alive with the sounds of really large men trying to kill each other. It’s a beautiful thing, and uniquely American. Baseball may be our pastime, but football is the national sport. And so, in honor of that, I am going to go through each team, by division, and look at what to watch for, how things are going, and even give a prediction too. It’s a lovely inexact science, but then, so is life.
New England Patriots
For the first 40 years or so of their existence, the Pats were a perennial also-ran, at best, and doormat for other teams at worst. Prior to their first championship after the 2001 season, New England had been in 2 Super Bowls; Super Bowl XX where they lost 49-10 against the Bears and XXXI where they lost 35-21 against the Packers. Then Bob Kraft bought the team, Bill Belichick came in and became a genius, and Tom Brady came out of nowhere to become one of the greatest QB’s of all time. The last decade has been theirs, despite their shocking loss to the Giants in SB XLII. So now they’re back, healthy after Brady returning from knee surgery last year, hungry with Randy Moss wanting that ring and Wes Welker being his fiery self, and of course ol’Hoodie prowling the sidelines. For the first time in a while the Pats are not the favorite in their division. That honor goes to the Jets, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The New England defense has taken some hits in the last year. The losses of Rodney Harrison to retirement and Richard Seymour to trade before last season showed through in important situations (like the bludgeoning they received in their first-round playoff loss to the Ravens last January)but the cupboard is far from bare. Jarrod Mayo, the young linebacker, and DT Vince Wilfork form a backbone that most teams would kill for, and even though the secondary is a little green and lacking, the creativity of Belichick’s mad genius will show through. Plus they built through the draft on defense, and if anyone can draft, its ol’ Bill. One wonders if the versatility of Seymour, who can play either DE or DT, is missed more than is said from the closed-mouthed front office. The offense is not a problem, as they’ll be able to pass with the best of them and run sufficiently enough to keep teams honest. With the Wildcard a nice fallback in case they don’t win the division, look for the Pats in the playoffs again. Though their division is stiff with the Dolphins coming around and the Jets looking like a team to beat this year according to most pundits (seriously, look at that roster) , a little luck will have to be on the side of the New Englanders. Predicition : 12-4, playoffs
New York Jets
This is the definition of a sexy pick for the Super Bowl. The Jets spent like they were the New York Yankees, taking advantage of no salary cap this season by signing vets like LaDanian Tomlinson, picking up CB Antonio Cromartie to pair with the “best cornerback in the league” Darrell Revis, trading for Santonio Holmes from the Steelers, and getting Jason Taylor as a pass-rusher. Combine all that with the big-balls living of coach Rex Ryan, and if nothing else you have a fun team to watch. They’ll blitz, hit hard, move fast, and play their guts out, that’s what Ryan can guarantee. Further muddling the picture though are the questions of whether Revis will get his new deal done and how all these egos will mesh. Most of the signings, like Tomlinson and Taylor, are hungry veterans that want a ring or proven winners like Holmes. Cromartie, if he can get his paternity issues out of the way, could be one half of a lock-down couple of corners. Of course, if second year QB Mark Sanchez hits a bump in the road, it will all be for naught. He started out volcanic last year, but collapsed down the stretch. That’s a lot of “if’s” for a Super Bowl contender, more than I am happy with, and remember that they only won 9 games last season, sneaking into the playoffs with a combination of luck and gritty hustle. Still, sleeping on the “stinky old Jets” as their D-lineman Chris Jenkins referred to them last year, is a dangerous thing. Their O-line is stiff, even with the loss of Alan Faneca (who was aging anyway) and Shonn Green should be a great feature back. Their other issues are similar to the Pats problems; they have to play New England and Miami twice, and their schedule is a lot less forgiving then last year’s. Moreso than last year this is going to be a test of coach Ryan’s mettle. A man who focuses only on defense, even if it’s the defense that won a championship in 2000, is still a little one-sided. Ryan and Sanchez, not Revis, Taylor, or Tomlinson, are the crux of this team, and a couple of second-year guys are dangerous to bet on. But with this team, they’re dangerous to bet against, too. Of course, Jets history is littered with tales of woe e and crippling bad luck, but that’s why you play the game Prediction : 11-5, playoffs.
For two years in a row now the Dolphins have confused fans, columnists, and probably other coaches repeatedly. Head Coach Tony Sparano and “football czar” Bill Parcells are doing a great job to build a team that adheres to the winning tradition Miami football has had for its whole existence. Be it Don Schula and his perfect season or Dan Marino and his magic under center, Dolphins fans are accustomed to seeing a good product, and this team is on its way back. The acquisition of Brandon Marshall from the Broncos is going to have a massive impact on young QB Chad Henne. After all, look what Jay Cutler did with him in Denver and then his numbers in Chicago, and likewise for Kyle Orton. There are few wideouts that make their QB look so good, and Marshall is going to be electric in Miami. Combine that with an apparently ageless Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown running out of the Wildcat, and this is a scary team. I have long held that a strong offensive line is the key to any team, and the Dolphins have that, at least. Jake Long at OT was a great pick in the draft a couple years ago, and its all grown from there. Unfortunately for Henne, Long, Marshall and company, they aren’t winning anything this year since their defense is pretty faceless. Its stout, make no bones about that, but its not elite by any stretch of the imagination. This is a ball-control team, or it was last year. When they played the Colts and had the ball for about 45 minutes but still lost, that was basically the story of this team. On the rise, and able to mix it up with the big dogs, but ultimately falling short. Sparano is a fantastic defensive mind, able to keep this team cooking with exotic looks and creative blitz packages, and that’s how they’ll win this year. A couple of contenders are going to face this team and come away a little shaken by what they see,a nd opposing coaches will not enjoy the week’s buildup to this game. An easy schedule will help the Phins out, but again, as with the others in their division, there are 4 games against the Pats and Jets. Still, there has been a decided sea change down in South Beach, and in a few years the Dolphins are going to do more than just scare people. Predicition : 9-7.
So here is a team that is lost, adrift in the endless sea of bad drafts, uninterested fans, and a tough as nails division. The selection of CJ Spiller in the draft only continues to highlight the Bills ineffectiveness. Sure, he could be good, but why get a running back when you can’t block, defend the run, the pass, or kick? Or throw for that matter. There was a time when this was a proud team, and they went to 4 straight Super Bowls with Jim Kelly and company. Since that time, upstate New York has been pining for a winner, and nothing has shown itself. Its going to be an ugly season, be it Trent Edwards or someone else under center. At least they found a new coach that isn’t Dick Jauron, but Chan Gailey is no Bill Walsh. Still, Edwards is a capable QB as long as he isn’t getting his head knocked in, and Marshawn Lynch is hungry to be the feature back in this offense. Its that busted line that is going to doom this team more than anything, seeing as how there are 6 games against very good defensive minds in their divisional play alone, not to mention the Packers (top-ranked rush defense against a rush first team), the Steelers (Linebacker, Inc. one announcer called them), Ray Lewis and the Ravens, a very hungry Bears team, and of course the Vikings (Jared Allen will feast). It is not going to be a happy time to be the Bills QB this year, somebody is going to get their head dented. Lee Evans is a very good wide receiver, but unless your last name is Rice, you aren’t carrying a team. Al Davis once said that to win “the quarterback must go down, and must go down hard”, and that will be the theme at Ralph Wilson Stadium. At least they’ll have a shot at a nice pick next draft, as long as there isn’t a lockout. Either way, it’ll be a long, long season for the Bills. Predicition : 4-12. And I feel generous. They could be the worst team in the league.
Up Next : AFC North. Cool your jets, its a long preseason.