Friday, August 14, 2009

The Eagles are now my Super Bowl pick.

Say what you will about Michael Vick (and I know a lot of people have a lot to say), he is a guy who can make a very big difference. As a Packers fan, I was hoping Green Bay would sign him simply because I didn't want to see him coming to town in another uniform and playing against my team. It now looks like that's going to happen. The rumours were that Vick would be going to New England (where they have something of an established QB) and then that he might go to the Packers (where they have a really good young QB). The consensus was that he would have to go to a team with an established starter, and that he would come out of a wildcat-type offense on third-and-long playsand similar situations once he joined the team later in the year. (And yes, I'm aware of the irony of Michael Vick running the "wildcat" offense.)

Certainly, what he did is despicable. But he was going to get back into the NFL, and whatever team got him was going to get a boost. The spotless, almost-saintly in comparison Tony Dungy is acting as his mentor, and that alone is enough to convince teams to take a chance. And the Eagles have done so. They signed Vick to a two year contract yesterday, which to me makes them the Super Bowl favourites for the next two years. Vick will not be competing for Donovan McNabb's starting job. He will not even see the field until at least six or seven weeks into the season. But when he does, an already scary team will be infinitely scarier. Eagles fans are tough, and they are hardcore, but they are rabid enough about their team that they're not going to run Vick out of town on a rail. Remember, these are the Eagles who had serious problems with Terrell Owens - locker room unity and on-field altercations - and still made the Super Bowl that year. So here's how I see all the teams in the NFL this year:

1. Philadelphia Eagles: They already have what I believe will be the best defense in football this season. They have one of the elite QBs in the league, now with a contract extension. They have good and in some cases great offensive weapons. And they are traditionally a second-half team. Now they will be playing that second half with the ultimate football weapon.

2. New England Patriots: The fact that they went 11-5 and even came close to the playoffs last year without their all-time great QB shows how solid this team really is. Matt Cassell was not nearly as good as people thought he was, and Brady will make all the difference this season. They're not going to go undefeated, and they're getting pretty old, but they have one more serious shot at the Super Bowl, and this year is it.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers: I hate to put the defending Super Bowl champs as low as third, but they haven't done a lot to improve during the off season. In the NFL, you have to improve every single year. And how many teams go back-to-back? The Steelers are great, but they are not a dynasty team.

4. New York Giants: Second-best defense in football, and most of the pieces from that Super Bowl winning team. They could use Plaxico Burress though. Where is that guy? And a billion dollars for Eli Manning? Really? What were they thinking? Giants would be ranked higher if they didn't have to play the Eagles twice.

5. Indianapolis Colts: Still one of the scariest teams in football, they have all the right pieces in place to make a run again. Despite the money dished out by the Giants, Peyton Manning is still the most valuable Manning in football. Except for maybe Archie, if he was going to start running a stud farm.

6. Tennessee Titans: They had the best record in football last year, and were formidable on both sides of the ball. They will be slightly less formidable on defense this season because of several losses, which could be bigger than we think.

7. Arizona Cardinals: Yes, they are the defending NFC champs. And Larry Fitzgerald is still the best receiver in football and a freak. They will be better through the regular season than they were last year, thanks to a confidence boost in the unit, but they were playing over their heads throughout the playoffs last year. They will not go that deep again.

8. Carolina Panthers: They went 12-4 last year, but I'm not sold at all on Jake Delhomme. As he goes, so go the Panthers.

9. San Diego Chargers: Still one of the most talented teams in football, the Chargers have the easiest division to win in the entire league. They could conceivably go 7-9 and still take the division. They won't though, they'll go about 10-6 and win it comfortably.

10. Atlanta Falcons: The addition of Tony Gonzales could make them a real contender. Much depends on Matt Ryan and whether he really is as good as he looked in his rookie season.

11. Chicago Bears: Their defense is still solid, and Jay Cutler could be great for them, but they need some more offensive weapons to really contend for the conference title.

12. Green Bay Packers: With the Brett Favre saga behind them, Aaron Rodgers and the Pack can concentrate on playing football. And Rodgers is really good. We'll see that this season.

13. Baltimore Ravens: They have lost a lot on the defensive side of the ball, and Ray Lewis is getting pretty old. How good is Joe Flacco, really?

14. Houston Texans: Their defense will certainly be better than it was last year, and eventually this team will have to break through that .500 barrier. This could be that year.

15. Miami Dolphins: Their turnaround last year was unreal. But teams are now wise to the wildcat, others have the pieces to run it better, and Miami will have a comedown to about an 8-8 record, unless they come up with some other crazy gimmick, and quick.

16. New Orleans Saints: They are pretty old now. And they are still a little decrepit, and injuries could well play a big factor again. If they remain healthy, they could make a play for the division title. If not, they could go 4-12.

17. Washington Redskins: Albert Haynesworth is a terrific signing. But the Skins will be playing in the toughest division in football, and their chances of finishing at .500 again are about all they can hope for.

18. Dallas Cowboys: Yes, I am ranking them last in their own division. The Cowboys are a first-half team, Tony Romo is a first-half QB, and in the first half of the season Dallas will get blown up by the Giants and Eagles. That leaves them with little do do as the year winds down.

19. Minnesota Vikings: How much did that will-he-or-won't he offseason Favre saga affect the team? Players calling him, trying to convince him to come and take over from their own ineffective QBs? Well. They still have Adrian Peterson who is a horse.

20. Jacksonville Jaguars: Last season was not an abberration. It was a trend. But the Jaguars are not that bad, and they will rebound a little bit this year. Like, to 6-10, or 7-9.

21. Cincinnatti Bengals: This is one team that could really shoot up and be ranked higher quickly if the Bengals get it going on offense. Their defense scares nobody, but if Carson Palmer and that Ocho Cinco guy start clicking again, that alone can win them some games.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I don't think that last year they were nearly as good as their 9-7 record indicated. And I think that this year we will see them fall well out of playoff contention early in the season.

23. Buffalo Bills: The addition of Terrell Owens does not put this team over the top. They are still in a rather tough division. They will not make the playoffs. But they'll be fun to watch, at the very least. And T.O. will have a good season.

24. Seattle Seahawks: They could have a marginal turnaround from last season's 4-win record. Like, with a healthy Hasselbeck, they could win five or six.

25. New York Jets: Without Brett Favre, what does this team have? A decent defense and a dreadful offense. You can't win too many games with that.

26. San Francisco 49ers: They will get worse before they get better. Last year they went a surprising 7-9. They'll be good one day, but that isn't this season.

27. Oakland Raiders: They could actually be a lot better, record-wise, than they were last year, if only because they get to play such crappy teams so often.

28. Cleveland Browns: I have been thinking, for many years now, that Cleveland was on the verge of becoming good, or even great. But they are not. They will be dreadful again this season, and they don't even have Stallworth, who has been suspended for a year.

29. Kansas City Chiefs: They'll be better than last year. When they went 2-14. Look for the Chiefs, this year, to go a more convincing 2-14. Or maybe win up to 4 games.

30. St. Louis Rams: The Rams beat two pretty good teams last year, in back to back weeks. And beat nobody else, ever, during the entire season. The offense could rebound this season, but it probably won't.

31. Denver Broncos: Years of fading down the stretch and losing heart in week 9 will finally catch up. The Broncos will lose heart in Week one, this season.

32. Detroit Lions: It's hard not to pick a winless team as the worst in the league going into a season, but I think there is a good chance the Lions will not have the worst record in football this season. But they won't be the Dolphins or the Falcons.

And that's it. The Patriots, Steelers, Colts and Chargers will win their divisions in the AFC, where the wild card teams will be the Titans and the the Texans. Yes, the Texans. In the NFC, the Eagles, Bears, Panthers, and Cardinals will win their divisions, and the wild cards will be the Giants and the Falcons.

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