Despite the fact that baseball is my favorite sport, football definitely has (and feels like) the longest offseason. For the longest time I wasn’t sure why, whether it was the short regular season, the relative infrequency of games, or the fact that winter is still going on when the season’s over. But finally, I figured out why the NFL offseason feels so long: because the NFL never stops.
As a counterexample, let’s look at baseball. Over the winter you’ll have a few stories: some trades, some free agent signings, etc. Maybe you’ll even have a PED scandal to spice things up a bit. But for the most part, baseball is over in October and it only resumes when pitchers and catchers report in mid-February.
Now consider football. The Super Bowl is in early February, followed by the NFL Combine in late February or early March (the “man, I can’t wait to see what team that guy plays for” phase), then six solid weeks of straight draft coverage on ESPN (the “man, I can’t wait until Mel Kiper is off my TV again” phase), then the draft at the end of April (the “man, I can’t wait to see this guy play” phase), then the mini-camps and OTAs in May and June (the “man, I can’t wait for training camp” phase). By the time training camp starts in July you’re not sure if you can wait any longer. But there are still four preseason games between you and the regular season (the “it’s not football season still? Are you kidding me?” phase).
But this coming Thursday, all that will be over with: it’ll be football season again, and all will be right with the world. And since when do I start an NFL or MLB season without a season preview? NEVER!
Predicted standings: Philadelphia, New York Giants, Dallas, Washington
No disrespect meant to Donovan McNabb as he starts the season with a new team, but Washington didn’t really do much improvement around him, and this is a competitive division. Philadelphia will be the best at weathering the storm, but will suffer heavy attrition within the division and won’t be a high seed going into the playoffs. New York‘s defense will rebound but their offense will be too pass-focused and not effective enough on the ground. In Dallas, Miles Austin will have a sophomore slump and Tony Romo will struggle to find open receivers… at least on his own team.
Predicted standings: San Francisco, Seattle, Arizona, St. Louis
I look for San Francisco to finally find that missing piece to their puzzle and grab a division title and a playoff spot. Seattle will have a surprisingly good year under first-year-but-really-not-his-first-year head coach Pete Carroll. Arizona will be back to floundering in mediocrity after losing a Hall of Fame quarterback and deciding that Derek Anderson is really their best chance to win (Browns fans know this: when Derek Anderson is your starting quarterback, it’s either the first half of 2007 or your team sucks). Sam Bradford will do okay in St. Louis but the executives need one more year of rebuilding before the results can really show.
Predicted standings: Green Bay, Minnesota*, Chicago, Detroit
Provided that Green Bay‘s offensive line doesn’t kill Aaron Rodgers, look for him to emerge as one of the league’s top five quarterbacks (if he’s not there already) and lead Green Bay to a playoff spot and a first-round bye. Minnesota will struggle more this season, but after a season-ending injury to Brett Favre in about week 9, they’ll still have enough to squeeze into a wild-card slot. Chicago‘s quarterback nightmare will continue with Jay Cutler having another abysmal season and their aging defense not doing them any favors. Matthew Stafford will play in more competitive games for Detroit this year, but this is still a double-digit loss team.
Predicted standings: Atlanta, New Orleans*, Carolina, Tampa Bay
Third-year quarterback Matt Ryan will lead Atlanta to a division title and a first-round bye. New Orleans will suffer a minor Super Bowl hangover in the beginning of the season but will be able to bounce back and snag a wild-card spot. Carolina will struggle at the outset but will eventually make a change at quarterback, starting Jimmy Clausen, and will make up some ground at the end of the season. Tampa Bay will make no noticeable improvement and will remain at the bottom of not only the standings, but the league.
Predicted standings: New York Jets, New England*, Miami, Buffalo
This is New York‘s division to lose, and with Darrelle Revis coming back this figures to be the strongest defense in the NFL. New England won’t make many friends as they put on an aerial display with Tom Brady and Randy Moss in contract years, but their potent offense will more than make up for their questionable defense and they’ll snag a wild-card spot. Miami is a team that will be much improved this year but will miss a wild-card slot by one game. Buffalo will be cold, snowy, and depressing.
Predicted standings: San Diego, Denver, Oakland, Kansas City
Phillip Rivers is one of the league’s most underrated quarterbacks and will lead San Diego to a first-round bye. Denver will try to use Tim Tebow effectively but won’t be able to figure out how to make him succeed his first year, and the offense won’t be effective. Oakland will improve late in the season, but will struggle too much out of the gate to be a factor. Kansas City will play some close games but won’t be able to close them out.
Predicted standings: Baltimore, Pittsburgh*, Cincinnati, Cleveland
Baltimore will be one of the league’s elite teams this year but with two games against Pittsburgh and Cincinatti, will suffer some attrition and miss out on the first-round bye. Pittsburgh will have a slightly easier schedule, and with a healthy defense led by Troy Polamalu will be able to weather the storm until Roethlisberger comes back from suspension. Cincinnati‘s aging offense will be bitten by the injury bug and will collapse down the stretch. Cleveland will win some games, maybe more than any other last-place finisher in the NFL, but still won’t quite have the talent to compete in the league’s toughest division.
Predicted standings: Indianapolis, Houston, Tennessee, Jacksonville
Peyton Manning will rebound from his disappointing Super Bowl and lead Indianapolis to another 12+ win season and a first-round bye. Houston will play well but be stuck in a tough division, and miss the playoffs again. Chris Johnson won’t be nearly as effective this year and Tennessee will struggle offensively. Jacksonville will be the subject of team relocation rumors by the season’s end.
AFC Championship: Ravens over Jets
NFC Championship: Packers over Falcons
Super Bowl: Aaron Rodgers will lead the most sacred franchise in football in a Super Bowl-clinching fourth-quarter drive and a street outside Lambeau Field will be renamed “Aaron Rodgers’ Way”. Packers over Ravens.
Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know!