Not sure if he's smiling or not, but I don't think he'll be smiling after Sunday Night

So we have finally crossed the midway point of the regular season in the NFL and so far, as expected there have been some surprises and some disappointments.  My ability to pick games probably falls in neither of those areas, but rather in more of an “as expected category.”  After last week’s 5-8 disaster, the season record crept further downward to 65-61-1 (.516).  Here’s another attempt at a turnaround in Week 10.

Thursday Night
Bears (+3)
at 49ers: After seeing both of these teams play last week, the NFL probably regrets putting them in the Thursday Night game this week.  The Mike Singletary vs. the Team He Used to Play For storyline loses its luster when you see these two teams matchup.  I’ll take the Bears, solely because I know they’ll put up some points and they’ll win if they can just stop Frank Gore.  Alex Smith will throw at least 2 picks to bail out Chicago.

Sunday Games
Bills (+7)
at Titans: I have no idea what has gotten into the Tennessee Titans the last couple of weeks but they have looked very good.  However, I think part of that is because they haven’t been pressed into making Vince Young make a whole lot of big plays.  I think that the Bills will load the box early and often for Chris Johnson to make this happen.  Also, it sounds like Trent Edwards is going to be back from his injury, so the Bills might even have a halfway competent passing game this week.

Saints (-14) at Rams:  This needs very little analysis.  The Saints are 8-0 and rolling over opponents.  The Rams are 1-7 and beat the Lions for their only win.  New Orleans should crush them.  This one will be over by halftime.

Buccaneers at Dolphins (-10): My first impression of this game was to pick Tampa Bay.  Then I realized I would be taking the league’s 30th-ranked rush defense against Miami’s wildcat offense, which is prided on the run.  That made my decision much easier.  As long as Joey Porter shows up this week (he had a big ZERO tackles in New England) the Fish should be fine.

Lions at Vikings (-17): Minnesota got off to a slow start in Detroit and still managed to beat the Lions 27-13 at Ford Field.  That being said, I think Minnesota has gotten stronger while Detroit is starting to pack it in again.  Minnesota should be able to win by at least 17 in the Metrodome.

Jaguars (+7) at Jets:  I really don’t understand how the Jets are favored by 7 points in this game.  Other than the 38-0 win over Oakland, they haven’t blown anyone away, and since starting 3-0, just haven’t looked like the same team.  Jacksonville is a lot tougher than people give them credit for, and a win would put them at 5-4 with the Texans and into the playoff hunt.

Bengals (+7) at Steelers: So yet again the Bengals are playing a team they beat once already and are the underdog?  Did Vegas learn nothing from Cincy’s 17-7 win over Baltimore last weekend?  Apparently not.  I’m not sure who’s going to win this game, but you can be certain that the Bengals and Steelers will play a hard-fought and close game.

Broncos (-4) at Redskins:  Denver’s been knocked back to Earth the last couple of weeks, but those were two tough opponents.  Washington should provide the kind of bounce-back they are looking for.  I expect to see Denver have much greater success running the ball against the Skins and win by at least a touchdown.

Falcons at Panthers (+2): I have really liked what I’ve seen from the Panthers the last couple of weeks.  It seems like John Fox just opened his playbook to the section listed as “running plays” and it’s been looking pretty good ever since.  So long as they don’t put the game in Jake Delhomme’s hands at any point, I like Carolina’s chances at home against a struggling Matt Ryan and the Falcons.

Chiefs (+2) at Raiders:  I have no real explanation for picking the Chiefs to beat the Raiders other than the fact that they should have beaten them in Week 2 at home.  The game will be low-scoring, unwatched, and forgotten about soon after, but Kansas City might have its last chance at winning a game this weekend.

Eagles at Chargers (-3): The Chargers seem to be getting hot again as they attempt to chase down the AFC West-leading Broncos and are coming off a big win over the Giants.  The Eagles need this one just as badly after dropping their battle with the Cowboys last week to drop out of first place, but are without Brian Westbrook again it appears right now.  They need him on the field to be successful against San Diego’s defense.

Seahawks at Cardinals (-9): The Seahawks and Cardinals are two teams going in very different directions right now.  Since blowing out Jacksonville 41-0, Seattle has look just terrible, not even looking very convincing in its 32-20 win over Detroit last week.  The Cardinals, on the other hand, scored an easy win over the Bears and Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald looked very much on the same page.  That’s bad news for the Seahawks’ secondary.

Cowboys (-3) at Packers: Dallas showed up in a big way last week by beating the Eagles.  Green Bay decided not to show up by losing to the Bucs.  Who do you think I should pick???

Patriots (+3) at Colts: From a completely biased view, I would love to see the Colts win, even though I’m about as much a fan of Peyton Manning as I am of Tom Brady.  However, I’ve seen this matchup before and Brady has gotten the better of Manning five out of seven times in the regular season.  The Pats take another step towards being a Super Bowl contender by beating the Colts, 24-21.

Monday Night
Ravens (-11)
at Browns: This could be -21 and I would probably still take the Ravens to shellac the Cleveland Browns.  Cleveland is in complete disarray right now and just doesn’t show any signs of life.  Baltimore desperately needs a win to try and catch the loser of the Pittsburgh-Cincy game if they expect to make the playoffs.

Advertisements

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.

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.