Watching The Sports Reporters on ESPN, thinking on the upcoming season. I figure I'll make a few predictions.
The Pats continue to reap the benefits of a weak division. When Parcells took over the Dolphins, I figured that they would eventually build an organization that might pass the Pats. But I don't see them repeating as division champions. It's a lot easier to go 11-5 against a last-place schedule than a first-place schedule. In any case, 11-5 won't be enough to win this division, unless Brady has another season-ending injury. The Pats have a soft schedule and should go 12-4 easily. The Dolphins finish second and the Bills and Jets are also-rans.
A huge gap between the powerhouses and the also-rans here. We have no evidence from last season that would indicate that the Bengals and Browns can compete with the Ravens and Steelers. While both the Bengals and Browns have enough talent to pull off upsets, and I could even see one of the two teams going over .500, the easy pick here is to have the Ravens and Steelers both make the playoffs. I'll go with the Ravens winning the division, based on the problems the Steelers' O-Line has protecting Roethlisberger.
Jeff Fisher continues to have problems converting his regular season behemoths into a franchise that can advance in the playoffs. I think it was clear that, by the time the playoffs rolled around last year, that the Titans had peaked too early.
The Colts are always the Colts, and I'll pick them to win the division, esp. considering that they didn't do so last year. The fates decree that they will play the Pats every season, and to do so in 2010, they'll have to win the division. The Titans will miss Albert Haynesworth, but they still have an excellent defense and running game, and that probably will be enough to get a playoff spot. The Texans are a popular pick to make the leap to contender. Andre Johnson is as good a WR as anybody, and the defense is solid. Sage Rosenfels has left town, but can Matt Schaub stay healthy? They are a team to watch. The Jaguars' vaunted running game collapsed completely last year as a rash of injuries took down their O-Line. Can they recover? Can David Garrard recover his Silky form, or are the hat and cane retired?
Year Three of the Norv Turner Drive the Team into the Ground is with us. By all rights, the Chargers should have missed the playoffs last year, and Turner's job should already be in jeopardy, but thanks to an epic fail by Shanahan's Broncos, the Chargers weaseled their way into the playoffs. One would expect that this would be the season for the inevitable Turner collapse to kick in, but the problem is that the Broncos have effectively destroyed their own franchise in the off-season. I can understand Pat Bowden losing patience with Shanahan's weak defenses, but do we really think Josh McDaniels will do a better job? The early results are not auspicious. The Cutler trade is a disaster for the Broncos. Brandon Marshall has already quit on them. And their starting point was a defense that could be run on by anybody. And since the Chiefs are rebuilding and the Raiders continue to be awful, the Chargers should win this division by default.
It's hard to predict the playoffs this far in advance, since so much will depend on injuries. The six team I've picked include three recent Super Bowl champions (four, if you count the Ravens). Of course it's tempting to run with the Pats, but I have real questions about whether their D can handle very physical offenses. Their solution to that problem in recent years has been simply to outscore the opposition. I am not feeling good vibes about the Titans, and the Chargers are here only by default. Perhaps the Colts will show that their history of playoff failures was all Dungy's fault? Could be. But right now I'm feeling a vibe for the Ravens, if only to change things up a bit.