Much to the relief of those who felt their Facebook status feed wasn’t annoying enough already, football season is upon us. It begins amid an uncertain future, with a looming players’ strike in 2011 threatening to delay the debut of an 18-game season, which is supposed to cut down on concussions or something like that. I don’t know. Whatever the owners are high on, I can’t afford it.
The 2010 season has already kicked off in fine dramatic style, with the New Orleans Saints defeating the Minnesota Vikings 14-9 ... Is this a new season, or what? And with a new season brings new rules, new challenges and, of course, all-new surprises.
Before we begin, let me be clear upfront: my predictions are not scientific guesses. They’re not based on endless poring over scientifically obtained statistical studies. (They might even be a little biased. But only because the Saints are awesome.) But how many “professional” predictions ever come true as advertised? Zero, that’s how many! When you think about it, I’m every bit as authoritative. You never know what’s going to happen until it does. So now, I humbly present to you What’s Going to Happen in the NFL in 2010. But first...
New NFL rules
• No game can be won with a kick in overtime by Garrett Hartley.
• When a ball carrier’s helmet pops off during a play, the play is immediately ruled dead. This does not apply to Head and Shoulders spokesman Troy Polamalu, whose flowing locks always make the highlight reel.
• Holding is now a penalty if applied to the football.
• Jerry Jones Rule: All owners are now required to call plays. The Packers will decide every call via show of hands at Lambeau Field.
• The pick-six is now a 15-yard penalty on the defense.
• Brett Favre calls all overtime coin flips. If he makes the correct call, he can decide whether to kick off or receive. If his call is incorrect, he has no choice but to receive. If he goes off about how when he was a kid, coins were worth picking up, or otherwise yells at the players to get off his lawn, a 5-yard penalty will be assessed after the return.
• Past records will now serve as a determining factor in which teams make the playoffs. Because that’s totally freaking relevant.
• Chad Ochocinco is not allowed to contact or otherwise be within 20 yards of Terrell Owens at all times.
• If any personal misconduct happens after the first half is over, such as a player shoving an opponent, a penalty will be assessed in the third quarter. Apparently, I’m always looking away when this happens. Figures.
• The long snapper has a further bubble of protection from tacklers. The position, I mean, not Tom Brady.
• Special teams are no longer permitted to knock a punt returner into a coma until after the fair catch touches the ground.
• The “defenseless receiver” rule has been expanded to all players, whereas the “defenseless defense” won’t be fully adopted until next year.
• Teams who have clinched playoff berths, etc., will no longer be allowed to rest their starters. In fact, they can’t even wear pads after week 15.
• As part of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s campaign to reduce head injuries, any player who suffers a concussion will be penalized 15 yards from the spot of the foul and docked one week’s pay. And given a lecture.
• NFL Films will shoot alternate-reality Super Bowl segments to appease rabid fans. In the upcoming fake Super Bowl XLIV, the Colts face off against the Vikings. Despite 14 turnovers, the Vikings lose by only three points, which really means they won, because surely the Colts could have won by more than that since the Vikings had 14 turnovers! Clearly, the better team didn't win that alternate February night.
• Even when he loses, Peyton Manning is a winner.
Miami Dolphins — Expect a lot more Wildcat this year, especially with this weak schedule. Ricky Williams will be high...on your fantasy football list as he racks up the yards and points. If the team can get Courteney Cox back, look for the spinoff Cougar scheme and a shot at an AFC Championship ring with a missing stone. (12-4)
New York Jets — Love him or hate him, Rex Ryan is a loudmouth. This rookie head coach took fellow rookie Mark Sanchez and their squad all the way to the AFC Championship Game last season, but are in danger of falling victim to the dreaded sophomore jinx. However, just as 10th grade was a fun year for me, I think the Jets could have an impressive run this cycle. (10-6)
New England Patriots — Many people said the Saints’ 38-17 thrashing of the Pats last year was a death knell for this past decade’s dynasty. Be fair to the Saints; they were nearly invincible last year. And New England’s been on the decline for a while, largely because they stopped cheating. Still, they have talent. And they play the Bills twice. (8-8)
Buffalo Bills — So inept, they’ll probably find a way to lose four Super Bowls in a row this year. What few wins they have will mostly be a testament to the Cleveland Browns’ and Kansas City Chiefs’ respective existences. (3-13)
Baltimore Ravens — Joe Flacco and his not-so-flaccid crew ran up 24 points in the first quarter against the Patriots in last year’s playoffs. That would be awesome even if they weren’t primed for a similar explosion this year. It’ll be neat to see “Houshmandzadeh” in the Ravens’ font. Speaking of names, the Ravens have one straight out of literature. That’s got to count for something. (12-4)
Cincinnati Bengals — Ochocinco. TO. Opposing cornerbacks should wear only their finest Sunday shoes ... and earplugs. Cincy will make a wild-card playoff run, leaving us with extra weeks of Stuffy McStuffingtons explaining why they will always call him Chad Johnson and why it’s a damn shame that these mollycoddled athletes get all outspoken in the endzone and whatnot. (10-6)
Pittsburgh Steelers — Mike Tomlin’s crew is one of those teams that’s either first or last. They’re like the Ricky Bobby of the NFL, so I’m hedging my bets. Especially since Ben Roethlisberger apparently needs his own personal steel curtain. He’s given a black eye to a franchise that can see only one side of its helmet as it is. On the other hand, with Troy Polamalu back in top form in the defensive secondary, the ’Lers could very well be Head and Shoulders above the rest. Sorry. (8-8)
Cleveland Browns — There’s only one “Cleveland Show” sort of worth watching on Sundays, and this isn’t it. (4-12)
Indianapolis Colts — Fresh off a memorable Super Bowl run last year, Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts are poised for greatness once again. No one knows as much about winning as Peyton Manning, and no one can even begin to approach Peyton Manning when it comes to all-time legend status. I mean, did you see Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLIV? The league MVP showed what being a winner was like. He led Coach Jim Caldwell’s crew of superstars to the pinnacle of greatness, the likes of which had never been seen previously in NFL annals. The 31-17 final score reflected a match of the league’s best teams, one of which was the Colts. Manning’s game-sealing touchdown pass was one that will not likely be forgotten for years to come, especially among fans in Peyton Manning’s native Louisiana. The Colts had come into that game as easy favorites, and came out of it secure in the knowledge that they were AFC Champions, something that no one will ever be able to take away. The months that followed brought an onslaught of everything from magazines and TV commercials to cereal boxes on what it was like to be a winner, just like Peyton Manning. And if our eyes aren’t lying to us, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts are rearing for their 13th straight playoff appearance. At least, once they get a running game and a reinvigorated defense. Sounds like a job for ... Peyton Manning! (38-0)
Tennessee Titans — With Vince Young at the helm, they can do no wrong — or, more accurately, they can’t do all wrong. He’s backed up by 78-year-old Kerry Collins, which means the entire state of Tennessee has a vested interest in making sure Young doesn’t so much as break a nail. Coach Jeff Fisher’s job is safe, mainly because he’s been with the team longer than it’s been a team. With a ’stache like Fisher’s, who wouldn’t be set? (11-5)
Houston Texans — The only team in the NFL never to have made the playoffs, the Texans could conceivably make it this year, thus depriving the team of the one thing that makes it special. That would be sad. (9-7)
Jacksonville Jaguars — It’s too bad the Jags don’t play the Lions this year. Ford Field is an appropriate place for the Jaguars. Or maybe not, since Ford sold off the luxury line in 2008. That, combined with the general irrelevance of both teams, would probably make for a depressing game anyway. And unlike Ford, this team is in need of a bailout. At least its uniforms are spiffy. (7-9)
San Diego Chargers — Consistency is key with Norv Turner and Philip Rivers. The Bolts will surge during the regular season, clinch the division and be one-and-done. It takes talent to manage that year after year after year. And they stay classy doing it! (11-5)
Denver Broncos — Tim Tebow will become known for his pre-practice pep talks, in which he reminds the Broncs that they are a mile closer to Jesus than the other teams. Last year’s 8-8 collapse after a 6-0 start? A test of faith. Kyle Orton? Same deal. (9-7)
Oakland Raiders — With ______ at quarterback, they can only do better. I originally had Jason Campbell’s name in that blank, but he and everyone else at that position seems to be getting hurt badly. I blame the offensive line, who seem to be shooting blanks themselves. Still, if Campbell gets the nod and raises the Raiders to the level of last year’s middling Redskins, that will be a significant improvement. If nothing else, head coach Tom Cable and nutty owner Al Davis should be all kinds of entertaining. (5-11)
Kansas City Chiefs — I don’t know if Chiefs fans do the tomahawk a la the Atlanta Braves, but it has to look like they’re putting nails in the coffin if they do. The Chiefs’ victory over the Packers in preseason is damn near inexplicable, and could be an exciting ace in the hole. But probably not. Between the Chiefs and the Rams, it’s going to be another long year for pro football fans in Missouri. (4-12)
Dallas Cowboys — “America’s Team” will electrify Dallas...on Thanksgiving Day, when they’re in town. The Cowboys, on the other hand, are ripe for becoming the first team ever to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium. With their most potent offense in the Tony Romo era and DeMarcus Ware and Co. on defense, Dallas will be a force to reckon with. An NFC East title and a first-round playoff bye could very well be in the stars come holiday time. Bah humbug. (12-4)
Philadelphia Eagles — Kevin Kolb will have big shoes to fill in succeeding the late Donovan McNabb. He’ll at least be able to replicate recent McNabb, which will probably be of small consolation to Philly fans. But pleasing the fans can never be the No. 1 concern of any Philadelphia athlete. Why? Four words: SNOWBALLS PACKED WITH BATTERIES. But the Eagles’ core is showing promise, and with enough work will eventually be competitive enough to get Philly fans booing much less vociferously. (9-7)
New York Giants — The New York Football Giants (Why are they still called that? My parents were children the last time that distinction mattered...) had an epic collapse last year after a 5-0 start. Their defense gave up more than 40 points in five games, often to teams too embarrassing to mention in mixed company. I think they’ll post the same record this year, but sans the surprising meltdown. For Tom Coughlin’s boys, that will be an improvement. (8-8)
Washington Redskins — This year’s Skins will be a true work of art. And that work will be titled, “Donovan McNabb, slumming.” Or maybe not. After all, this was a team that looked better than its 4-12 record would suggest. It didn’t help that that bingo-caller guy was brought in to undermine former head coach Jim Zorn, or that even a phenomenal interception by Kareem Moore would turn into one of the most bizarre touchdown turnovers in NFL history. With all that behind them now, the Redskins can focus on improvement on the field. It’ll be a slow go. I blame the mascot. (6-10)
Green Bay Packers — Judging by the preseason, Aaron Rodgers and Co. are primed for an explosive year that might bring to mind the Saints of old. Maybe even the Saints of new. Every pundit at NFL.com picked the Pack to go to the Super Bowl this year, but remember...they lost to the Chiefs in preseason. That’s hard to do. In any case, Green Bay’s long overdue to sweep Brett Favre and the Vikings. That could be better than the Super Bowl. (13-3)
Minnesota Vikings — I knew Brett Favre would return because I never saw the box lowered into the ground and covered with several hundred pounds of concrete. With Sidney Rice out and Brad Childress calling plays like he can’t figure out the Tecmo Super Bowl playbook, Favre has his work cut out for him. And as we saw with his thinly disguised dodging of training camp, he’s clearly in it for his own self-satisfaction (and the team’s bootlicking of him is equally sad and an injustice to Tarvaris Jackson, the Prince Charles of quarterbacks). I don’t know what’s worse: that Favre might just really enjoy playing and not give a crap, or that he’s an egotistical diva who won’t be satisfied until his grandson plays alongside him. Either way, that gun doesn’t sling quite like it used to. And the Vikes are only hurting themselves by keeping the old guy in and leaving the young talent out to shrivel. Who owns this team, NBC? Nevertheless... (11-5)
Detroit Lions — They’re going 6-10 this year. And they deserve a wild card just for it. (Um, 6-10)
Chicago Bears — Ditka! Ditka! Ditka! Oh wait, that was decades ago. Da Bears aren’t even what they were when they lucked into the Super Bowl back in 2006-07. And that was when Soldier Field was apparently planted entirely with four-leaf clovers. No, I’m not bitter or trying to cause no trouble. I’m just here to do the Super Bowl Shuffle (since I’m a Saints fan). (5-11)
New Orleans Saints — Sure, the Saints won the Super Bowl last year. But were they really that good? I mean, there were occasions during New Orleans’ 13-0 start where they showed signs of fatigue and, in at least two or three games, they were sometimes behind. And, even more damning, the defense didn’t always score repeatedly. Also, they played the Colts in the Super Bowl. The COLTS! They don’t get much better than Peyton Manning. That guy’s awesome. Drew Brees can only hope to catch up one day. (13-3)
Atlanta Falcons — How can you make a crazy profit in these economically depressed times? Buy the Falcons for what they’re worth and sell them to a fan for what they think they’re worth. Oh! But seriously, the Dirty Birds might pose a serious threat to the Saints’ dominance in the division. After all, the rivalry dates back to 1970, when both teams inexplicably joined the NFC West. And some skewed rule of football physics suggests that once a team has dominated the series long enough, the tide turns. So there you go, Atlanta. Football Jesus is on your side this year. (9-7)
Carolina Panthers — With Jake Delhomme and Julius Peppers out and Matt Moore and Steve Smith in, Coach John Fox is making his team safe for the most generic names in pro football. Keep an eye out for backup fullback Joe Runner. And watch for the patented “O” offense and dreaded “X” defense to turn some heads this year in Field Stadium Arena. (Record)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — They still play. But not well. (2-14)
San Francisco 49ers — Mike Singletary’s got this squad whipped into shape, at least enough to take this weak division. Which, when you think about it, is exactly how the 49ers dynasty of the 1980s handled its business. They didn’t call the NFC West “The Niners and the ninnies” for nothing. Though their record in 1988 was two points away from the Saints taking their place in the playoffs. I predict the same record as that year, but the competition won’t be quite so close and heartbreaking. (10-6)
Arizona Cardinals — Back in the dark days of the 2006 draft, it appeared the Houston Texans would take Reggie Bush and the Saints would take quarterback Matt Leinart. I even alluded as much in a blog at the time. But the Texans took Mario Williams, the Saints got Bush and the rest is history. But poor Leinart just got cut, right after Kurt Warner retired, right after getting slammed by the Saints. It’s a circle of karma, if you don’t think about it. If Beanie Wells and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie stay healthy, the Cards will be OK ... later. (8-8)
Seattle Seahawks — I still can’t believe they moved the Seahawks over to the NFC. It’s like when they moved the Milwaukee Brewers to the National League. It just seems unnatural somehow. Well, at least they got a Super Bowl appearance out of it many moons ago. This is not that team. They should sweep the Rams, at least. (5-11)
St. Louis Rams — Like a high school team in its sixth year of rebuilding, the Rams have a long, daunting road ahead. Regardless, fans should make an effort to boost numbers in the Edward Jones Dome before the Rams start having to play games inside the Gateway Arch. The Rams may not be the Greatest Show on Turf anymore, but they still are, technically, a show on turf. Two out of three isn’t bad, and is a much better percentage than this ever-struggling young squad will reach this season. Steven Jackson remains a monster and a white-hot bright spot. (3-13)
Wild Card Round:
Bengals over Dolphins
Titans over Chargers
Ravens over Bengals
Colts over Titans
Ravens over Colts
Wild Card Round:
Cowboys over Falcons
Vikings over 49ers
Packers over Cowboys
Saints over Vikings
Saints over Packers
Super Bowl XLV
Saints 42, Ravens 24
MVP: Peyton Manning
No matter what happens, enjoy the season! Get in the spirit with your official paper football.