Football is back! (and not a moment too soon)

After what seemed like an eternity, the summer is ending, and football is here again.  My seasonal distraction starts this week, and I am glad it has returned.  The National Football League, or my mistress as I am fond of saying, is just about to kick-off the 2010 season.  Now, I am not one of those Fantasy Football Geeks who drool over pages of stats.  I find fantasy football geeks root for individuals, and the season is reduced to what a player does in the stats sheet.  Call me old fashioned, or just out of touch with the now, but I still root for teams, and leave fantasy football to the guys who try to show the world that they are smarter than fans like me.

So looking forward to the 2010 season, all I can say is that it is wide open this time.  No one team stands out as a clear favorite.  (No matter what trash talk is coming from Jet fans)  It appears that lady luck will have a much stronger influence on this season’s outcome.  What I mean is that the teams that can stay relatively healthy will pretty much succeed.  Injuries are always the make or break factor with any team trying to make the playoffs.  In a year when several teams can contend for the Super Bowl, any key injury can spell disaster.

Let’s crawl inside the part of brain that woke up about two weeks ago after 33 weeks of sleep:

The National Football Conference (NFC)

The obvious question:  Can the New Orleans Saints return to the Super Bowl?  Well, no.  The Saints were able to outscore opponents on the way to their Super Bowl win last season.  The other teams in the NFC will close the gap, and the New Orleans defense will actually have to play better if they even want to make the playoffs.

A trendy pick this year are the Atlanta Falcons.  They will probably win the NFC South (the same division the Saints are in).  However, defense is also an issue for the Falcons.  If you can’t stop your opponent from reaching the end zone, then you will not make it very far in the playoffs.

Now I am not buying into the Minnesota Vikings this year.  Bret Favre will not have the same kind of season as he did last year.  Also, he is one good hit away from his career ending abruptly.  They will make things interesting, but the Vikings are not even the best team in their division.

I like the Green Bay Packers this year.  They have all the pieces in place for one good shot at the Super Bowl.  The other truly good team this season in the NFC is the Dallas Cowboys.  The only real challenge the Cowboys will face before the postseason will be from their own psychological profile.  If their heads are right, then they make the NFC title game.  I still like Green Bay in this scenario.

My Playoff picks for the NFC are The San Francisco 49ers winning the NFC West.  The Green Bay Packers win the NFC North.  The Atlanta Falcons win the NFC South.  The Dallas Cowboys win the NFC East.  The Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints earn the Wild Cards.

The American Football Conference (The AFC)

This conference will be the most fun to watch all season long.  The entire talk of the summer revolved around the New York Jets.  Well, I do not question their confidence, but their still unproven in my book.  Teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, and New England Patriots have won the big games in the post season.  They have the players that get it done when it counts.  The Jets could join this list of elite teams this year if they win the Super Bowl.  However, there are so many good teams in the AFC, the Jets have their work cut out for them.

The AFC South is my division to watch.  There are three teams that could win that division.  The Colts may finally be dethroned as rulers of that division.  I like the Tennessee Titans, and Houston Texans.  Will the Texans finally break through and make the Playoffs?  I hate to say, but no.  There are still too many good teams to jump over in order to make the post season.  The Titans stand a better chance, but their Quarterback needs to play well all season long.

The AFC North is also compelling.  The Baltimore Ravens are the favorite now.  With the Steelers trying to get over a summer plagued with off the field issues, the Ravens can get out early, and stay ahead.  The Cincinnati Bengals are a confounding team.  They can be great, but often underachieve.  Who knows what you will get from them this season?  Their opening game against the Patriots will set the tone for the season.

So my Playoff picks for the AFC are the San Diego Chargers out of the AFC West.  The Miami Dolphins win the AFC East.  The Indianapolis Colts win the AFC South.  The Baltimore Ravens win the AFC North.  The NY Jets and Cincinnati Bengals earn Wild Card births.

Washington Redskins

My dear Pops will be happy to finally see the meddling owner of this franchise step back and let new head coach Mike Shanahan rebuild this team into a consistent winner.  Let us hope that new quarterback Donovan McNabb brings a winning attitude with him this season.  I expect the ‘Skins to win more games this season, but in the NFC East, they will not see the post season this year.  I like them to play spoiler for other teams with Super Bowl aspirations.

San Francisco 49ers

Niner fans should be sending now retired quarterback Kurt Warner truck loads of thanks you cards and well wishes.  The good news is that Warner is not the kind of guy who will suddenly change his mind.  He is gone, and the Arizona Cardinals are nowhere near the same team without him.  The Seattle Seahawks are rebuilding under a new head coach, and the St. Louis Rams are taking their first baby step up from the absolute lowest hole in the National Football League.  Even with the stars aligned like this, the San Francisco 49ers are one bad season from quarterback Alex Smith away from blowing the best chance they have at earning a playoff birth for the first time since 2002.  Smith does not have to be Joe Montana and Steve Young all rolled into one, but he needs to do enough to not lose games for the team.  Take heart Niner fan, your team will play on after the regular season!

The Oakland Raiders

Well, it was something when Al Davis parted ways with Jamarcus Russell.  The good news is that Russell has been replaced by Jason Campbell.  Campbell is no sure fire hall of famer, but he will be the professional that Russell never was.  This kid will study, and learn, and if he gets a chance to experience consistent coaching in a consistent system, we may get to see just how good he could be.  The only bad part for Jason Campbell:  leaving the Washington Redskins for the Oakland Raiders does not offer any more stability.  In DC, Campbell had to learn a new offense every year he was there.  The coaching changes in DC during Campbell’s time there would have made your head spin.  The Raiders, and Al Davis do not offer much more.  However, there is talent in Oakland.  I am just waiting to see how the owner will find a way to screw things up this season.  If there is any consistency to speak of, it is the futility of the work environment in the East Bay.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

My team is owned by the family that owns Manchester United in the English Premier League.  Yes, my football team is owned by the guys who happen to own the soccer team that is the second most valuable sports franchise in the World.  So yes I feel like the step child who now has a sexier step sibling getting all the attention.  The owners are also in serious debt, though they deny it.  The cost cutting tactics being used in Tampa would impress the hell out of the Governor of California.  My team has some good young talent, but with the owners on a self-imposed freeze, I will have to wait.  Maybe a bailout will happen, or the young talent in Tampa will develop and win some games in the future.  All I can do is look to the future.

I will go out on a limb and say Green Bay Packer and Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl…

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