Here we go again! As the daylight wanes the darkness grows and the temperatures fall, the smell of pigskin is in the air. Welcome football fans back to the corner.
Next week 32 teams begin their quest for the Championship of the NFL in Super Bowl XL. Six teams from each conference will make the playoffs. Here are my picks for each division and wild card playoff spots as well as who will represent their conference on the big stage and who will win the big game.
East - This division is ruled by the two-time defending Super Bowl champs New England Patriots. While some people will want to pick against this team after losing both their offensive and defensive coordinators, they are still the best team in the East. I do expect the Jets to push the Pats, but New England will come out on top.
North - The "in" pick is the Bengals with Carson Palmer leading the way, but the two best defenses in the league belong to Pittsburgh and Baltimore. If you are expecting a sophomore slump from big Ben Roethlisberger - don't. He was not asked to go out and win games for this team last year, and this year will be no different. The Steelers will play great defense and control the clock with their powerful running game.
South - There was not an offense in the NFL with more octane than the Indianapolis Colts last year and that will not change this year. The Colts can score whenever, and as quickly as they want. The key for this team this year is to keep the clock running while their offense is on the field to give their defense a chance to rest. They will win this division in a runaway.
West - Flip a coin, this may be the tightest division in the league. Sorry, Raiders fans, but your team has gone 9-23 since their Super Bowl appearance, and adding offense should not have been the off-season objective. I expect everyone in the league to be ready for the Chargers this year, and Dick Vermeil cries too much. The pick here is the Denver Broncos as they have the most balance between offense and defense and should be able to grind out enough victories to win the division.
East - As with the AFC East this division has been ruled by one team, the Philadelphia Eagles. While other teams in the division have made strides toward unseating the Eagles, they will not be able to deliver the knock out blow this year.
North - Could this be Brett Favre's last season? I hope not. This division comes down to two teams, the Packers and the Vikings. I am going to lean toward the Pack here. When I look at the schedules, both teams have 3 home games in their last 4, but the edge is the Packers get to play the Bears 2 of their last 5.
South - Here is another division title that comes down to two teams, the Panthers and the Falcons. Michael Vick is the most exciting player in the NFL. He needs to remain healthy and learn to complete more passes. The Carolina Panthers, after playing in the Super Bowl the season before, were the hottest team down the stretch last year but missed the playoffs. This is a veteran team that will be hungry to get back to the top. Expect them to win a tight race.
West - The Arizona Cardinals are a team on the rise, and Dennis Green has proven he can win even if he does change QBs every year. But, the nod here goes to the St. Louis Rams to take the division. The Rams have a team built for the turf and play 12 of their 16 games on the surface.
AFC Wildcard - The New York Jets just missed out on the conference championship last year and still have the talent to return to the playoffs. As the second wildcard I am going with the Houston Texans. Even though it is only their fourth year in the league they have improved their record each year. I expect this team to make a big jump and gain a playoff berth this year.
NFC Wildcard - The Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys will round out the playoff picture in the NFC. Atlanta has the talent to win the division, but will not get a first round bye. Bill Parcells loves to run the ball and has a good young back in Julius Jones to carry the load. He also covets big versatile tight ends and Jason Whitten is emerging into one of the best in the league. With the addition of some free agents and a draft heavy on defense this team returns to the playoffs.
AFC Champion - The Indianapolis Colts will secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs which will be the edge.
NFC Champion - The Philadelphia Eagles will repeat as NFC champs. The T.O. situation will actually work to their advantage and Terrell will have a huge season in hopes that he will get paid next year.
Super Bowl Champ - The big stage this year is Detroit's Ford Field, which gives the Colts the inside track. Andy Reid has shown he is a great head coach in this league but he is slowly becoming the Bobby Cox of the NFL, a great coach who can get his team there but can't win the big game. The Lombardi Trophy will be hoisted this year by Peyton and Co.
Well, I am looking forward to an exciting season. Check back each week for some analysis of the weekly games and hopefully another profitable season.