For the past, I dunno, five years or so, I've made the same Superbowl prediction, Eagles vs. Chargers. I don't think that's going to happen this year-- but more because of the Chargers then the Eagles, honestly. I think this is a pretty wide open year, with my hunch being that a lot of the traditional powers will take a step back, and that we'll see some surprising teams. Of course, that's pretty much what happens every year, doesn't it? Anyway, here's my division picks, and maybe even a Super Bowl pick, if I decide on one by the end of my typing. Naturally, we'll start in the most important place:
NFC East: Eagles, Redskins, Cowboys, Giants
You may detect some homerism here, and some wishful thinking. Well, fuck you. I'm sure as hell not picking the Cowboys. But, honestly, I do think the Cowboys are going to struggle more then most. Yeah, they finally had a late season breakthrough last year. Bully for them. Now do it again.
A lot of people seem to think that the Giants' collapse was an aberration, but c'mon, it happened in week six. Week after week they went out still in control of their own playoff fate, and week after week they looked like garbage. The Redskins, on the other hand, were a lot better last year then their record. They outplayed at least three playoff teams, including the eventual champion, but were unable to seal the deal. With McNabb and Shanahan, that shouldn't be a problem this year.
As for the Eagles, let's just say this: they'll be the surprise team in the league this year; Kevin Kolb will be the breakout star; Stewart Bradley will be All-Pro; and Andy Reid will (again) be coach of the year. That seems like a fair and balance prediction, right?
NFC South: Falcons, Saints, Panthers, Bucs
The Saints had a storybook year last year, but they're due for a tumble. The Falcons will follow a typical football pattern: breakout playoff year, followed by regression the next year, followed by a resurgence as a legit Super Bowl contender. The Panthers look to be slightly less shitty then the Bucs, so they'll be third. Advice to Bucs fan Dave Miller: definitely don't get the Sunday Ticket this year.
NFC North: Packers, Vikings, Lions, Bears
Everybody else is on the Packers bandwagon, so why not me? It would be lovely to see Brett Favre return just to see Aaron Rogers and co. leapfrog him. Heck, the Vikings have the smell of desperate team throwing everything against the wall to win, and imploding. Of course, so do the Bears. I think the Lions are headed in the right direction, and will be a pleasant surprise, and will even pass Chicago.
NFC West: 49ers, Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams
Yeah, the dogshit division (boy, I'm cursing a lot today, aren't I?). San Francisco looks to finally be legit again, but we've been fooled by them before. But I'm rooting for Mike Singletary, so they get the benefit of the doubt. Besides, everyone else will be somewhere between mediocre and terrible. The Cardinals are looking to replace Kurt Warner with the guy that couldn't hold down the Browns' job. The Browns. The Seahawks are in transition, so no one knows what to expect from them, but probably not much. And I will be forever mystified why Steve Spagnuolo, one of the hottest head coaching prospects after the Giants' Super Bowl year, decided to take the Rams job. Hope he gets another shot after he's fired for going 2-14 again.
AFC East: Patriots, Dolphins, Jets, Bills
I honestly do not like any team in this division this year. The Jets seem to me to be headed for a comeuppance. They are at act one of a Will Ferrell movie, where their hubris leads to their undoing. Next year's the year they come back humbler, wiser, better. The Patriots are definitely on the way down, but I guess there's enough left in the tank for another division title. I dunno. They benefited for years from the weakness around them, and they don't have that luxury any more. The Dolphins could definitely sneak back in, like they did two years ago, but I'm not big on them either. I suppose I should root for them, considering that Chad Henne is also an alum of Wilson High School.
Are the Buffalo Bills still in the NFL? They are, in the immortal words of Ned Flanders, the NFL's answer to a question no one asked.
AFC South: Texans, Colts, Titans, Jaguars
Yeah, I think this is the year the Texans finally break through, and that the Colts begin to regress. Peyton Manning absolutely carried them last year, in a way I've never seen before, and I just don't think he can do that again. Eventually, Jim Cauldwell's going to have to prove if he's an elite coach or not. I'll say not. I'm tempted to predict that the Titans will also jump over them, but I won't go that far. Maybe next year. At least they don't have to worry about the Jags, the NFL's...er.... answer to a question....
AFC North: Ravens, Steelers, Browns, Bengals
Also an interesting division. I think the Ravens are the real deal, and that Joe Flacco and Ray Rice are ready to take the next step (and I love John Harbaugh). The secondary is worrysome, though. It's very difficult to predict where the Steelers will end up, because even with Roethlesberger playing at the highest levels of his career, they still collapsed last year. I've never been a big Troy Polamalu guy, but I guess he really does make all the difference. As for last year's division champ, how can a team add both Pacman Jones and Terrell Owens and not implode? They made the playoffs because they went 6-0 in their division last year; that won't happen again. I like the direction the Browns are heading in; I think Jake Delhomme will provide them with competent quarterbacking, which will be enough to get them out of the basement.
AFC West: Chargers, Raiders, Broncos, Chiefs
The Chargers have had such a ridiculous advantage over the other elite teams of the NFL in terms of division foes over the last few years it's made us all overvalue them. No more. They'll still win the division, but not as handily. I seriously expect the Raiders to give them quite a run. I've always liked Jason Campbell, and think he got a bit of a raw deal in Washington. The Broncos will continue to regress, sadly for Brian Dawkins. The Chiefs are not the NFL's answer to a question nobody asked, but only because that's the Bills and the Jaguars.
So there you go. As for the playoffs, lets go with the Eagles, Falcons, Packers, Niners, Saints and Redskins in the NFC, and the Patriots, Titans, Ravens, Chargers, Colts, and Steelers in the AFC. And in the Super Bowl, how about the Ravens and... hmmm... let's see here... oh yeah, the Philadelphia freakin' Eagles. Can you guess who I like to win that game?