A lot of the talk out of the SEC and their dominance over the National Championship for college football mentions their streak of wins in that game. Ask my buddy Brett, who lives with an Auburn fan (that must be REAL bad right now) SEC fans are crazy. No doubt it’s been a heck of a run, and they’ve beaten some very good opponents that rode strong seasons to get there. But really, lets take a look back and see just what the SEC has done to these poor teams. If you look at it, other than a thumping of Oklahoma, the SEC really hasn’t been beating the best competition in the country. They’ve been the biggest beneficiary of the lack of a playoff, in part because they’d knock eachother off, and also because they don’t face the best of the best, even if they are playing a number 1 or 2 ranked team. lets go back these last 4 years and take a look.
2010 – Alabama v. Texas
Alabama rode a superb defense led by Rolando McClain, the stout Terrence Cody and a fine young corner in Javier Arenas as well as a Heisman season by Mark Ingram to the title game. nevermind that Ingram wasn’t the best player in the country but instead the best player on the best team, this game has a bit of a cloud over it. On the first drive of the game, for whatever reason Mack Brown called an option left with his hyper accurate golden-armed superboy Colt McCoy carrying it, and McCoy suffered a pinched nerve in his throwing shoulder on the hit. A freak accident that knocked the kid out of the game for good and put Garrett Gilbert in, people across the country were shocked at this turn of events. Gilbert was a blue chipper out of high school, just as the UT quarterback should be, but to throw him into the fire like this was to do a major disservice to how good this freshman could be. The Longhorns weren’t at full strength and yet they were still threatening late into the game, and had real chances to win it that, if it had been McCoy back there, they no doubt would have. Yes, injuries are a part of the game, but still, this puts a bit of a damper on the shine of the Coaches Trophy in Tuscaloosa.
2009 – Florida v. Oklahoma
There’s not much to say about this game- Tim Tebow is simply one of the greatest college football players to ever step on the field. Even with Sam Bradford at the helm, the swarming and strong Florida defense made it a hectic day to say the least for the Sooners. I’ll give this one to them, the Gators just beat Oklahoma. HOWEVER, the Sooners were neither the best nor the second best team that year. USC lost earlier in the season in a let-down game against Oregon State, and the Trojans had one of the best defenses not just that year, but in college football history. The Gators lucked out in that respect, plus the fact that the BCS had a hard-on for Tebow pretty much his entire career. The Trojans were in my eyes the best team in the country, despite that one loss. The Gators also had one loss, and if it hadn’t been for Tebow and the BCS computers artificially overrating the SEC a bit, USC would have come in and taken the trophy away. Yet another example of why a playoff is necessary. I know you can only play the teams you’re allowed to face, but nevertheless, Oklahoma got in because of a couple fluke losses, and if it had gone differently and USC had faced the Gators, I have no doubt Troy would have been victorious. Florida had Brandon Spikes leading their D, but USC had Ray Malaluga leading it, a better coaching mind in Pete Carroll, not to mention Taylor Mays and the rest of the linebacking corps in Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing. Just beastly if you ask me. A Rose Bowl was great, but the title should have been USC’s.
2007 and 2008 – Florida/LSU v. Ohio State
For the life of me I don’t understand how Ohio State got ranked so highly so much. Yes, they won a lot of games, undefeated in both these years, but the Big 10 just isn’t that good, I don’t get it. They routinely have trouble in inter-conference play, and Jim Tressell tightens up, Marty Schottenheimer style, in big games. I give little credit to Florida or LSU for these games, each a blowout and the Tigers got to play in the Superdome- it was basically a home game for them. There were definitely better teams out there than the Buckeyes both these years, if nothing else SC had some great teams, and Texas is rarely bad. But Ohio State was the lucky one in a year of upsets, riding other teams losses to victory. The luck ran out in January (compounded by playing a virtual LSU home game in New Orleans) and Tressell continued to blow it when it matters. He’s doing a great job of making that one title back in ’03 look like a fluke. There are times when you have to take a chance, but the Sweater Vest must not understand that inorder to receive great reward, there must be some risk. Woody Hayes retired (was fired, whatever) 30 years ago.
So what do we pull from all this? Obviously the SEC has had a good run these last few years, and this latest National Championship is, at least to me, on the level. Oregon is a great team, they score the hell out of the ball, and because the computers and pollsters hate the non-AQ teams, it’s the best we can get. Auburn is looking like the better team, but Chip Kelly works harder than Chizik. It’s not hard when your QB is bigger than the other team’s linebackers and faster than their corners. I still think TCU could give any of these teams a run for its money, but we’ll have to wait till next year. Plus, whatever happens, they’re still undefeated and beat a very hot Wisconsin team. But looking back, the SEC, while it has won against the teams it’s had to face, hasn’t faced the best team, just more often than not the luckiest team, or the recipient of an early-season slip up by a potential juggernaut. SEC fans will celebrate their wins and how dominant they are, but at least one school, situated in Compton of all places, and maybe some guys down in Austin, Texas, should have something to say. Wins are wins, but the wins the SEC has put together have not been the most convincing. Also, Ohio State is garbage, plain and simple, along with the rest of their terrible conference. Nebraska’s about to have a field day.
“To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold–brothers who know now that they are truly brothers.” – A. MacLeish
I need to go to space.
The world is such a massive place, full of literally everything there is to do in the world. Everything we know is here on Earth, every existence, every action, every idea we’ve heard of. Then I’m reading Beetle Bailey today, and old dummy Zero asks the question of what space means. Is it the space between everything, or is it the distant stars?
Now, I have experienced a vast nothingness. I went to school in Illinois and vistas of nothing but cornfields were never far off. I drove from Minnesota to California, and I haven’t seen such nothing as is in Nebraska, or Utah. But even in this nothingness, there’s stuff. There’s dirt, sand, in Utah’s case, salt. Obviously corn in the corn fields. But there’s never nothing, like there is in space. I want, I need to experience this nothingness, an empty void where all that surrounds is a cold, dark vacuum. Emptiness, the true emptiness that smells strong, metallic, and unique, according to astronauts. And who doesn’t believe astronauts?
I’ve always had a place in my heart for space travel. That sounds a little weird, because who wouldn’t like to go into outer space? But even as a kid when Star Wars enraptured me I would look to the heavens and wonder. Not about anything in particular, you understand, just wonder. Let the mind travel to wherever it wanted, even to the stars. Looking at these points of light and realizing they were the same thing as the sun that was so bright during the day, sometimes even bigger and brighter. As a young’un this was incredible. When someone told me that the light we see from stars is thousands of years old, that if you were in that stars’ solar system you would see Roman centurions and whatnot, I was floored. That was incredible to me. That meant that even if I had a telescope to look that far, I would be seeing the past! That opened up whole new avenues of thought into time travel, but that’s a story for another day.
The picture entitled Earthrise (it’s at the top of this post), taken by some astronaut whose name you could find out if you were less lazy than I, is to me one of the most thought provoking pictures ever taken. Maybe not even thought provoking as contemplation provoking. Someone once said that the unexamined life is a life not worth living, and a picture like that, to me, forces a look at oneself. We all have a sense of self worth, whether high or low (personally, I feel like I’m worth my weight in gold, which equals out to $3.6 million, from my last weigh in) but a picture like that just makes you think about existence. If the light from other stars is thousands of years old, that means that all you’re looking at is dead light, and if you see another life form, you have no idea if they’re still there. It’s just a dead image. That means that if they see Earth with a telescope, they’d either see the centurions, or, if they see you they see you dead 1000 years. I don’t mean to be morbid, but more just that images of Earth as this little rock, the Blue Marble photo, things like that just make you realize how big it all is, and how small you are. Seriously, the earth is 3.6 billion years old, the sun almost 6 billion or something, and we’re around for about 80 years if we’re lucky to live in the US or whatever. What does that mean, what do we mean, in the scheme of things?
I’m not going to sit here and say go crazy, life doesn’t matter, but I don’t think I can agree with taking life as seriously as some do. I mean really, we are only here for a little while when it gets down to it, so doesn’t it seem like there’s no room for getting all worked up over bullshit. There’s things that matter, sure, like nuclear war or global warming, things that impact future life on Earth that could impact eventual growth into space. But the bullshit? Nah, man, that’s nothing to get pissed about, that’s something to have fun with. Although I wouldn’t suggest actually finding bull feces and playing with it, that sounds unsanitary.
Earth is a big small place, just as a peanut M&M Is salty-sweet. Best of both sides I guess. We have room to look around, explore, but it’s like a big ol’ play pen before we break out into the universe. And we weren’t allowed to fight or be mean in kindergarten, it wasn’t copacetic. So what’s the deal with doing it to other countries? Anti-war, etc. Space is big, and we need to get there. So do I. I’m out of words. Good luck.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, part of the problem
A couple months back I watched A Law Abiding Citizen, with Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx. Butler plays a character whose wife and daughter are raped and murdered by a couple of criminals during a home invasion, then he exacts a disturbingly brutal revenge on them after they were sentenced to only a couple years of prison. He also focuses his vengeance on the system that let them get out early, meaning the judge, arresting officers, prosecutors, etc., killing them in cinematically spectacular fashion apparently you learn he was an assassin for the Defense Department who used complex techniques to kill Taliban, Al Qaeda, whatever the enemy du jour was for the US government. Foxx is the prosecutor from the case that got a plea bargain so as not to fuck up his conviction record in court, so he could be more electable as district attorney, or mayor or something. In all, a fantastic movie, but something bothered me about it, or at least triggered neurons in my brain to start firing. I didn’t really have a grasp on it till recently, which made that movie much more eye-opening when seen like that. Without getting too wordy right off the bat, the character Butler plays in that movie is an embodiment of popular disgust with the system as its set up now, sort of the Tea Party prior to its astroturfing by the right wing, with Foxx as the Obama character, the one trying to make it right and get Butler to stop what he’s doing. It’s a movie not unlike Network, somebody snapped and said “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Delicately carved from the woods west of Naugatuck State Forest, the Golf Club at Oxford Greens is one of Connecticut’s most impressive golf courses and has been named the “3rd Best Public Course in Connecticut” by Golfweek. Taking full advantage of more than 680 acres of natural beauty, breathtaking vistas, and ever-changing terrain, The Golf Club combines New England’s greatest resources with a neoclassical design. (more…)
Giants RB Brandon Jacobs (Al Bello / Getty Images)
Kudos to the Giants for being able to maintain a level of competitiveness despite losing one of the best wide receivers last year in Plaxico Burress. The guy could ball, and only had one leg working the whole season. But competing is not contending, and there the Giants are lacking. Coach Tom Coughlin was supposed to be fired back in ’07, but the Giants went on to win a championship, which is always good for job security. Also, Eli Manning got a fat contract, and from my point of view at least, did a good job of making him the most overrated QB in the league. I was a little irritated by the positive comparisons writers and talking heads were making between him and his brother last year, when he tore it up the first five weeks. But that’s last year, and Manning is a capable QB. The major question mark on this team is at the halfback position. Brandon Jacobs was a wrecking ball in ’07 and ’08, but his running style seemed to catch up with him last season. Is he healthy? If so, the Giants have a good season ahead of them. The offensive line is pretty much the same as in their Super Bowl run, and as the Colts and Patriots have shown us, continuity is the key to that group. Manning isn’t carrying this team though, that’s for sure. If the Giants can get back to the defense and ball control that won the thing in ’07 especially against the high-powered offenses they face in-division, they could frustrate a bundle of higher rated teams in the Cowboys and Eagles. It all hinges on Jacobs. Defensively, a lot of fans are pissed that Rolando McClain wasn’t there for the G-Men, but Jason Pierre-Paul, while raw, is in the right place to learn the position of defensive end from some of the best. Osi Umenyiora is back and less pissed at his team it seems, so the front four seem to be pretty solid. Unfortunately they got rid of Antonio Pierce which leaves the team without a real leader on defense. the front four are the engine that runs the whole squad, and with the problems at safety and cornerback as well as linebacker this team could face a lot of long days. They seem to miss Steve Spagnuolo more and more with each passing day. Still, if they keep with Coughlin’s mandate of playing every down hard and not letting up in true Giant football fashion, combined with the bludgeoning the four teams in the division lay on each other, who knows, they could catch some magic once again. It’s a lot of ifs and maybes, but a fan sees those as yes’s. Like Dave Chappelle said, “Maybe? I can work with maybe. It’s those no’s that get me.” A new stadium and a firey fan base are in their favor, so who knows. Prediction : 8-8. Not bold, but I’m not sold either way with this team.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (Martinez / Getty)
Owner Jerry Jones has a right to be excited about his Cowboys this year. They added an exciting player in Dez Bryant, but other than that, they’re the same team as a year ago. Miles Austin came out of nowhere, and when Roy Williams is your number three or four wideout, you don’t have problems. That’s one guy you don’t mind telling to can it when he complains about touches, like the opposite of a certain number 81. Letting offensive tackle Flozell Adams walk was a good move since he was aging and Doug Free seems like a capable replacement, and the line in general seems pretty solid and as big as ever, Texas style. The Boys luck out because of the lack of a great pass-rusher in their division plus Tony Romo is very mobile in the pocket, so protection shouldn’t be a problem. The offense is all-around badass, make no mistake, with Marion Barber and Felix Jones sharing carries and Jason Witten continuing to be the standard at which modern tight ends should be measured. His rapport with Romo is amazing, they could find eachother if blindfolded in a forest. Tashard Choice is a nice number three back, probably better than some number ones around the league. Defensively, other than DeMarcus Ware it seems like the cupboard is a little bare. Jay Ratliff is a moose of a man though, and Igor Olshansky is a big ugly with a mean streak, so at least the run shouldn’t be a huge problem for them. Their linebackers are getting a little long in the tooth, guys like Keith Brooking pushing 35 and Bradie James leaning on 30. If Tony Sparano were still around I would say that’s not a problem because he’d just dial up some complexity to confound the other guy, but he isn’t, so it is. Terrence Newman is a good corner, but without safeties to add over the top help and linebackers to put pressure on the QB, it’s going to be tough for him to cover the whole field. All the defense has to do is keep the Cowboys in the game though, and the offense will win it. There’s a lot of talent, particularly on the offense, so while they aren’t a lock to win it all, the continuity at QB and the veterancy of the team should make them a favorite to win the division. Prediction : 12-4, playoffs.
Eagles new QB Kevin Kolb(Jim McIsaac / Getty Images)
This is a boom or bust kind of a team right here. In unloading Donovan McNabb for Kevin Kolb and not resigning Brian Westbrook, the Eagles have all but cut ties with the team that has gone to 4 NFC Championships in the last decade. Kolb, despite a couple of starts, is a basically unproven asset, and though Andy Reid is one of the most creative, exiting offensive minds in the game, it remains to be seen where Kolb will lead them. Much like the Cowboys, other than a couple shiny parts the defense is a little lax, but like the Boys, the offense is where the magic happens anyway. Youth at receiver with DeSean Jackson (if he can hold onto the ball all the way across the goal line) and Jeremy Maclin (if he can stop complaining about hurt) are just a couple of tools Reid has at his disposal for his video game –based offense. Another new face in running back LeSean McCoy seems like an exciting addition and could be a capable replacement for Westbrook, a man who was an offense by himself. The key to all this is replacing John Runyan at left tackle to keep the line a solid piece of machinery for another year. On the other side of the ball, the only name that someone would recognize is Asante Samuel. A great corner, it will be hard for him to do anything if there’s no pressure on the QB and no safety coverage or anything like that. They’re going to give up points, but if Kolb does work out, they’ll score them too. I’m just glad I’m not an Eagles fan because it could get real ugly if Kolb isn’t the real deal. This may all be a cover up for a rebuilding year, more like a reloading year really. They did a lot of drafting with the Donovan trade, the first four picks all defense, so there is a lot of unproven talent there. If it all works out the Eagles are Super Bowl contenders. If not, middle of the road at best. They’re still a tough team though, the furthest thing from a pushover. Prediction : 10-6. Probably playoffs, if it all works properly. If not, hoo doggy, things could go bad.
Dan Snyder continues to throw money at problems and hope they’ll go away. The thing is, with all the talent on this team you’d think they’d be really good. Donovan McNabb moves south for the winter, bringing old friend Brian Westbrook with him. That alone should be enough to make the Giants, Eagles, and Cowboys nervous. McNabb with a chip on his shoulder combined with a possibly healthy Westbrook was always dangerous, but now they have a coach with a winning pedigree in Mike Shanahan and something personal driving them outside of winning. The wide receiver position is a little questionable, but McNabb has worked in Philadelphia for most of his career with worse, so that shouldn’t be a problem. The line though is where Skins fans should be worried. His whole career in Philly, Donovan had days of protection because Big John Runyan and his boys were there. The line in Washington is at best tissue papery, at worst sieve-like. Donovan isn’t as mobile as he once was, and this could prove to be a problem. At least Jason Campbell was able to evade some sacks despite being knocked around last season. Chris Cooley is back from an injury plagued season, and should resume his position as a top flight tight end. On the other side of the ball Albert Haynesworth is finally in camp and could prove to be the key to this whole operation. When the best defensive lineman is the nose tackle in your 3-4, good things are in the offing. Him plus London Fletcher at LB is a dangerous combo. And let’s not forget the young Brian Orakpo. His rookie year was filthy, and now that he’s back in the 3-4 he’s comfortable in it should free him up a little more to crush the QB or whoever gets in his way. The defense could be quite solid especially against the run. If DeAngelo Hall, CB, can play to his potential and stop trying to jump routes so much, and LeRon Landry can play as a serviceable to very good safety, that could be a solid secondary. But, anyone who watches football can tell you, the NFC East loves to run the ball, even the Eagles, so it’s going to start and end with that front seven, as ever. And as long as the offensive line holds up, the Skins could actually challenge the Boys and Eagles for supremacy. Who knows, it’s a tough division that could send three teams to the playoffs. Prediction : 9-7, playoffs?
Sean Merriman, San Diego Chargers LB (Donald Miralle / Getty Images)
Perennial underachievers, that is the tag to slap on this team from Southern California. Oddly enough, the only professional team from an area that is one of the most populated in the nation and also football hungry, the Chargers have a hard time filling their stadium on an eight game winning streak. Even so, in the regular season few are as dangerous as this squad. Coach Norv Turner returns to drag this team back to mediocrity for another year and utterly cripple them in the postseason ( I am convinced that Turner’s effect on teams is to draw them as close to 8-8 as possible, regardless of talent level). In many ways though the Chargers have done good work with addition by subtraction. The decision to not resign LaDanian Tomlinson for another year will be a boon for this team, as LT demanded touches that took away from the work of quarterback Phillip Rivers. Now that he’s gone the playbook can open up a little more and Turner can (maybe) use Darren Sproles in more creative means by putting him in space. The drafting of Ryan Matthews out of Fresno State should alleviate any drop off from LT’s departure, but if anything it really will be a boost, as Matthews is younger, fresher, and hungrier. Rivers himself has ascended to the level of elite QB and unquestioned leader of this team. Say what you will about his demeanor and his antics on the field, Rivers has a cannon of an arm, great vision on the field, and is smart as a whip when it comes to football. As long as Rivers is under center and Antonio Gates is the tight end, this offense will score on you, and score in bunches. Vincent Jackson’s absence due to holdout won’t be a problem since Rivers has a poor man’s Manning effect on wideouts. The O-line has not been mentioned in the press in a long time, which is all you want from your big guys. Defensively is where the Chargers will face the biggest dropoff. The loss of Antonio Cromartie, even though they got some goods in a trade, is going to make Quentin Jammer the number one corner, and opposing quarterbacks will adore this. Sean Merriman is continuing his precipitous fall post-steroid use, and will be continually ineffective. Sean Phillips is a beast up front, but with Merriman falling off, teams can focus on him. The Chargers will benefit from a continually weak AFC West, with the Chiefs still in some kind of holding pattern, the Broncos getting hurt left and right, and the Raiders trying to claw their way out of a cellar. Probably the only divisional team that could scare them is the Raiders in fact. The Chargers will see the postseason only because they haven’t fallen off hard enough in a weak division, but that crown is getting a little heavy, and their time on top is waning. A deep drive just isn’t in the cards for the powder blue Bolts. Prediction : 11-5, playoffs, probably.
Oakland Raiders RB Darren McFadden (Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images)
As I disclosed at the end of the last post, I am a Raiders fan, Silver and Black till I die. But even so, the objective part of me sees good things in Oakland’s future. The dumping of super-bust JaMarcus Russell was probably the biggest move this team made in the offseason, and now there is actually a leader under center and some continuity at coach. Tom Cable gets a lot of hate for breaking his assistant’s jaw, being a numbskull, and generally just seeming like more of a fan than a football coach. But he is what this team needed, a disciplinarian that expects only the best from his players. He is eternally upbeat and has the whole team on one page, with the slogan “1-0” hanging over every practice. Its been a long, long couple of years in Oakland, with the much-publicized 11+ loss seasons running to 7 straight. This is apparently a record, but that is the past. Jason Campbell, formerly of the Redskins, comes to town with a chip on his shoulder, a proven history of being able to get it done even in terrible situations like Washington’s, and a young, eager group around him. In his time in Washington, Campbell never really tasted winning and was pilloried for it. But when you don’t have any continuity and an overly meddlesome owner like Dan Reeves its hard to get anything going. So coming to Oakland is a fresh start for the still-young Campbell, only 27. He did go 13-0 at Auburn, which since USC had to vacate every win in 2004 are the national champs by default. Anyone who talks about football is raving about Hue Jackson at offensive coordinator for what he did in Baltimore the last couple of years, and I won’t say anything bad, as long as he gets a little more creative in the play calling, since Cable really didn’t have the mind for it last year and showed it late in games. Cable has bolstered the offensive line, a piece of the team that has long been the source of the Raiders problems. The draft class included physical freak Bruce Campbell and Jared Veldheer, the best D-2 player in the country. Both these young men are great picks as linemen, and after some seasoning will make a big impact. The offensive line is where Cable has long made his bread so its important for him to make it the best it can be. The receiving corps is young and pretty unproven, but if Chaz Schillens can stay healthy, Louis Murphy can continue to grow from the flashes of brilliance he showed last year and first rounder Darrius Heyward-Bey can improve, it’s a young fast crew to be catching balls from a good QB for once. Tight end Zach Miller will really have a breakout season and show everyone outside California he is one of the best in the game. The running game should be pretty good as long as Jackson can figure out how to use Darren McFadden properly. McFadden and Michael Bush are a great one-two combo, with one being the home-run hitter in the Adrian Peterson mold (McFadden) and the other being the wrecking ball (Bush) The Raiders got smart in the draft, picking Rolando McClain to help the linebacker corps. McClain is a beast, catching rave reviews from anyone who has seen him, and based on the bludgeoning the Crimson Tide laid on the SEC and Texas last season, he’s going to be great. Richard Seymour comes back for another year and the Raiders also drafted Lamarr Houston out of Texas to boost the d-line. The young man is a monster, and may be moved to defensive end from his original position of d-tackle in an effort to help stop the run. That is really the crux of the whole season for the Raiders, is stopping the run. The secondary will be fine, with Namdi Asomugha continuing to be the best corner in the league, with apologies to Darrell Revis. On the other side, Chris Johnson has the unenviable task of being the target of opposing offenses, but he played a very solid game last year, and that should continue to improve if the Raiders can get pressure on the QB. The safeties in Tyvon Branch, Michael Huff, and the young, hard hitting Mike Mitchell have tons of potential, it remains to be seen if that shows through. Yes, there has been a shift in the AFC West, and the Chargers would be wise to note it, as the Raiders are poised to rise again, and bring the Silver and Black back to what they once were. Its an important season for the Raiders, and though the playoffs aren’t in the offing, there’s a reason you play all 16 games, so who knows what will happen. The Broncos have taken a step back as have the Chargers, and the Chiefs continue to founder. The schedule is pretty easy, so its not a huge stretch to see Oakland in January, but still, realism prevails. Prediction : 9-7
The Denver Broncos
Denver fans must be as confused as I am about this team. It seems like only two years ago this was a team on the rise with a young gun at QB, a defense that was making strides in the right direction, and the magic of Mike Shanahan that allowed anyone to step into the running back role and rush for 100 yards in any given game. Then Shanahan got fired, frat boy coach Josh McDaniels came in with a Belichick-ian swagger that doesn’t work if you haven’t won anything and blew it all up. Cutler was gone for what turned into Tim Tebow and the Bears gave the Broncos Mr. Mullet himself in Kyle Orton. Orton always had a place in my heart because of his tenacity and obvious enjoyment of the game, though now I rather detest him if only because of his location. Brandon Marshall, all-everything wide receiver talked his way out of Denver, so now the receiving corps includes Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokley, and not much else. For this Orton will suffer despite his ability to not throw picks since Marshall can make anyone look like an all-Pro. The running game with Knowshawn Moreno will continue to improve, but that offensive line is looking pretty haggard of late and needs an infusion of fresh legs sooner rather than later. McDaniels is going to have his work cut out for him with not having a real game-changer on the offensive side of the ball, much less the defensive side. Speaking of which, Elvis Dumervil, last year’s sack king, is out for a long time with a torn pectoral. I saw Ricky Williams suffer one of these in his first game back, and it knocked him out for the season. So other than Dumervil, Champ Bailey still prowls the secondary, and though the old man may have lost a step, is still one of the better corners in the league. Denver’s linebacker corps is pretty empty, definitely not striking terror into anyone’s heart. McDaniels seems to have made moves for the future, so the Broncos and their fans don’t see the postseason in the offing. The aforementioned pick of Tebow at 25 in the draft has been hated on by many, but that guy is going to be a winner in the NFL, make no bones about it. His work ethic, the fact that he’s sitting out the whole season probably, and his track record for winning no matter the cost will pay off in the long term for Denver. Much like Vince Young in Tennessee, the guy knows how to win, he just needs to refine his game which the Broncos are more than happy to let him it seems. The Chargers continuing to be good and the Raiders on the rise are going to hurt this team, and they are going to slip down in the standings for the first time in a while. Prediction : 7-9
Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs QB Matt Cassel (Dilip Vishwanat)
Chiefs president Scott Pioli is doing his best to rebuild the New England Patriots in KC. Bringing in former Pats coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis will help to take some pressure off head coach Todd Haley. Haley is pretty unproven as a head coach, having only the 4-12 2009 season under his belt. But with Matt Cassel under center, Dwayne Bowe at wideout, and some other pieces coming together, at least the team is moving in the right direction. Bowe is a bit frustrating to watch for Chiefs fans, as he has all the tools but the numbers don’t stack up. Weis’ new offense could help change that, but it’s a wait and see attitude in KC right now. The presence of Chris Chambers on the other side of Bowe, and the pick of Dexter McCluster in the draft will help Cassell spread it out like the Weis offense dictates. Things are starting to resemble the Pats in some aspects offensively, but that team is built on defense first anyway, so we’ll see The offensive line is serviceable, and doesn’t get much written about it which must mean it doesn’t draw much attention. The Chiefs are a team in rebuild mode, so the draft was very important to them. The addition of Eric Berry out of Tennessee is a big infusion of talent, with his head-denting ability to hit and cover seriously improving both the pass and rush defense. Combined with Javier Arenas at CB, and the draft was very good to the Kansas City secondary. The linebackers are a little lacking, but the complexity of Crennel’s 3-4 defense should negate an offense keying on one weak spot. After all, Mike Vrabel is good, but not 2008 James Harrison good. Glenn Dorsey, defensive end and former first rounder, has disappeared since winning seemingly every defensive college award his last season at LSU, but that could just be because of the nature of the 3-4 that focuses on linebacker play. The age of the linebackers, particularly Vrabel and Demorrio Williams at inside backer, is a question, but Crennel does need smart veterans much like the Pats do, so it could be less of a problem than I think. It’s going to be a long one in Kansas City, but at least they can improve even more through the draft next year, right? Prediction : 4-12
Up next: We head back east and take a gander at the NFC East. Should be a good time.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger attempts a pass. Roethlisberger will miss the first 6 weeks of the season. (Getty Images)
Quite an interesting off-season for a team like the Steelers, a team that normally is scandal free and hard-working, much like their city. Ben Roethlisberger allegedly tries to rape another woman at a bar, Santonio Holmes gets himself in trouble with the law, and all of a sudden TMZ is opening an office down the street. It all resulted in Holmes departing for the Jets and Big Ben suspended 6 games. So understand if the Steelers get off to a rough start. Playoffs are in doubt due to the emergence of the Ravens new offensive toys and the Bengals making a (somewhat desperate-seeming) push for the Lombardi Trophy. That plus James Harrison getting older, LaMarr Woodley complaining about his contract and Troy Polamalu starting to have knee problems are all signs of a decline in the Steel City. Question marks at the cornerback position persist, with nobody emerging from camp battles or last year. Polamalu missing really exposed them last season, and there is little they have done to improve.They are a linebacker plus Polamalu defense, and if that takes a step back, the team does. Dick LeBeau is a good antidote for that happening, but even if they play at a 2008 level when they were part of a historically great defense, not having Ben for almost half a season is crippling. Still, even if the linebacker corps slips, Casey Hampton in the middle will help to keep running games quiet, a good thing in a rush-heavy division. The offensive line is once again a problem, after years of getting their QB knocked around. Flozell Adams will add something at left tackle maybe, but he is getting a little long in the tooth and pisses defenders off too much and may become a liability late in games. Charile Batch, the probable winner of the camp battle for starting QB through the first six weeks, is going to have his hands full despite a typically stout defense, especially one facing the problems this defense is. After all, only two teams in the first six weeks had sub-.500 record last year, and includes the Falcons, Titans, Ravens and Dolphins. Then, Ben’s first game back it’s the Saints in New Orleans. They’ll be lucky to make it through October with 4 wins. Predictions : 7-9
Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis (Jim Mcisaac/ Getty Images)
It seems like the Ravens have taken on the persona of Ray Lewis. The future Hall of Famer is a freak, going 100 miles an hour all day andstill having time to philosophize post-game and dress like a king. And this Ravens team looks like the most potent he’s been on since probably the 2000 version, when the defense was a juggernaut, teams averaging less than 11 points a game against them. Baltimore has an offense, ladies and gentlemen, with the acquisition of Anquan Boldin the crowning piece. Joe Flacco has proven to be a very resourceful QB, going very far with a weak receiving corps and running off screens half the time with the help of the emergent Ray Rice and veteran Willis McGagahee. The inclusion of Boldin and Donte Stallworth is going to make him better, and force the defense to play off the line. Ray Rice will be freed up here, and even though I’m still not sold, fantasy football palyers everywhere are, and he is a gamer, no doubt about that. Ed Reed’s injury raises an eyebrow, as his presence makes the entire secondary better and allows the front seven to do their work. Six weeks, as with the Steelers and Roethlisberger, is a long time but losing your free-safety is less damaging than losing your quarterback, so it shouldn’t cost them more than a win. Luckily they get to play the Steelers, Browns, and Broncos in those first six weeks, all teams with question marks at the QB position. The offensive line will be as stout as ever, with Michael Oher moving to left tackle and the rest doing what they do best; block of course. Coach Jim Harbaugh is a tough as nails leader, perfect for this forged-steel squad, and will not let anybody let up even with Reed missing. The Bengals will be the favorites for the divisional crown, but the wildcard is always there for second chances, something the Ravens will need with Reed missing. With this team, once they reach the postseason, Reed and Lewis will not let anyone let up. They will put a scare into higher ranked opponents, and make another deep drive through January. They may be old, but strength of will doesn’t age, it only gets stronger, more resolute. They’re contender, and would also make for a fun team to watch in February. Prediction : 11-5, playoffs
Cincinnati Bengals wideout Chad Ochocinco (Getty Images)
You know it’s a weird NFL season when the Bengals are a contender. After years (and years and years) of toiling in mediocrity the Bengals seem to have assembled a crew capable of threatening the NFL’s elite teams. Sure, its also a gathering of what some consider malcontents. Adam (formerly Pacman) Jones, Terrell Owens, Tank Johnson, Andre Smith. All have either faced problems with the law or with teammates through their careers. Smith in particular walked away from the NFL Combine 2 years ago, damaging his draft prospects. Still, if he works out it’s a heck of a steal, since he was supposed to be a top-5 pick. Carson Palmer is still around as probably the most overlooked QB in the game despite nasty amounts of talent, while Chad Ochocinco will be taking time away from reality TV work and Twittering to play some football for another season in the Queen City. Cedric Benson, so maligned on the Bears, should continue his punishment from the half back position, and if the aforementioned Smith and the rest of the O-line hold up, the Bengals could steal a divisional crown for the second straight year. I can’t gloss it over, the presence of T.O. is going to make a difference on the offense. Sure, he’s a fearsomely divisive influence in the locker room when things aren’t going his way, but the flow of T.O.’s career on every team he’s played for has started with positivity. He’s on a one-year contract, so he should be on his best behavior if he wants to get all the bonuses for catches, appearances, et cetera. Plus, he may be aging, but you can’t sleep on Mr. Owens and this will free Chad up to do work on opposing secondaries. The defense should see Antwan Odom return at defensive end, and as long as he is healthy and performs like he did last year pre-injury the Bengals will have a sack specialist that all contenders need. Ray Malaluga is around, another steal by Cincy in the draft. A high-motor guy in the mold of Troy Polamalu and also part of one of the greatest linebacker corps in college history while he was at USC (playing with Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing) Malaluga is a beast and a keystone of this defense. A young secondary has continued to surprise, and being able to practice opposite gamers like T.O. and Ochocinco will only make them better. I see big things for this team despite their falling flat last year in the playoffs. They plan on going back to the pass a little more, as they should with the golden-armed Palmer under center, but with that running game this will be a tough team to slow down. Last year’s offensive line showed its inexperience against the Jets in two straight weeks, but if anything that will make them better, learning experience and all. The only real dangers for this team’s Super Bowl hopes are being from Cincinnati, a perennially snake-bit football town, and coach Marvin Lewis. Despite several years of experience, he still hasn’t wowed me much. Who knows, maybe we’re all missing something he has going for him. He’ll have to channel Phil Jackson to deal with all these egos, but with that and the solid coaching staff around him, the rest of the North should keep a weathered eye on southern Ohio. Prediction : 12-4, playoffs.
Cleveland Browns at training camp (Gregory Shamus/ Getty Images)
Brown Town has suffered a decade of sports misery, capping a long history of ignominy and disappointment. Luckily for the Browns, the departure of LeBron James from the Cavs should grant some reprieve in terms of how they perform since the city will be focusing on hating LBJ from late October on. Even so, Coach Eric Mangini can’t really suffer another miserable season. Mike Holmgren has moved in to take on the position of football czar, much like Parcells did in Miami, and seems to be doing a good job. The switch to a 3-4 defense and some smart signings will take advantage of the few good things the Browns have going for them, namely nose tackle Shaun Rogers and bringing in guys like Scott Fujita from New Orleans. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was stuck using a 4-3 in Oakland and early in his time in Cleveland, but the 3-4 should allow him to be creative like his brother Rex over in New York with the use of blitz packages to keep the offense off-balance. It’s the secondary where the true question marks lie, and this is a team that has to face Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and Drew Brees, not to mention Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez. It’s a faceless, ineffective piece of the team, and will probably be their Achilles heel. Likewise, the offense is looking a little sparse in terms of threat. Jake Delhomme is coming in to start at QB, and even though I am a fan of his personally, it’s doubtful he will have another season like in 2003 when he went to the Super Bowl with Carolina. The Browns O-line has some good things going for it notably Joe Tomas at left tackle. His arrival three years ago solidified this line, and their ability to protect Delhomme is key to any success, as with any NFL team. He didn’t have much protection behind an old line down in Charlotte, so this should be a nice departure for him. Weapons-wise, Josh Cribbs will continue to be an every-man in the Devin Hester mold, and if he can improve his catching, good things lurk in the future for that young man. The running game is looking pretty empty since they released Jamal Lewis, but he was old anyway. They have a competition at the halfback position again, with Jerome Harrison’s breakout season last year already fading from memory. It should have a boost for all those participating and the Browns will benefit. Down the road they have Texas product Colt McCoy to look forward to at QB. He’s perfect for this city because he’s such a sweetie, nobody can yell at him. Look for him in a year or so, but right now, it will be another grind for the Browns. Mangini has been able to assert his will over the team after a very combative 2009 season, and with Braylon Edwards and some other Romeo Crennel guys gone he is the unquestioned leader. Playoffs are a long way off, not to mention a championship, and it’s Cleveland so the word championship is one fraught with misery anyway. Also, they have 6 games against what has become possibly the toughest division in football. The Steelers missing Ben Roethlisberger when they first meet in week 6 should be a boon as well. They won’t start 1-11 again, but more than a 7 win season is way out of the question. This is a team in search of an identity on the field, not just in the front office, and until they find that, its going to be a tough going. When they aren’t playing divisional opponents, its NFC South and AFC East, so it’ll be a rough season for the Browns. It’s a rebuilding year, and the future is still a long way off, but at least something could be making a turn in Cleveland. Prediction : 4-12.