Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there who realizes, like me, that Thanksgiving is meant to be for three things: Family, Food, and Football.  Once again this year, we get a triple-header to feast on (Well, as long as you have NFL Network or live in or around New York or Denver.). Then on Sunday and Monday Night, we get our usual helping for games from around the league, topped off by the big game this week as the Saints host the Patriots in the Big Easy.  So before you go into your tryptophan-induced comas, here are the Week 12 picks.  Last week: 11-5. Season: 84-73-1 (.535)

Thanksgiving Games
Packers (-11)
at Lions: The annual Turkey Day showdown between these two teams kicks off a real yawner of a holiday in terms of the matchups.  There’s a ton of concerns for the Lions with respect to the shoulder of Matt Stafford and the Packers need to keep winning if they expect to win the NFC Wild Card.  The Pack should win easy in Detroit.

Raiders (+14) at Cowboys: I fully expect the Cowboys to beat the Oakland Raiders, especially considering that they still have a full complement of running backs, unlike the Bengals who were stunned in the Black Hole last week.  However, I think Oakland will come out playing very hard in this one and Bruce Gradkowski is trying to earn himself a shot at an NFL job for next season.  It’ll be closer than you think.

Giants (-7) at Broncos: In a matchup of two teams that are in dire need of wins, the G-Men seem to have a lot more composure than the suddenly dysfunctional Broncos, who are looking to avoid their fifth-straight loss and completely erase a 6-0 start.  If the Giants’ pass rush is as bad as its been in recent games, expect Brandon Marshall to have a big day, but I would still expect New York to pull this one out easily.

Sunday
Buccaneers (+13)
at Falcons: There’s really nothing going right for the Atlanta Falcons right now. Matt Ryan has been less than stellar and Michael Turner is banged up.  Tampa Bay seems to have found some hints of life with Josh Freeman under center.  The Falcons win it, but Tampa stays with them the whole way.

Dolphins (-4) at Bills: Last week I figured that the Phins were basically done with the loss of Ronnie Brown.  This week, I think Ricky Williams is going to carry the load once again, especially against the porous Bills run D.  Miami is on the cusp of being in the playoff mix.  They should get into the thick of the discussion after this one.

Browns at Bengals (-14): The Browns mustered 37 points last week in their loss to Detroit.  I’d be surprised to see them score 37 points in all of their remaining games combined.  Plus this week they get to face a very angry Cincy squad that’s coming off an unacceptable loss to the Raiders of all teams.  Cincy will reassert itself as the best team in the AFC North this week.

Seahawks at Rams (+3): This game is a complete pillow fight, but I’ve liked what St. Louis has done the last couple of weeks. It’s amazing that, even though the season is over, they keep playing so hard. I think they’ll be rewarded with win #2 on Sunday.

Panthers (+3) at Jets: Has anyone been watching the Jets the last two months? They’re playing they way a rookie coach and QB combination should be expected to play.  They might not win another game for the rest of the season.  Maybe Rex Ryan will cry about that, too.

Redskins (+10) at Eagles: Two reasons to take Washington this week. The first is that they almost beat Dallas in Dallas last week (should have won, too). The second is that this is an NFC East game, and how often are these games actually blowouts?

Colts (-4) at Texans: After their loss to the Titans on Monday Night, I’m beginning to cool on the Houston Texans, who now really need a win to hang in the playoff race.  Unfortunately, they face Peyton Manning & Co, who will not lose in Houston this time around.  Way too hard to pick against Indy right now.

Chiefs at Chargers (-14): San Diego is riding one heck of a high right now after routing Denver last week.  I don’t expect them to do anything less than run away with the AFC West now, and it starts with a big win over the lowly Chiefs.

Jaguars (+4) at 49ers: Jacksonville suddenly finds itself in 2nd place in an AFC South that most expected them to finish dead last in.  San Francisco is quickly realizing the importance of needing a viable passing game in order to make the playoffs.  Jacksonville will take this one and continue it’s unlikely playoff push behind another stellar performance by Maurice Jones-Drew.

Cardinals (+2) at Titans: I know that Vince Young has lit a spark under the Tennessee Titans, but they haven’t faced an offense like the Cardinals during the winning streak.  Plus, the Cards are 5-0 on the road this year and can basically wrap up the non-competitive NFC West with a win on Sunday.

Bears at Vikings (-11): The Bears are basically in crisis mode at this point of the season, and the calls for Lovie Smith’s head have begun.  The Vikings remain one of the hottest teams in the NFL this season and a frontrunner in terms of Superbowl contenders.  The Vikes should cruise and continue on their march towards the NFC North crown and playoffs.

Steelers at Ravens (pick ’em): Interesting stat- Troy Polamalu has missed 4 games this season. In those games, Pittsburgh is 0-4.  Also remember that one hard hit could end Ben Roethlisberger’s day and force Dennis Dixon into action. Dixon has thrown 5 career NFL passes.  Against the Ravens’ D? Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Monday Night
Patriots (+3)
at Saints: I really want to take New Orleans in this game, but they have run into one of the teams I would least want to face in this part of the season.  In the last 10 years, New England in 52-10 in regular season games after Thanksgiving.  This is winning time and the Pats don’t lose very often in winning time.  It’ll be a battle, but Brady and Belichick will find a way to outwit Brees.

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Ive picked the Lions 11 times in the past two seasons. Im 0-11 picking them. So naturally, I picked them again this week.

I've picked the Lions 11 times in the past two seasons. I'm 0-11 picking them. So naturally, I picked them again this week.

After last week’s 11-5 triumph for yours truly, I realize that I am bound to follow it up with something slightly less spectacular.  It’s the law of averages, really.  After two decent to above average weeks in a row, I have to come back to Earth…or do I? Maybe I’ve finally found the right formula in picking games. OK, probably not, but I’ve been lucky so far and avoided disaster, so let’s see if I can keep it going in Week 3. (Picks in Bold, Home Team listed 2nd):

Redskins at Lions (+6): A week after finally realizing the error of my ways by picking Detroit, I am going right back to the one team that fails me the most.  Honestly, I have been so uninspired by the ‘Skins in their first two games that it wouldn’t shock me to see the Lions find their way to a stunning victory, which would be their first since December 2007.  Look for Calvin Johnson to come up big against this Washington secondary.

Packers (-7) at Rams: Green Bay is going to come out firing on all cylinders after last week’s embarrassment against the Bengals in Lambeau.  This is bad news for a Rams team that has managed to score a grand total of 7 points in its first 2 games of the 2009 campaign.

49ers (+7) at Vikings: I like the Vikings to win this game, although it wouldn’t shock me to see either team win it, which is why I struggle to see this one be a victory of 7 points or more.  This is a game that will be won on the ground and in the trenches by Frank Gore or Adrian Peterson.  That adds up to a low-scoring affair in Minneapolis on Sunday.

Falcons at Patriots (-5): Bad news for Matt Ryan & Co. The Patriots haven’t lost back-to-back games in almost 3 full seasons.  Worse for Atlanta, New England is still mad about losing to the Jets last week and they are looking to take it out on someone.  I think the Pats will dominate a pretty good Falcons team at Gillette Stadium.

Titans (+3) at Jets: Good news for Kerry Collins & Co. The Jets haven’t stopped talking about last week’s win over the Patriots, clearly a sign of a team that is not prepared to take the field against a desperate 0-2 Tennessee side.  The Titans, behind Chris Johnson, are going to take it to the overconfident and unaware New York defense all game in this one.

Chiefs at Eagles (-9): Donovan McNabb might not be playing in this one, but if the Chiefs show up and play the way they did last week at home against the Raiders, then Kevin Kolb might look like Joe Montana out there on Sunday.  The Eagles’ D will also be thankful to be facing a much more pedestrian offense after getting torched by the Saints last week.

Giants (-7) at Buccaneers: The Giants are looking really good after going in and grabbing the W in Dallas last weekend.  The Bucs have looked awful in their first two games of the season, losing to Dallas and Buffalo.  I expect the G-Men to go into Raymond James Stadium and win this one much easier than last week’s game.

Browns at Ravens (-14): Under normal circumstances, I would always take the points here.  However, after seeing Baltimore’s offense put up big numbers against a solid San Diego defense and seeing the Browns get smacked 27-6 by a Broncos team that I really don’t think is that good, it’s hard to see the Ravens not annihilate them in Baltimore.

Jaguars at Texans (-4): Last week we saw both of these teams play the way I expected them to in Week 1.  The Texans’ offense was nothing short of explosive against the Titans in Nashville while the Jaguars looked like a team that would struggle to fill its stadium because everyone knows they’re not good enough to compete this year.  The Texans will build on last week’s momentum and crush Jacksonville to make up for losing their home opener.

Bears (-3) at Seahawks: At first I almost picked Seattle. Then I had flashbacks to last season when Seneca Wallace had to step in for the oft-injured Matt Hasselbeck…it wasn’t a pretty sight.  The Bears will get the job done, and the misery will begin for the Seahawks and their fans.

Saints (-7) at Bills: It’s very hard not to expect New Orleans to explode for 40+ points, especially against a defense that isn’t even close to as good as the unit they faced last week.  Drew Brees has made this entire offense better than anyone ever thought it could be, and he will continue his great start in Ralph Wilson Stadium against a Bills team that should be 2-0 going into this game.

Steelers (-4) at Bengals: Pittsburgh owns Cincinnati  on the road much like the Patriots owned the Jets on the road.  However, this does not mean that the Bungles will get the same result as the Jets this year.  I think that Chad Ochocinco will have a big game against a depleted Steelers’ secondary, but at the end of the day, Big Ben will push his team to a 7 point victory, 24-17 is my guess.

Broncos (+2) at Raiders:  I have absolutely no clue how or why the Raiders are a favorite in any game.  I understand that they won last week in their pillow fight with the Chiefs, but have you seen their offense?  If the Broncos can score 17 points, they’ll win this game and I will continue to give them no respect for their quick start purely based upon beating the Bungles, Browns, and Raiders.  I wish that my Jets had this schedule to open the season.

Dolphins (+6) at Chargers: The Dolphins’ offense is basically designed to keep games close by milking the clock as much as humanly possible, kind of like what they did against the Colts on Monday Night.  If they can accomplish that feat again, they’ll lose in a very similar way, which means they won’t get blown out.

Colts at Cardinals (-3):  In what will most likely be one of the highest-scoring games in Sunday Night Football history, I like Arizona to manage to outlast a depleted Indy team in a game that fits exactly into Kurt Warner’s style: Arena Football (Note: I was trying for about 20 minutes to think of a way to make a joke about bagging groceries, but I failed. If you can think of a way to fit it into this, send it to me and I will give you all the credit.  If it doesn’t make sense, I will post the comment and mock you publicly for the dozens of readers on this blog to see.)

Monday Night
Panthers (+9)
at Cowboys: Dallas should be able to control this game fairly easily, but their secondary should be having nightmares about Steve Smith right now. Smith has been limited in his first two games, but it’s only a matter of time before he breaks out of his shell.  Against Dallas’ mediocre secondary, expect Smith to go for a couple of big plays, to at least keep it close.

A wild weekend so far in the NFL, with several surprising results making things very interesting in the early season.  So let’s jump right into things so I can finish this and maybe even take a break before the end of the Sunday Night game.

Falcons 28, Panthers 20
The Panthers looked far better than they did last week against the Eagles, but Atlanta and Matt Ryan proved to be just too much for Carolina.  Ryan was very efficient throwing the ball yet again going 21/27 for 220 yards and 3 TDs in the winning effort.  On the other side, Jake Delhomme looked a bit more like an NFL quarterback this week, going 25/41 for 308 yards, with a TD and an INT.  Much better than last week’s embarrassment, but still not enough for the Panthers, who now must attempt to climb out of an 0-2 hole to start the season.

Next Up: Falcons at Patriots (Sun. 1 p.m.), Panthers at Cowboys (Mon. 8:30 p.m.)

Vikings 27, Lions 13
After a first half where it looked like Detroit might finally exorcise its demons, the Lions remembered who they were and Matthew Stafford looked very much like a rookie QB who isn’t ready to play as the Vikings outscored them 17-3 in the 2nd half to take it by 2 TDs.  Stafford struggled again, going 18/30 for 152 yards a TD and 2 INTs.  Brett Favre faced pressure most of the game from the Lions’ D, but still had very good numbers at 23/27 for 155 yards and 2 TDs.  Adrian Peterson came back to Earth after last week as well, only managing 116 total yards and a TD.  Alas, the frustration and embarrassment continues for the hapless Lions.

Next Up: Redskins at Lions (Sun. 1 p.m.), 49ers at Vikings (Sun. 1 p.m.)

Bengals 31, Packers 24
Cedric Benson ran for 141 yards, and Chad Ochocinco got his wish, doing a Lambeau Leap after catching a TD pass in Cincinnati’s surprising 31-24 triumph over Green Bay.  The Packers defense was exposed by a Bengals’ offense that was coming off getting shutdown by the Broncos last week, as Cincy was able to move the ball at will for the majority of the game, as evidenced by Benson’s big day.  For the Packers, a last ditch drive to tie the game up after recovering an onside kick came up short as the Packers ran out of time at the Bengals’ 11-yard line.

Next Up: Steelers at Bengals (Sun. 4:15 p.m.), Packers at Rams (Sun. 1 p.m.)

Texans 34, Titans 31
After last week’s debacle at home against the Jets, Houston responded in a big way, stealing one from the Titans in Nashville, behind a great bounce-back performance from Matt Schaub, who went 25/39 for 357 yards and 4 TDs, 2 of which went to his favorite target in Andre Johnson, who had 10 catches for 141 yards.  The Titans’ wasted a brilliant individual effort from RB Chris Johnson, who had 284 total yards and 3 TDs in a losing effort for a Tennessee team that has surprisingly started 0-2.  The Titans had a chance to tie or win the game late in the 4th quarter, but a Kerry Collins fumble handed the game to the Texans.

Next Up: Jaguars at Texans (Sun. 1 p.m.), Titans at Jets (Sun. 1 p.m.)

Raiders 13, Chiefs 10
Oakland was outgained 409-166, but they managed to pull out a victory in Arrowhead Stadium on a Darren McFadden 5-yard TD run with 1:07 remaining in the game.  Matt Cassel’s Chiefs debut was spoiled as he had a mediocre day going 24/39 for 241 yards, a TD, and 2 picks, but he far outshined JaMarcus Russell, who was a pathetic 7/24 for 109 yards, the majority of which came on the Raiders’ final drive.  Nevertheless, Oakland improves to 1-1 on the year.

Next Up: Broncos at Raiders (Sun. 4:15 p.m.), Chiefs at Eagles (Sun. 1 p.m.)

Jets 16, Patriots 9
In a game that was marred by penalties and missed opportunities on both sides, the Jets managed to back up their trash talk during the week and get the win over New England.  This was a tale of two halves, with New England controlling play in the first half, but a well-adjusted Jets team dominating 2nd half play.  Trailing 9-3 at halftime, New York struck quickly on their opening drive of the second half, added two Jay Feely field goals, and rode a defense that has still not given up a TD this season.  Tom Brady was limited in his effectiveness, going 23/47 for 216 yards and a pick, as he was under pressure often from a blitz-happy Jets D, although the Jets recorded no sacks in the effort.  Rookie QB Mark Sanchez looked like two different players in this game. After going 3/5 for 15 yards with a fumble in the first half, he recovered nicely to finish 14/22 for 163 yards and a TD.

Next Up: Falcons at Patriots (Sun. 1 p.m.), Titans at Jets (Sun. 4:15 p.m.)

Saints 48, Eagles 22
Drew Brees’ and the Saints’ offense continued where they left off last week against the Lions, running up the score on the Donovan McNabb-less Eagles, who turned the ball over 4 times, including 3 picks from backup QB Kevin Kolb.  Brees was 25/34 for 311 yards and 3 TDs, throwing two to Marques Colston, who had 8 catches for 98 yards.  Darren Sharper put an exclamation point on the blowout win for New Orleans with his 97-yard interception return for a TD late in the 4th quarter.  Kolb was 31/51 for 391 with 2 TDs, but his 3 picks all led to Saints’s scores and left fans calling for Jeff Garcia and Michael Vick, who is active for next week’s game.

Next Up: Chiefs at Eagles (Sun. 1 p.m.), Saints at Bills (Sun. 4:05 p.m.)

Redskins 9, Rams 7
Three Shaun Suisham field goals proved to be just enough for Washington to sneak past St. Louis, who saw a golden opportunity to win the game slip through its fingers on WR Donnie Avery’s lost fumble midway through the 4th quarter.  In a game that neither team will really want to remember come tomorrow, Marc Bulger and Jason Campbell both looked very average, neither really taking many chances downfield and counting on their running backs to give them field position. Bulger finished 15/28 for 125 yards and a TD, while Campbell was 23/35 for 242 yards. 

Next Up: Packers at Rams (Sun. 1 p.m.), Redskins at Lions (Sun. 1 p.m.)

Cardinals 31, Jaguars 17
Kurt Warner responded to the criticism following the Cards’ loss last week to the 49ers with the most efficient performance by an NFL quarterback ever as Arizona dominated Jacksonville.  Warner completed 24 of 26 passes for 243 yards and 2 TDs and left the game in the 3rd quarter up 31-3 with a sore shoulder.  Maurice Jones-Drew was limited to 66 yards on 13 carries and the Jaguars offense turned the ball over 3 times.  Antrel Rolle added a 87-yard return off of a blocked FG attempt for Arizona.

Next Up: Colts at Cardinals (Sun. 8:20 p.m.), Jaguars at Texans (Sun. 1 p.m.)

49ers 23, Seahawks 10
Two big TD runs from Frank Gore and another solid defensive performance gives San Francisco sole possession of the NFC West lead.  Gore broke runs of 79 and 80 for scores in a day where he totaled 246 total yards.  The other big storyline in the game was that Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck left the game after taking a hard hit in the back, forcing Seneca Wallace into action.  It’ll be interesting to see the extent of the oft-injured Hasselbeck’s injuries and how the Seahawks will respond to having Wallace under center.

Next Up: Bears at Seahawks (Sun. 4:05 p.m.), 49ers at Vikings (Sun. 1 p.m.)

Bills 33, Buccaneers 20
Buffalo jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead, T.O. made his first TD catch as a member of the Bills, and Buffalo bounced back from last week’s disappointing loss in New England by handling Tampa Bay.  The Bucs were limited to 57 yards rushing for the day and Byron Leftwich threw 2 picks, one of which was returned 76 yards by Donte Whitner for a Bills touchdown.  Trent Edwards looked solid again this week, going 21/31 for 230 yards, with 2 TDs and 1 INT.  The big story might have been the performance of Fred Jackson, who has shined in place of the suspended Marshawn Lynch, as he carried the ball 28 times for 163 yards. 

Next Up: Saints at Bills (Sun. 4:05 p.m.), Giants at Bucs (Sun. 1 p.m.)

Bears 17, Steelers 14
A defensive struggle that lived up to its billing, the Bears rallied behind Jay Cutler to comeback from down 14-7 to win 17-14 at home.  Cutler was a drastically improved 27/38 for 236 yards and 2 TDs, including a game-tying strike to Johnny Knox with 6:21 to play.  After Jeff Reed missed a go-ahead field goal with 3:20 remaining, the Bears marched down the field and Robbie Gould hit the eventual game-winner from 44 yards to improve to 1-1.  Ben Roethlisberger was 23/35 for 221 yards, with 1 TD and 1 pick in a game where neither team had success on the ground.

Next Up: Steelers at Bengals (Sun. 4:15 p.m.), Bears at Seahawks (Sun. 4:05 p.m.) 

Ravens 31, Chargers 26
Baltimore gave up 474 yards of offense, but it was their own offense that led them to a big victory in San Diego.  Joe Flacco continues to look solid in his second year, going 17/26 for 190 yards and 2 TDs.  Philip Rivers was also very good, throwing for 436 yards, but made 2 big mistakes that the Ravens picked off and got points off of.  Willis McGahee continues to play an unexpectedly large role in the Ravens’ offense, as he had 15 carries for 79 yards and 2 TDs to lead all running backs.  Darren Sproles was limited in his effectiveness on the ground, as he was held to 26 yards on 10 carries, but made his impact felt receiving 7 catches for 126 yards and a TD.

Next Up: Browns at Ravens (Sun. 1 p.m.), Dolphins at Chargers (Sun. 4:15 p.m.)

Broncos 27, Browns 6
Denver outgained Cleveland 449-200 and made it look easy at home against the Browns, who never really got on track offensively. Brady Quinn struggled again, turning the ball over twice and failing to lead a single touchdown drive against a Broncos’ D that might just be better than advertised.  Kyle Orton was solid yet again, going 19/37 for 263 yards and a TD, and Correll Buckhalter had 9 carries for 76 yards and a score for Denver, who moves to an unlikely 2-0 and has a great opportunity to move to 3-0 against the Raiders next week. Cleveland was limited to 54 yards on 21 carries on the ground and lost two fumbles as they dropped to 0-2.

Next Up: Browns at Ravens (Sun. 1 p.m.), Broncos at Raiders (Sun. 4:15 p.m.)

The NFL regular season is almost upon us, which for me means another chance to try and figure out who is going to win the Super Bowl before the first real snap is even taken.  Usually this means that by Week 9, I find myself looking at this article and laughing at my own stupdity.  This year I’m going with a new approach to this whole thing though.  In the past, I found myself buying into the ESPN hype machine on teams like the Browns, and Jaguars…not this time! This is basically blind analysis on my gut instinct this year, so it will certainly be interesting to see if this method works.  If not, I will walk from here in D.C. to Bristol, Connecticut, and apologize to John Clayton and his egghead for ever making fun of him.  So, here it goes, my predictions for this 2009-10 NFL Season. Today, the AFC.

AFC East
The East is one of the more intriguing divisions in the league this year because of the storylines surrounding each team.  The Patriots are a team

Much like Wes Mantooth said to Ron Burgundy.  Tom Brady, I hate you with every ounce of my soul. But, God do I respect you!

Much like Wes Mantooth said to Ron Burgundy. Tom Brady, I hate you with every ounce of my soul. But, God do I respect you!

that gets Tom “the Golden Boy” Brady back, but is going through a bit of a defensive revolution. The Dolphins are that team that everyone looks at and says “can they do what they did last year again?” The Bills have T.O, enough said and the Jets are led by a rookie QB and Head Coach.  That being said, this is how I see the East shaking out:

1. New England (13-3)
Yes the defense is a lot different looking and Tom Brady is coming off an injury, but anyone who thinks the Patriots aren’t going to continue to be the premier franchise in the NFL is out of their minds.  As much as it pains me to say this because of my unfortunate love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with the Jets, no one in this division will touch the Pats this year, and no one will get close to Tom Brady’s surgically-repaired knee because the Pats’ O-Line won’t allow for that and either will the NFL’s rules committee (The Bernard Pollard hit is now a 15-yard penalty).  Even with the changes on the defensive side, any offense that has Brady, Moss, Welker, and a re-vamped running game that now features Fred Taylor will be very hard to keep up with on the scoreboard.  The Patriots will win this division going away and look poised to make another deep playoff run.

2. Dolphins (8-8)
This might be even more painful than what I said about Tom Brady and the Patriots: I was wrong about Chad Pennington.  I admit that when Brett Favre became available, that I was vocal in wanting him and dumping No. 10, who ended up guiding the once hapless ‘Phins to an unlikely playoff run last year.  Granted, that was largely in part due to Brady’s injury and the Jets choke-job in the last five weeks, but hey, they won the division outright and you cannot take that away from Miami.  However, I struggle to see how the Dolphins have improved from the offseason and that combined with the parity of the NFL and the fact that the Ravens D exploded the wildcat last year leads me to believe that they will take a small step backwards this year.  Also, it’s important to note that Chad Pennington has only gotten through two straight seasons in his career without a serious injury once, and those were his first two seasons.  Chad Henne, be prepared to step in at some point this year.

3. Jets (6-10)
I’m feeling a little bullish on the J-E-T-S this year by even suggesting they will finish ahead of the Bills and win 6 games.  When I first saw the 2009-10 schedule, my gut reaction was 2-14 or 3-13.  The more I looked at it though, the more I relaized that this team isn’t awful, but they just can’t throw the ball.  They will get lucky a couple of times this year, and they do get games against the likes of Oakland and Cincinnati, so I think 6 wins is an achievable goal for “Mr. GQ” Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan and his big mouth.  However, do not expect the games against teams like New England to be pretty, especially their Week 2 showdown, where Belichick and Co. will be looking to run up the score if they have the chance.

4. Bills (4-12)
Many people out there are talking about the Bills as a surprise team this year.  My question is: What team are you looking at?  Yes, they added T.O. (or as Skip Bayless calls him, Team Obliterator) and yes, the team seems to have found a bit of an identity, but they still aren’t very good.  Marshawn Lynch isn’t available for the first three games, T.O. is already banged up, and Trent Edwards isn’t exactly Jim Kelly, even with a very fast and dangerous receiving corps.  Defensively, I really struggled to identify any of their returning starters, save Aaron Schobel and Paul Posluszny, whose name it took me about five tries to spell properly.  Usually you can make the argument that it’s because no one pays attention to defense, but I don’t think it’s the case with the Buffalo/Toronto Bills.  They aren’t very good, sorry Bills fans.

AFC North
The AFC North is kind of like a Tale of Two Cities, except with four cities…or something like that.  In Pittsburgh and Baltimore, hopes are very high that

With a name like Big Ben you should expect a little bit of trouble.

With a name like "Big Ben" you should expect a little bit of trouble.

their teams will compete for the Lombardi Trophy this year.  In Cleveland and Cincinnati, they just hope that their teams make it through the whole season in one piece.  So, in a two-horse race, who will take the crown?

1. Steelers (12-4)
The defending champs remain one of the most complete teams in the league and lack any major glaring weaknesses coming into this season, so long as Big Ben avoids motorcycles, lawsuits from suppossed jilted ex-lovers, and any other kind of things that would really only happen around the starting QB for the Steelers (Just ask Terry Bradshaw.)  If anything was a problem for Pittsburgh, it was that the lacked a great running game last year and at times were forced to rely a little bit too much on the likes of Mewelde Moore (My fantasy team’s MVP last year!).  That gets some serious help with the return of second-year man Rashard Mendenhall, who looks poised to get a good amount of the carries down by the goal line for Pittsburgh.  I fully expect Pittsburgh to be seriously discussed as having a chance to repeat before the end of the regular season.

2. Ravens (10-6)
I really like Joe Flacco and what he’s been able to do for the Ravens offense, but the problem for him, as has been for so many of the Ravens QBs since Trent Dilfer led them to their lone Super Bowl is that the receiving corps is just kind of, well, meh…No offense to Derrick Mason, who has had a very nice NFL career, or to Todd Heap, who is one of the top TEs in the league, but they just don’t matchup great against the better NFL secondaries (especially Pittsburgh).  The Ravens D will be the Ravens D and Ray Lewis will continue to give players nightmares, but they are just lacking 1 or 2 pieces right now.  They’ll make the playoffs, no doubt,  but I struggle to see the grounded Birds do much against the best of the best.

3. Bengals (5-11)
Cincinnati basically already knows that they won’t be competing for anything other than the AFC North cellar this year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be a very interesting team to watch.  From Chad Ochocinco’s Twittering antics, that will definitely get him at least one fine during the course of the season, to the maturation of rookie LB Rey Malauga, who I expect to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year, (Seriously, watch this guy play and you’ll be very impressed) the Bungles afre beginning to show signs of life again, so maybe this year their win total will surpass their arrest totals…but not by much.

4. Browns (3-13)
It’s not that I think the Browns are this bad, in fact, I want to think they are going to be better than this, BUT we are talking about the Cleveland Browns after all.  I predict that by mid-season the Browns will have gone through at least 2 QB changes between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, that the rest of the offense will either be injured or just MIA, that the defense will not matter because of this, and that Eric Mangini will call up his old friend Tony Soprano and take out a hit on himself. Don’t worry though Cleveland, at least you still have LeBron for now.

AFC South
The AFC South might be the toughest division to call this year just because you can’t really say that any of the four teams in the division are bad teams.

Hi, you can watch me on DirectTV! Most irritating commercials on TV.

"Hi, you can watch me on DirectTV!" Most irritating commercials on TV.

  The Colts still have Peyton Manning running their offense, the Titans seem like they are ready to join the AFC’s elite, the Texans are a good first half of the season away from being a perennial playoff team, and the Jaguars have enough talent to compete with anyone.  This division might come down to the last week of the season.

1. Colts (11-5)
In spite of the fact that Tony Dungy is gone and the Titans seem to be the cool pick, I’m sticking with Peyton Manning and the Colts offense, which never seems to slow down.  I don’t really think that their in the elite of the conference anymore, but I think that they have just enough left for one more run in the division.  If they finish above .500 against division foes, they should take it.

2. Texans (10-6)
OH I LIED!!! I am on the Texans bandwagon this year and I really think that this is a playoff-caliber team with the lone caveat being the health of Matt Schaub.  They have one of the most explosive offenses in the league with Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton leading a young and fast corps of skill position players.  That, combined with the experience that guys like Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye have gained on the D-Line and this team will surprise a lot of people. 

3. Titans (9-7)
I know I said that the Titans are looking like they could be in the AFC’s elite soon, but every team has to go through some growing pains, and for the Titans it’ll happen on both sides of the ball.  Kerry Collins and Chris Johnson will not have the same years they did last year.  LenDale White dropping weight eliminates Tennessee’s power running game which opened things up for the passing game.  Defensively, that team relied on Albert Haynesworth more than you think as one of the top rush defenses in the league last year.  All that equates to less wins, and no playoffs, for the Titans.

4. Jaguars (5-11)
The Jaguars will be tthe most deceiving team in the league, and that team that’ll ruin your bet on the spread every week.  Their record is going to be very deceiving, much like the Chiefs last season.  The Jags will be competitive, and very tough to beat.  However, they’ll be good enough to lose a lot of close games.  Expect good things from Maurice Jones-Drew this year as he tries to carry the offense for Jacksonville, as well as try and get some more seats into the dingy Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

AFC West
This division is very simply the San Diego Chargers division to lose this year.  It’s not even because they’re that good, although they are pretty good,

Go, Chargers...Go

"Go, Chargers...Go"

but it’s more about how bad the other teams are in the division.  The Broncos are in complete disarray right now with Josh McDaniels systemically destroying every last trace of Mike Shanahan’s much-respected offense.  The Chiefs are already in trouble because of the injury to big money QB Matt Cassel, forcing them to bring back Tyler Thigpen, who I like as a player in the league, but makes way too many mistakes with the ball.  Finally, there’s the Raiders who are, well, um, yeah, they’re still the Raiders. I think that’s self-explanatory.

1. Chargers (10-6)
Like I said, this is the Chargers division to lose, and they aren’t going to lose it, unless both LaDanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles suffer season-ending injuries and Shawne Merriman gets arrested for slapping Tila Tequila…oops.  Still only one of those things has happened so far and the Chargers have dealt with distractions and not having Merriman before.  They will presevere and go 5-1 at worst against division opponents and cruise into the playoffs.

2. Chiefs (7-9)
This is going to be one of the most improved teams in the AFC this year. They will beat teams that they probably shouldn’t and they’ll be competitive in every game much like last year, but they still aren’t a good team.  There are still numerous holes in Kansas City’s personnel to fill and they are about 2-3 years away from being a playoff team.  Chiefs fans are amongst the most loyal in the league and they deserve a winner, so I hope that this happens for them too.

3. Broncos (4-12)
As much as Denver has attempted to make itself as bad as the 2008-09 Lions, the Broncos will find a way to win a few games this year, especially since they get to play the Raiders twice, but it goes without saying that this team is just lousy.  They downgraded at QB, are relying on a rookie running back to carry the load, and their star receiver is so unhappy, he’s willing to go play for the Jets, which is usually not a good sign.  That, combined with one of the most porous defenses in the league last year means hard times at Mile High for the Broncos faithful, who are still looking for the second-coming of John Elway.

4. Raiders (3-13)
This is another team that I don’t think is THAT bad, but again it’s the Raiders we’re talking about.  Al Davis will find a way to ruin that team, whether it’s by having Tom Cable go Mike Tyson on JaMarcus Russell, or by alienating Darren McFadden by writing a letter calling him a pathological liar and a cheater, Oakland will find a way to destroy itself because that’s what Oakland does.  I figure that the Raiders will steal a few games from underachieving and unsuspecting foes this year, most of which will be too scared to go into the Black Hole because it makes them think of nearby Alcatraz with the characters in there.

So, there you have it.  Look back tomorrow for my preview of the NFC, where mercifully I won’t have to kiss Tom Brady’s golden…arm.