Well, the AFC picks are in and thankfully not everyone agreed with my selections. That wouldn't be fun now would it? I do think Cincinnati is going to be this year's surprise out of the AFC ( I guess the whole NFL if they do make the playoffs), and I do think Baltimore and Miami will be teams that fail to improve on what they did last season. Then again, what do I know...I thought that Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson were forever. I mean, if a quasi-talented, over-publicized diva who has really never done anything professionally to write home about and Jessica Simpson can't make it last, what hope do the rest of us have?
As you know from yesterday, our formula for picking playoff teams in July is make an argument for a couple favorites, a couple head coaches and a couple surprises. I cheated of course and added in the San Diego Chargers as a default team but I invoked the Norv Turner rule, which says that if you mix a good thing together with Norv Turner, everything shall be ruined and never go according to plan. Thankfully, we live in a Norv-free NFC. Here are the NFC predictions:
New York Giants: Is it just me or are the Dallas Cowgirls and the Philadelphia Eagles getting way too much press this off-season? The Giants are the class of the NFC East and I don't think it is close. They get Osi Umenyiora back this season to bolster an already violent pass rush. Eli, in all of his toothy glory, is good enough to guide that offense to more than enough points to stake that defense to a lead they can protect. They are well-coached, they have an excellent ground game with a punishing feature back in Brandon Jacobs and they picked up a wide receiver that I fear is going to have a pretty good year in Hakeem Nicks (and let's hope Ramses Barden still needs a LOT of polish.) The potential for major slippage from the last couple years is minimal with this squad.
Minnesota Vikings: I am completely convinced Brett Favre will be wearing purple this season. And I think his presence will make this team a prohibitive favorite on most Sundays. On Ahman Green's best day, he was no Adrian Peterson. Favre will have A.P., Chester Taylor, and one of the top five offensive lines in the league. The Vikings trot out the Williams' brothers on defense. Pat Williams and Kevin Williams comprise one of the top run-stuffing DT duos out there and Jared Allen is one of those "high-motor" guys coming off the edge. Antoine Winfield is a quality corner and Chad Greenway and E.J. Henderson solidify a better than average linebacking group. If Favre can maximize the talents of their receiving corps, this team should coast into the postseason.
Arizona Cardinals: The NFC is a little bit different of a beast than the AFC in this category. You can't tap a Jeff Fisher or a Bill Belichick in the NFC after getting out of the favorites section. But Ken Whisenhunt has really shown us something right? I mean, he took the Arizona Cardinals to the big dance. Of course, he was a Washington Redskin player back in 1989-90. And he does have Russ Grimm on his staff as the assistant head coach. So his Redskins ties help him immensely here. He enjoyed the benefit of a weak division last season but when he got to the playoffs, he shocked us all by laying the wood to the Carolina Panthers, in Carolina. The time he spent under Bill Cowher and last year's Super Bowl run give him the cred in this category.
New Orleans Saints: The temptation is to go with Andy Reid here. And he deserves it. But I am putting Philly in the same category as Baltimore and Miami--a team that will take a step backward next year. Instead, I am going with the 2006 NFL Coach of the Year Sean Payton. Sure, the Saints finished 8-8 last year, but I have them adding anywhere from 2-4 more wins to that record this season. Drew Brees is an absolute stud. It's like watching a flag football game when he's out there and everyone is an eligible receiver. He distributes his balls around the field like Charlie Sheen at a Playboy mansion party. His stable of receivers/tight ends/Reggie Bush is enviable: Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, Jeremy Shockey, Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas. Pierre Thomas is a guy you may want to take a hard look at in fantasy leagues this year. Even if Reggie can stay healthy, I see Thomas getting a lot of carries. Defensively, they have talent, and this year they hope that Gregg Williams can maximize it. Sean Payton is a sharp dude. He has the Saints thinking they are a good team and this year they will prove it by advancing to the playoffs after last year's disappointing finish.
Green Bay Packers: I was thinking either Tampa Bay or Green Bay here. The Pack was 6-10 as opposed to the Bucs 9-7 finish, making Green Bay the bigger surprise to come back and make the playoffs. Not to mention picking both Atlanta and Carolina to get whupped on by Tampa Bay and New Orleans was a stretch even for me. I like Mike McCarthy. I like Aaron Rodgers. Ryan Grant saved my fantasy football season two years ago. This team was one bad throw away from getting to the Super Bowl two years ago. I think what happened last year was more about karma than anything else. Not that they necessarily deserved to go 6-10, but all of the off-season crap as well as a few injuries conspired to suppress their chances on the field. I really like this defense. A.J. Hawk can make plays. Their cornerback combo of Charles Woodson and Al Harris is as good as you could ask for, and putting Aaron Kampman at LB in the 3-4 should make them a pretty dangerous unit. The best part of this pick to me is that it means that not only will the two regular season games between Minnesota and Green Bay be meaningful, but they could actually meet in the playoffs.
Washington Redskins: Oh come on...you didn't think I would leave us out did you? This is exactly the kind of team that surprises the league every year. Nobody is picking them to make much noise at all, yet if you look at their roster and what they did last year, there is plenty to suggest that they could be this year's version of the Atlanta Falcons. You may argue that in the entire NFC, only one team scored less points than the Redskins last season (St. Louis Rams.) Our offense was a little anemic, especially as the season wore on. But on defense, only one team allowed less points than the Redskins (New York Giants.) The lack of attention this defensive unit gets baffles me. I sort of get it...I mean we have been rather irrelevant on the NFL landscape for a while now, but this defense is nasty. The season will hinge on the year-over-year improvement the offense can make. Jim Zorn has to prove he can extract nothing short of the best possible quarterback Jason Campbell is capable of becoming, and the young receivers--Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly, and Fred Davis--need to contribute early and often.
There you have it. We left some good teams on the sidelines. Jacksonville, Baltimore, Miami, Dallas and Philadelphia all have legitimate arguments to be included in these kinds of predictions. I think a team that will make a huge leap this year is the San Francisco 49ers, but I am not sold on their passing game, and wonder if they can score the points necessary to get into the playoffs (though they did outscore the Redskins last year by about 10 TD's.) It is only July though, so the whole exercise of picking playoff teams right now is somewhat absurd and even feckless. But I like my formula of two favorites, two head coaches, and two surprises from each conference. Who would you change from these picks and why?