So as we reach the end of Week 9, every team is now halfway through the regular season.  Some teams have been great surprises and others have not. Meanwhile, Oakland is, well, yeah.  It’s at this point in the season where I like to take a look at my preseason predictions and see which ones were good, and which ones were not so good.  Let’s start with some of the good ones.

The Good-AFC

1. As predicted, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are well on their way to taking yet another AFC East crown with relative ease.  Since the Week

This is the one prediction I would have truly been OK with being wrong on. Why do you torture me, Tom Brady?

2 loss to the upstart Jets, the Pats have looked very much like the perennial playoff team we’ve been used to seeing since the beginning of this decade.  Their true test of whether or not they are completely back as a contender comes on Sunday night against the undefeated Colts, but even if they lose that game, it’s hard to see them lose this division.  It would take a collapse much like the Jets had last year, but let’s be serious now people. If anyone truly believes that The Golden Boy is going to let his team falter then stand up and show yourself because I’d like to examine your brain.  Yet again, the bane of my existence in Tom Brady will guide the Pats to a deep playoff run.

2. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the T.O. in Buffalo situation just doesn’t seem to be working at all, which I feared at the beginning of the year and is the main reason I had picked them to finish dead last in the AFC East.  Through eight games, Owens has been limited to 15 catches for 215 yards and 1 TD…wow.  Trent Edwards has somehow managed to avoid his primadonna wideout’s venom so far this season.  However, if this trend continues, expect to be hearing from ESPN’s favorite disgruntled WR very soon.  Get Ed Werder on the next flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Buffalo.

3. The Indianapolis Colts remain the class of the AFC South, especially after pulling out a 20-17 win over the Texans today.  At 8-0, it’s only a matter of time before the Colts clinch the division and start playing Jim Sorgi and a plethora of other reserves in the middle of Week 14.  It’s amazing how consistently dominant the Colts have been since Peyton Manning took the reins of the franchise in 1999.  Staying in this division, the Houston Texans, despite the loss, seem to be in decent position to make the playoffs as a wild card.  So long as they can avoid some of the baffling losses they’ve had in the past, they should be able to get to 9-10 wins and sneak into the postseason.

The Bad-AFC

1. The Cincinnati Bengals are 6-2 and leading the AFC North at the end of Week 9.  I predicted said Bungles to finish 5-11 this year.  It’s partly luck that

I am still not justifying this man's idiocy by calling him by his legally changed last name. Why are people I dislike doing so well this season?!?

they are where they are, but it’s also partly bad luck that they aren’t 7-1 considering their Week 1 loss to Denver, who we’ll revisit in a bit.  Cedric Benson has been a massive surprise on the offensive side of the ball, giving Carson Palmer the complement that he hasn’t had since Rudi Johnson’s sudden decline and subsequent exiling to Detroit.  If the Bengals have staying power, then I look for this team to finish with 11 wins and potentially win the AFC North, meaning that either Pittsburgh or Baltimore is staying home this year for the Playoffs.

2. Well, I was right about the Tennessee Titans taking a step back this year.  But they have taken several hundred steps back.  sitting at 2-6, with back-to-back wins now, thanks in part to Chris Johnson getting going in a big way.  Vince Young has replaced Kerry Collins, playoff hopes seem bleak at best, and we even had Jeff Fisher donning a Peyton Manning jersey because he “wanted to feel what it was like to be a winner.” This team’s got issues, but should manage to finish with 5-6 wins and spend the offseason regrouping for 2010.

3. Who are these Denver Broncos, and since when do teams in complete disarray perform well on the field? (see Raiders, Oakland) I guess at 6-1 going into their Monday Night showdown with Pittsburgh, we have to say that the Broncos are for real, even if I can’t figure out how they’re winning games.  I still think San Diego is going to win this division, and I really think Denver should have lost in Cincy and at home to New England, yet Kyle Orton continues to win like he’s still in Chicago.  I guess it’s poetic justice in the sense that Orton has outperformed Jay Cutler, but other than that I just don’t get how this team hasn’t completely melted down yet.

The Good-NFC

1. Brett Favre has been as good as advertised for the Minnesota Vikings, who at 7-1 look poised to run away the NFC North.  Jared Allen has looked

I hate this guy too...but the Minnesota Favres wouldn't have been this good without him there.

completely revitalized and Adrian Peterson is making Favre look like the All-Pro QB he was in his prime.  I really hope that we get to see these guys play the New Orleans Saints for the NFC title.  That would be one helluva game.

2. The NFC East remains the toughest division to call in all of the NFL.  After a 5-0 start, the New York Giants have fallen way back to Earth and almost to the .500 mark at 5-4. Meanwhile, after looking like they were going nowhere fast, the Dallas Cowboys are leading the pack at 6-2, scoring a big win in Philadelphia earlier tonight.  The Eagles, Cowboys, and Giants will certainly take advantage to playing the Redskins, so it should come down to head-to-head battles between the three teams.

3. The worst teams in the NFL still reside in the NFC.  The Rams, Lions, and Buccaneers’ seasons are already over, as all three stand at 1-7.  The question at this point is will these teams continue to play hard for the final eight games, or think better of it and just throw away contests to try and get the first pick?  It’s never fun to have to look at it that way, but it’s a cruel reality in St. Louis, Detroit, and Tampa Bay this year.

The Bad-NFC

1. Who Dat? Apparently “Dat” is the New Orleans Saints, led by Drew Brees, a solid rushing attack, and a better than advertised defense.  The Saints are 8-

I think I liked it better when the Saints were bad and they wore paper bags over their heads.

0, and unless they do the unthinkable and lose every single game from here out, they will not finish 8-8 as I originally thought.  The Saints have separated themselves from the pack and hold a three game lead over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South.  With games left against their division opponents, they should have very little trouble getting to 11 wins.  How many beyond that remains to be seen, but if they get to 10-0 or 11-0, you know that Mercury Morris and the ’72 Dolphins are going to be getting thirsty for their champagne.

2. The Eagles are definitely not a 12-win team this year and with the loss to the Cowboys tonight, might not even make the playoffs.  The team just has too many issues on the offensive line and too many young skill position players to win big games, which showed tonight.  To complicate things further, Brian Westbrook’s concussion took the main cog right out of the Philly offense, which means it’ll be on LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver to get the job done, which they failed to do tonight.

That just about does it for the things that are either surprisingly spot-on or just way off mark for me in the first half of the season.  If I missed anything or if you just want to nitpick a bit, then go right ahead.  Look back for picks for Week 10 on Thursday or Friday.

Age was served in Cleveland, with a LOT of help from Adrian Peterson

Age was served in Cleveland, with a LOT of help from Adrian Peterson

I am going to start this by saying that I am a little embarrassed for several reasons, the least of which being my 8-5 record heading into tonight’s Bears-Packers game, which based on Jay Cutler’s 2 INT’s will soon be 8-6.  The reasons that I’m embarrassed is because, I feel that after just one week that I already might have to re-examine my outlook on some teams in the league.  So let’s get right to the part where I very suddenly eat my words in humiliation.

Considering the teams that I saw either overacheive or underachieve today, I’m going to take this on one division at a time, starting in the AFC.

East
I feel like I might have the middle two teams in this division mixed up, as the Dolphins looked like dead fish in Atlanta while there were no problems in

The Dolphins offense was certainly not helped by Penningtons 3 picks

The Dolphins offense was certainly not helped by Pennington's 3 picks

Houston for the Jets.  Give credit to the Jets defense, which pitched a shutout against a very potent Texans offense.  In case you were wondering, no I didn’t forget I picked the Texans to win this game or that I said they would win by 10 points.  On the other hand, Chad Pennington did not look like the QB we saw last year and the Dolphins offense looked like the 2007 version that saw only one win.

Next Up: Bills at Patriots, Mon. Night ; Week 2: Pats at Jets, Bucs at Bills, and Colts at Dolphins (Monday Night)

North
I actually don’t think there were many surprises out of this division as the Steelers and Ravens both scratched out close wins, the Browns looked like the Browns we all know and love, and the Bengals lived up to their “Bungles” moniker with a bit of bad luck against the Broncos.  That being said, Baltimore’s defense was a bit disappointing, as was Cincy’s offense.  It will be interesting to see how these teams react next week, or if they are just not that good.

Next Up: Bengals at Packers, Ravens at Chargers, Steelers at Bears, Browns at Broncos

South
OK, I think I owe an early apology to the Titans.  Yes, I know they lost to the Steelers, but with the Colts barely escaping the Jags at home, and the injury to Anthony Gonzalez, combined with the Texans getting beaten at home by the Jets, the Titans might be the class of this South division, and a legitimate contender.  They are still a very good defensive team, and if the running game comes along the way it could, Tennessee could be very dangerous come playoff time.  On the flip side, Houston looks like they are not quite ready to play the first half of the season yet, which will once again make me and the rest of the bandwagon look very stupid.

Next Up: Texans at Titans, Cardinals at Jaguars, Colts at Dolphins (Mon. Night)

West
The two teams that have played in this division so far this week looked about the way I expected them to.  The Broncos caught a very lucky break and escaped with an ugly and undeserved 12-7 win over the Bungles, and the Matt Cassel-less Chiefs crumbled late under pressure just like last year’s Chiefs, falling 38-24 to Baltimore.  If this pattern continues, San Diego should beat Oakland by about 50 tomorrow night.

Next Up: Raiders at Chiefs, Ravens at Chargers, Browns at Broncos
NFC
Much like in the AFC, there were several surprises to me in the NFC.  I knew that the Eagles were a good team, but I had no idea how bad Jake Delhomme could be, as he turned the ball over 5 times in a 38-10 beatdown.  The other big news was Drew Brees exploding on the hapless Lions for 6 TDs in a 45-27 Saints victory.

East
I think the Eagles showed today just how versatile of a team they can be, scoring on offense, defense, and special teams…BUT Donovan McNabb’s

Donovan McNabb left Phillys rout with a cracked rib. Kevin Kolb may start against the Saints

Donovan McNabb left Philly's rout with a cracked rib. Kevin Kolb may start against the Saints

cracked ribs certainly raises the eyebrows of the Philly faithful.  Dallas did what it should be able to do against teams as offensively challenged as Tampa Bay, and the Giants, contrary to what the final score might say, pretty much controlled the game against the Redskins, 23-17.

Next Up: Saints at Eagles, Rams at Redskins, Giants at Cowboys (Sun. Night)

North
Well, it wasn’t pretty, but Brett Favre is pretty old after all and the Vikings got a 34-20 win in Cleveland behind Adrian Peterson’s 180 yard, 3 TD outburst.  Along the same lines, it’s never pretty for the Lions, who saw their defense get lit up by Drew Brees in a 45-27 loss.  Worse even for Detroit, Matt Stafford’s inability to find the endzone through the air while finding Saints defenders on 3 occasions.  Speaking of 3 INTs, Jay Cutler just threw another one!  It’s not looking so good for the Bears right now.

Next Up: Bengals at Packers, Vikings at Lions, Steelers at Bears

South
If today was any indication of how the NFC South is going to break down, then expect this to be a two team race between Atlanta and New Orleans,

Brees threw 6 TDs against Detroit.  Can he do this every week to hide the Saints D?

Brees threw 6 TDs against Detroit. Can he do this every week to hide the Saints' D?

both of which looked very good today against the Dolphins and Lions, respectively, although the Saints did surrender 27 points to Detroit.  Opposite this might be the pillow fight for last place that has begun between the Panthers and Buccaneers, both of which looked completely inept against their NFC East opponents.

Next Up: Saints at Eagles, Panthers at Falcons, Bucs at Bills

West
The NFC West took a bit of a turn for the unexpected as San Francisco went into University of Phoenix Stadium and beat the Cardinals 20-16. (On a side note, why does a school without a football team or even a real campus have a football stadium’s naming rights?) Anyway, I was very impressed by how the 49ers defense managed to contain Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, as well as how well Arizona contained Frank Gore on the ground.  But at the end of the day, the Cardinals are not built to play a defensive game and it showed.  In the other division showdown, Seattle showed that they won’t be fighting with the Rams for last place again this year in a 28-0 thrashing of St. Louis.  It really was a combination of Seattle’s improvement and St. Louis’ lack thereof.  The Rams might challenge the Lions for worst team in the league this year, and we’re even lucky enough to see them faceoff in Week 8.

Next Up: Rams at Redskins, Seahawks at 49ers, Cardinals at Jaguars

Check back tomorrow/Tuesday for reports on the Bears-Packers game as well as the Monday Night games…and now it looks like the Bears might pull this one out tonight, go figure.  Sorry, Jay Cutler. (EDIT: Greg Jennings just scored. I take back my apology.)

OK, so yesterday I had to swallow some pride and give way too much love to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in my AFC Preview.  Thankfully, today is the NFC so we can leave all that behind. Once again I feel the need to reiterate that these are purely gut picks based out of my own personal opinions and biases.  Also, please keep in mind that I have an awful cold and am hopped up on NyQuil.  Just saying.

NFC East
Of course, much like the AFC East, the NFC East is once again very intriguing.  The Giants broke up Earth, Wind, and Fire (how dare they do that

McNabb has a great opprotunity to lead the Eagles to the Promised Land. That means more of his Mom in Chunky Soup ads, though.

McNabb has a great opprotunity to lead the Eagles to the Promised Land. That means more of his Mom in Chunky Soup ads, though.

to the legendary ’70s group!) and lost Steve Spagnuolo to the Rams, but still have one of the top defenses in the league and Brandon Jacobs leading their potent rushing attack.  The Eagles added depth with Jeremy Maclin and Mike Vick on the offensive side, but their defense looks more vulnerable than it ever has in the past decade or so.  The Cowboys are once again interesting between Tony Romo, Jerry Jones, and the big screen in their new stadium that will come into play.  The Redskins added Albert Haynesworth and almost added Jay Cutler, but just ended up making Jason Campbell really mad.

1. Eagles (12-4)
I think this might be a little bit too nice for the Iggles, but I know way too many Philly fans who would threaten my life like I was Eli Manning if I put the Giants above the Eagles here.  In all seriousness, though, although the Eagles lost a lot defensively, most notably Brian Dawkins, who probably wishes he could still be in Philly right now, they have seriously upgraded their offense to the point where it might now matter that the defense is a little weaker.  As I mentioned in an earlier article, Eagles fans are expecting a lot from their team and if they don’t succeed, expect some changes to be coming.

2. Giants (10-6)
I think the Giants are probably one of the best wild card teams that I have ever seen.  An outstanding defense, a great power running game, sound QB play, and no more Plaxico Burress makes the G-Men very good.  However, no more Plaxico is a bit of a double-edged sword in that now the New York receiving corps is very weak and that’s going to put a lot of pressure on Eli Manning to get the job done.  He’ll perform relatively well, but not up to a championship level, and as a result he will continue to play second fiddle to his brother in those DirectTV ads.

3. Cowboys (8-8)
Dallas is a team that desperately needed stability during the offseason.  Instead, they get the continued antics of owner Jerry Jones, and a new issue at WR with Roy Williams doing his best T.O. impersonation, just with half the productivity.  So for Dallas and it’s never-ending soap opera there will be plenty of storylines, just not a huge amount of success.

4. Redskins (6-10)
I struggle to find how the Redskins stay competitive year after year when it is obvious when you look at their team position by position that they just aren’t very good.  Jason Campbell is not a risk-taker, Clinton Portis can’t stay healthy, Santana Moss is the most streaky star receiver in the league, and the defense is either great or abysmal.  I think that this will be the year that it catches up with the ‘Skins and they play the way I expect them to, which is rather mediocre.

NFC North
The NFC North is one of the most different looking divisions from last year to this year.  The Bears added Jay Cutler to finally bring stability to their

This season might be ended with a tearful farewell, then a signing with the Bears just to spite Packers ownership.

This season might be ended with a tearful farewell, then a signing with the Bears just to spite Packers ownership.

offense, the Packers bring back a far more experienced team from a year ago, the Lions look like they might actually win a game this year, and the Vikings now have Brett Favre at QB.  Wait. What was that last one? Favre…Vikings?!? Oh, come on!!!

1. Vikings (10-6)
I really, REALLY don’t want to pick Minnesota to win the division, but they are the most complete team in this division.  On the offensive side, Brett Favre was just what the doctor ordered because he can make a bad receiving corps look good, just ask the Packers and Jets.  Combine that with the best running back in the league in Adrian Peterson and there’s no doubt that this team will be very good.  Plus their defense is anchored by All-Pro Jared Allen, as well as a plethora of other quality defensive players that will make it tough on the somewhat offensively challenged NFC North.

2. Bears (8-8)
The Bears are a very interesting team this year.  They dramatically improved at QB by adding Jay Cutler and Matt Forte looks like he’s going to be a star in the league.  Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no one to throw the ball to on this team.  Quick…Name the Bears’ receivers.  Could you? Earl Bennett, Brandon Rideau, Devin Aromashodu, and Johnny Knox are listed on the depth charts.  Now how many of you have actually heard of these guys?  Defensively, Chicago will have to continue to be solid as they try their best to cover up a glaring weakness on the other side of the ball.  If the Bears struggle this year, it could be the end for Lovie Smith, as well.

3. Packers (7-9)
There’s a lot of people out there who are quickly jumping on Aaron Rodgers to have a breakout season this year.  My expectations for Rodgers are a bit more tempered.  Do I think he’s a good NFL QB? Yes, absolutely. Do I think he’s Green Bay’s new Brett Favre? Damn, there’s that awful name again. Alas, no.  Rodgers won’t be perfect and will have games that will leave the Cheeseheads ripping their Gouda hairpieces off. (Yes, I know the Cheeseheads wear Swiss, but Gouda sounds cooler.) This, combined wiht a strong personal belief that games are won and lost on a QB’s arm means less wins for the Packers.

4. Lions (3-13)
Let’s get this out of the way right now.  The Lions are going to win at least 1 game this year.  Any team with an offense that has Calvin Johnson getting the ball should be able to win a couple of games.  Actually, the Lions are significantly better and more stable than last year’s team, but I guess that kind of was assumed.  If Matthew Stafford or Daunte Culpepper can deliver a few wins this year, then that person will be the toast of a town that is desperate for something good to happen.

NFC South
The NFC South is another one of those divisions that seems to be in a bit of a transition phase.  Atlanta is looking like they are quickly moving in the right

As a college student, the nickname Matty Ice conjures up memories of nights I wish I didnt remember.

As a college student, the nickname "Matty Ice" conjures up memories of nights I wish I didn't remember.

 direction, but will need another strong year from Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan in order to compete with the big boys.  New Orleans still has Drew Brees, but continues to look very shaky on the defensive side of the ball.  Carolina has a rapidly aging Jake Delhomme and nearly traded away its star DE Julius Peppers to the Patriots.  Finally, Tampa Bay dumped Jeff Garcia in favor of a platoon being led by Byron Leftwich.  All this could lead to some very soft records in the South.

1. Falcons (9-7)
I don’t really think the Falcons are as good as last year’s team would lead you to believe.  Most teams were caught way off-guard by the success the Matt Ryan had and were to keyed-in on All-Pro running back Michael Turner to make the proper adjustments on defense.  However, expect teams to be a bit more prepared for Atlanta this year, with double teams on Roddy White, and some different looks to keep the 2nd year QB from Boston College guessing.  They are still the cream of this division’s crop, though, and will manage to eke out of the regular season with the crown.

2. Saints (8-8)
The Saints are a fun team to watch with Drew Brees leading the league’s most dangerous aerial assault.  Unfortunately, their feature backs are Pierre Thomas, who has never really looked like a #1-type back and Reggie Bush, who remains the most overrated back in the NFL.  The lack of a solid running game plus a middle of the pack defense means a middle of the pack record for the ‘Aints.  Hopefully, it just won’t come down to some kind of mythic collapse as it has in the past for New Orleans.

3. Carolina (6-10)
Carolina is a bit of a mess right now.  Jake Delhomme has really not aged gracefully and looks like he might be in his last year as a starting QB, Steve Smith just cannot stay healthy anymore, and that means opposing defenses are going to load up in the box for DeAngelo Williams and Johnathan Stewart this year.  Defensively, they made the right decision by holding onto Julius Peppers for another year, but this is a unit that is trying to regain a bit of its identity, as it is no longer one of the league’s top units.

4. Buccaneers (2-14)
This team might be the worst team in the NFL this year.  No proven QB, an injury-prone stable of running backs, very mediocre at WR, and a defense that is either getting very old, or is very inexperienced.  I expect Tampa Bay to struggle mightily to really get a good rhythm going on either side of the ball, making almost impossible to recognize that this is a team that won a Super Bowl a few years ago.

NFC West
Ah, the cupcake division from a year ago that shockingly produced the NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals.  There is no team in this division that is very

If I hear how he was a grocery bagger one more time, I might have to take up bagging and see if that gets me to 3 Super Bowls

If I hear how he was a grocery bagger one more time, I might have to take up bagging and see if that gets me to 3 Super Bowls

 good.  Put any of these teams in another division, and they probably don’t compete.  Put them in a division together and you get competitive mediocrity.  The Cardinals return all the main players from last year’s team, the 49ers will play very hard so that Mike Singletary will keep his pants on in the locker room, the Seahawks should be better now that Matt Hasselbeck is healthy, and the Rams still have Steven Jackson, who is a true game-changer at RB.

1. Cardinals (9-7)
They really are the best of four bad teams in thiss division, solely based on the fact the Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are both still in the desert, and that alone should give defensive coordinators and secondaries ulcers.  The rest of the team is somewhat competitive, but certainly not top flight.  Chris Wells’ performance in his rookie campaign will have a big impact on the team’s overall success this year.

2. 49ers (7-9)
I want San Francisco to do well because I really like Mike Singletary as a head coach, but with an almost non-existent offense beyond Frank Gore, who could always get hurt at some point, this team isn’t a playoff team this year unless they get surprisingly strong play from Shaun Hill, but I really don’t see that happening this year. 

3. Seahawks (6-10)
Last year Seattle got bitten hard by the injury bug, and it cost them a lot more than just last year’s games.  It’s very hard to find a rhythm again when you’re out for a whole season, and the ‘Hawks entire passing game was injured last season so passing will come at a premium in the Pacific Northwest.  However, they are at least competent at the rest of the positions on the field, and that usually means that a team will be competitive.  This team could surprise in this division.

4. Rams (3-13)
St. Louis has a lot of problems.  Marc Bulger has no one to pass to and even if he did, he hasn’t looked great the last couple of years.  The defense is attempting to learn a new scheme under first-year head coach Steve Spagnuolo, and the team in general seems to have a feel about it like they aren’t going to compete this year.  Fortunately, the team also has Steven Jackson, who I think is the next best running back in the league behind Adrian Peterson, and that should be enough to get the Rams a couple of wins and help them avoid being last year’s Lions.

This year’s NFL season will certainly be entertaining for all of us to watch, and will certainly have some surprises in it that will make me look at this and laugh at my own stupidity, but until that happens I’m going to walk around like the smartest guy in the room and you can’t do anything about it.  Now I’m going to bed because the NyQuil has really kicked in.