I'm going to give you my predictions for the upcoming season. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say once again I am a Steelers fan. I am also one of the biggest homers you will see. That being said, when I predict them to do well, is it really that much of a stretch?
One of the easiest divisions to handicap. It's Seattle. They got back Shaun Alexander and brought in Nate Burleson and Julian Peterson. They may even still bring in Deion Branch.
1: Seattle Seahawks. I think I just spelled it out.
2: Arizona Cardinals. Sure, this team is loaded at the skill positions. Larry Fitzgerald is already a top wide receiver, and he's getting better. Anquan Boldin is terrific and Edgerrin James can still run the ball. The negatives are Kurt Warner has looked old his past three seasons, and most importantly, they are still the Cardinals. No matter in Chicago, St. Louis or Arizona/Phoenix, this is the worst franchise in the NFL.
3: St. Louis Rams. Hard to believe how much the offense has changed from the Greatest Show on Turf. Warner is gone. Mike Martz is gone. Marshall Faulk is gone for at least now. Isaac Bruce has gone way downhill. They still have Torry Holt and now have Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson which could make for a good offense. But the defense is still pretty bad, no matter how much they try.
4: San Francisco 49ers. Is this team getting better? I can't tell. Alex Smith needs to make a big leap, but they lose Peterson, Brandon Lloyd and Kevan Barlow. I see no progress.
This is a more competitive division, but as the NFC still struggles to compete with the AFC, it's still going to be hard to tell how good these teams actually are.
1: Carolina Panthers. I really don't see a better team in the NFC. They just about have it everywhere. They have a solid defense with Julius Peppers, and the offense gets better. DeAngelo Williams will help DeShaun Foster and the running game. Keyshawn Johnson can obviously help Steve Smith get open even more. And yes, Jake Delhomme is a winner at quarterback.
2: Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I see a solid season here, with nice pieces at lots of positions. Cadillac Williams is the real deal at runningback. However, is Chris Simms good? Joey Galloway is getting pretty old, as is a lot of that once great defense.
3: Atlanta Falcons. Michael Vick has never progressed beyond the flashes of brilliance he displayed in 2002. He's also never been helped with a good group of receivers. They still aren't good. Warrick Dunn is getting no younger either.
4: New Orleans Saints. It's not a matter of how many games they win, it's what they see out of their players. This team is bad, it's just answering questions. Is Reggie Bush as good as advertised? Can Drew Brees rebound and re-establish himself as a top quarterback? Is Deuce McAllister healthy? Hell, they even have questions about the health of their stadium.
Conventional wisdom says this is the most competitive division in the league. Any of the four teams could win it. I don't believe that though. I think it's actually a two horse race.
1: Dallas Cowboys. Terrel Owens, Terry Glenn, Julius Jones and Drew Bledsoe are a nice core of skill players on offense. They also have really good young defensive players in Marcus Spears and Demarcus Ware. Offensive line and kicker problems aside, could be the best team Parcells has had in Dallas.
2: New York Giants. Eli Manning should settle into his role in New York better this year. But he doesn't have the weapons Bledsoe has, especially if he and Plaxico Burress get further apart. Tiki Barber is 31 and could start to slow. Defense is really good though, especially adding Lavar Arrington.
3: Philadelphia Eagles. Once again Donovan McNabb finds himself armed with help beneath his talent. Mediocre wide receivers even after bringing in Donte Stallworth will hold him back. I also doubt Brian Westbrook's ability to carry as much as they need. They better hope the defense plays better this year.
4: Washington Redskins. Poised to take a giant step back this year. Mark Brunell will prove Joe Gibbs faith in him was unfounded. The offense will go nowhere with him and their overpaid, over-rated wide receivers. Defense will be really good, but the offense will be so bad.
God, this division is bad. So, so bad.
1: Minnesota Vikings. The only team that will be able to score any points gets the edge here. Defense isn't that good, but has a couple pieces. Don't look for them to make any noise in the playoffs though. The Vikings are actually the only team here good enough to be called mediocre on both sides of the ball.
2: Chicago Bears. Yeah, they have a good defense, which will be a real benefit in the North come December, but their offense is awful. Two good runningbacks and one good receiver will get you nowhere. Teams will score a few points on them. Will they score back?
3: Detroit Lions. They have a few good players like Roy Williams and Kevin Jones, so they get third. Jon Kitna could do well here too, especially with Mike Martz running the offense.
4: Green Bay Packers. If Brett Favre decided he didn't want to play another season like last year, I have a hard time figuring out what brought him back to this team. They're just awful. Try to find one potential Pro-Bowler on their team. Just try.
Once again, the Raiders have a new coach and quarterback. Some things never change.
1: Denver Broncos. What do you know, Mike Shanahan's Browncos defensive line worked pretty well. I guess it was just Cleveland holding them back. Patience is wearing out with Jake Plummer, hence the Jay Cutler draft pick, but with Javon Walker and the running game, they should do well enough to win the division.
2: Kansas City Chiefs. Same story as before, they still have the offense, but the defense is still struggling. Herm Edwards can't change that in one year, so they better hope Trent Green, Larry Johnson and Tony Gonzalez are as good as ever.
3: San Diego Chargers. May have the best player in footbal in LaDainian Tomlinson, along with the most dangerous tight end in Antonio Gates. But, still short at the receiver position, and short on experience with Phillip Rivers now the quarterback. Defense still has Shawn Merriman and Quentin Jammer, but now no Steve Foley.
4: Oakland Raiders. The script never changes, only the names, and sometimes they don't either. Art Shell is back with the Raiders, but Jeff George is not. Can he finally convince Al Davis to not sign every over-rated player to a fat contract, cough cough, Warren Sapp, cough cough? The plusses for this team; Randy Moss and Lamont Jordan. The minusses; Aaron Brooks and everyone else.
AFC South: The second no-brainer division.
1: Indianapolis Colts. Even after losing James, this is easily the best team. The offense will still be as explosive as any. The defense continues to get better with Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders as good as anyone at their positions. Can Peyton Manning finally deliver the postseason success? Probably not. But they'll have fun getting there.
2: Jacksonville Jaguars. This team is basically just like their quarterback, Byron Leftwich: Pretty solid, but nothing spectacular. They lucked into the playoffs last year, even though other teams were better. They'll need to actually play better to get back. I don't see it.
3: Tennessee Titans. Not really getting any better this year, except maybe at runningback. Kerry Collins should take over at quarterback, but that doesn't impress. Defense is not really good either.
4: Houston Texans. Back to the drawing board for the youngest franchise. First they pass on Bush, now Domanick Davis goes on injured reserve. Who could run behind that offensive line anyway? Just pray David Carr doesn't get killed on the field.
The final no-brainer.
1: New England Patriots. They're not getting any better, but they don't have to to stay atop this division. With Tom Brady, Bill Bellicheck and most of their defense in tact, they will rule, and they just know how to win games. Please, stop bitching about Adam Vinatieri.
2: Miami Dolphins. In Daunte Culpepper may finally have the quarterback worthy of being a starter, something they haven't had since their Hall-of-Famer retired. Chris Chambers, Ronnie Brown and Randy McMichael, he's got help. I smell wild card.
3: Buffalo Bills. Please Buffalo, for the love of God, just play J.P. Losman. Kelly Holcomb is not them guy. Just let Losman get his experience. Otherwise, don't blame anyone else if in the future your team is decent, but held back by a bad quarterback.
4: New York Jets. I still like Chad Pennington actually. But there ain't much of anything else to like here. They were bad last year when they still had Curtis Martin, John Abraham and Ty Law. This is going to get ugly.
This is probably the best division in the league. Three good teams could compete for the crown.
1: Pittsburgh Steelers. Even after an off-season filled with a lot of drama, the defending Super Bowl champs should get one crown that eluded them last year, division champs. I don't see the motorcycle accident or appendectomy as significant setbacks to Ben Roethlisberger. They didn't lose much, or at least much they'll struggle to replace. Still have the most fearsome components on defense in Joey Porter, Troy Polamalu and Casey Hampton. Can Willie Parker carry all the load without Jerome Bettis?
2: Cincinnati Bengals. The Bungles no more, at least for now. Carson Palmer is back and as good as ever. He's scary good. But, will he prove to be a Manning and fizzle under the pressure, or Brady and thrive in it? Defense is still not good, as they spend more time in court than opponents' backfield.
3: Baltimore Ravens. Could they finally have a quarterback? That's the big question. They're excited about Steve McNair, but this guy is beaten up. Hell, he thought about retiring two years ago. It all hinges on him.
4: Cleveland Browns. This is the year Romeo Crennel lets his young players work together and, hopefully, progress. Charlie Frye, Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow Jr. could be a really good offense in two or three years. Still working on getting that defense together.
NFC Wildcards: New York and Tampa Bay
AFC Wildcards: Cincinnati and Miami
NFC Champions: Carolina Panthers
AFC Champions: Pittsburgh Steelers
Super Bowl XLI Champions: Pittsburgh Steelers
Coach of the Year: Nick Saban
MYP: Tom Brady
Defensive Player of the Year: Troy Polamalu
Offensive Player of the Year: Larry Johnson
Comeback Player of the Year: Duante Culpepper
Defensive Rookie: Bobby Carpenter
Offensive Rookie: Joseph Addai