Every year brings something new, this one not only a new format (running through divisions starting with the Super Bowl champs' along with a hit or miss quick team take) but also a new defending champ. Yeah, the Ravens gutted out the silverware last year, outlasting the upstart 49ers in a good, if not epic, Superbowl. No better place to start really as the AFC North really exemplifies American smashmouth football and looks to be as competitive as any this year.
Cincinnati Bengals - 10-6
Hit - WR AJ Green and rookie TE combine for over 20 TDs while rookie RB Giovani Bernard subpoenas, er, supplants the Law Firm at RB and the defense continues the play that has carried the team to back-to-back playoff appearances.
Miss - QB Andy Dalton plays like the ginger he is and the team's long term contract negotiations with the league's best 4-3 defensive tackle, Geno Atkins, fall apart.
Baltimore Ravens - 9-7
Hit - Ed Dickson becomes Joe Flacco's new Dennis Pita, Jacoby Jones' proves his playoff heroics weren't a one-time wonder, Ray Rice morphs into a part-time slot receiver giving Bernard Pierce more reps while newcomers Elvis Dumervill, the Ravens' first four draft picks and Terrell Suggs and Lardarius Webb returning all the way from injury keep the Ravens D as scary as ever.
Miss - The loss of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pita prove too much to overcome.
Pittsburgh Steelers - 8-8
Hit - Rookie RB Le'Veon Bell is the bruising hurdler he was at Wisconsin and Ben Roethlisberger stays rape and injury free while the defense finds a way to make it six years running being among the top five yards against teams without James Harrison.
Miss - Without WR Mike Wallace to stretch opposing defenses, the offense collapses on itself, Ben finds himself in another bathroom bar with another chick and Troy Polamalu can't suit up for half a dozen games.
Cleveland Browns - 6-10
Hit - Trent Richardson becomes Jim Brown and rookie defensive end Barkevious Mingo beats out teammate D'Qwell Jackson for world's dumbest name.
Miss - Soon-to-be 30-year old 2nd year QB Brandon Wheeden keeps throwing pitches into defensive linemen's arms and WR Josh Gordon keeps spending more time getting high than going high.
Yep, the past five years have seen five different Super Bowl winners and February 2, 2014 will bring a sixth. We've mentioned it before but it's worth harping about again as the reason for the competitive nature of the NFL is the ironic fact that America's favorite sport is its most socialist. Through salary caps and redistribution the NFL has achieved a Marxist sporting utopia. Joe Flacco led his team to a championship so the team had to pay to keep him, and by giving him what was the largest contract in league history (since surpassed by Aaron Rogers) they were forced to cut back elsewhere. Strangely enough, thanks to loopholes and crypic clauses, the Ravens weren't forced to make so many of the cuts to save money this year, but they'll pay the price in the future, a story that may seem familiar to folks from Detroit to Greece.
This is of course not to say the system doesn't have it's problems, after all it exists within the realm of America's broken crony capitalist system. In the classic Horatio Alger rags to riches, er, make that modern-day American Dream of winning the genetic lottery, Cleveland Brown's owner Jimmy Haslam was born the son of 'Big Jim' Haslam, founder of a single gas station that grew into Pilot Flying J, the largest truck-stop chain in North America. Jimmy's brother Bill grew up to be governor of Tennessee in 2011. Anyway, Jimmy's chain was running a rebate scam on their customers and the feds are moving up the management chain trying to pin the blame. Meanwhile, another trust fund baby, Minnesota Viking's owner Zygi Wilf, has just been found liable for breaking civil state racketeering laws and in the judges words had used "bad faith and evil motive" in keeping separate accounting books to fleece former business partners of shared revenue.
Now no one's claiming Jimmy's been screwing over Brown's fans (well, any more than they're used to at least) or that Zygi's been hatching nefarious plots in the land of 10,000 lakes (well, ok, maybe when it comes to funding the new stadium) but anything that may tarnish the NFL image is frowned upon by the commissioner and owners. Have no fear, however, at this point it appear neither case will have any effect on the day-to-day operations of the teams. After all, it's not like they killed anybody. Oops, getting ahead of myself...
In the south the song remains the same, though more likely something with a Texan twang. Many will jump on the Colts bandwagon forgetting they've got a new coach and not realizing the huge role luck, along with Luck, played in their success winning so many close games last year. Meanwhile, the Titans seem destined for perpetual mediocrity while the Jaguars will remain declawed until they find a QB not named Blaine or Chad.
Houston Texans - 10-6
Hit - Rookie WR DeAndre Hopkins compliments the Andre Johnson and Brian Cushing comes back completely from his torn ACL.
Miss - Arian Foster's NFL leading 1,061 carries over the last three years catch up to him and JJ Watt is the only guy playing defense.
Indianapolis Colts - 9-7
Hit - Free agent RB Ahmad Bradshaw can find running room without interior blocking and Andrew Luck turns Darrius Heyward-Bey into a reliable receiver.
Miss - Age finally catches up with WR Reggie Wayne and the defense without Dwight Freeney plays even worse than last year.
Tennessee Titans - 8-8
Hit - The improved offensive line bring the return of CJ2K and the young and talented WRs turn Jake Locker into an NFL quarterback.
Miss - Plodding free agent pickup Shonn Greene outgains Chris Johnson and WR Kenny Britt winds up in jail.
Jacksonville Jaguars - 4-12
Hit - A fully healthy Maurice Jones Drew racks up 1,500 rushing yards, Justin Blackman, Cecil Shorts and rookie RB/WR hybrid Denard Robinson combine for 150 receptions and 2,500 yards.
Miss - The QB is Blaine Gabbert so the above can't happen.
The division favorite Texans find themselves tied with the Rams at the bottom of the league in one category where it's good to be last - arrests since 2000. As the chart on the right shows, the flip side top spot is shared by the Bengals and the Vikings (nice infographic here breaking down the incidents, teams and resolutions). The division that leads the league is the AFC West while the NFC West seems to be the best behaved, indicative of the fact that the AFC is ahead of the NFC in this category.
Unsurprisingly, the league has its statisticians and lackeys working overtime to show that though there may be some arrests, NFL players don't get arrested any more than the general population. Well, not really general population but Americans, the most arrested people in the world, men the most arrested gender and young men, the most, well you know. Face it, the best football this summer came out of Florida where it was announced that the naming rights to the Florida Atlantic University football stadium had been awarded to the GEO Group. No, not a bank profiting off the debt slavery of the students but a private prison company, the second biggest in America, reaping the rewards of the new Jim Crow while violating their inmates' human rights. Unfortunately, the news led to protest by those bothersome students and the deal was nixed. No worries, the bigger fish in the game, Correction Corporation of America, is sure to be on the lookout for an NFL stadium to sink its teeth into.
What was traditionally an ultra competitive division is beginning to look more and more like the NFC West circa-2009 as any team sporting better than a .500 record will win this division. The Pats should manage that and more while the Dolphins and Bills both could battle for mediocrity and the Jets continue to spiral down toward a crash landing.
New England Patriots - 11-5
Hit - It turns out Tom Brady doesn't even need anyone to throw to as they open the season minus their top 5 receivers from last year.
Miss - Tim Tebow takes more than 10 snaps at QB thus nullifying the team's advantage of being in the same division as his former team, the J-E-T-S, Jets!
Miami Dolphins - 8-8
Hit - Free agent speedster Mike Wallace gives 2nd year QB Ryan Tannehill the boost he needs and Cameron Wake keeps the defense strong.
Miss - I could try to write something here but why bother, so .500, plus it was done better here.
Buffalo Bills - 7-9
Hit - CJ Spiller gains 2,500 all-purpose yards and EJ Manuel grabs the starting QB spot and shines with two rookies at wideout while the defense gels.
Miss - The Bills are the Bills, after all, they haven't made the playoffs since 1999, the longest current streak in the NFL.
New York Jets - 4-12
Hit - Um, maybe Geno Smith is an RGIII type athlete and Chris Ivory becomes an every down RB.
Miss - The defense outscores the offense.
Hatin' on the Jets is fun. Hating on Jet rookie Oday Aboushi this summer was pure racism. See, he forgot that he plays in a major sports league in America, where they love Israel and hate Palestine because the TeeVee tells them to. Or, in this case, a rag called FrontPage Magazine reported that "NY Jets Player Speaks at Extreme Anti-Israel Conference" which is far less true than saying "US President speaks at Extreme Palestinian Killing Conference" seeing as the conference Aboushi spoke at was organized to promote inspirational Palestinian-American success stories while Obomber spoke to a group of people raising money to buy bombs to kill people.
Making matters worse, the story was picked up and the lies repeated by Yahoo! Sports and amplified when Major League Baseball's media coordinator who tweeted "The @nyjets are a disgrace of an organization. The Patriots have Aaron Hernandez, the Jets have Oday Aboushi", both of which have since been deleted but live on thanks to the intertubes. You'd think journalists would've noticed that a US Congressman, Nick Rahall, spoke at the same event as Aboushi and that a sports media coordinator would avoid equating success stories with murderers but that's the America of today, the same as that of yesterday.
There were many Peyton doubters, myself amongst them, but seldom does one man change the fortunes of a team so quickly. Manning's Broncos are being picked by many to go all the way, while the Chargers continue to sink, the Chiefs look likely to start turning things around while the Raiders are still the same, with or without Al Davis.
Denver Broncos - 12-4
Hit - With so many targets, Peyton Manning miraculously avoids becoming a real-life bobblehead for another year while the defense led by Von Miller can thrive despite Elvis (as in Dumervil) having left the building.
Miss - Neither of the young RBs (rookie Montee Ball and 2nd year back Ronnie Hillman) can find holes in a suddenly porous looking centre of the offensive line or anything happens to Peyton and somebody named Brock or Zac wind up taking snaps.
San Diego Chargers - 8-8
Hit - With Norv Turner finally gone there's always hope I suppose.
Miss - Ryan Mathews finds a way to break his collarbone on the first play of the season, AGAIN, leaving Danny Woodhead as the team's most talented player.
Kansas City Chiefs - 7-9
Hit - Some see a worst to first turnaround as new QB Alex Smith and head coach Andy Reid turn elite RB Jamaal Charles and WR Dwayne Bowe into household names and the defense gets out of the league basement in takeaways.
Miss - Andy Reid's problems in Philadelphia were no fluke leading to a rash of parking lot suicides.
Oakland Raiders - 4-12
Hit -Sebastian Janikowski kicks a 73-yard field goal in the dying seconds of week 16 thus ensuring a .500 season.
Miss - Darren McFadden misses every other game with a pulled something or another and Matt Flynn stinks worse than their home O.co Colosseum.
How does a guy making millions playing a game end up behind bars, accused of pumping bullets into his fiancee's sister's boyfriend instead of iron in the gym? Aaron Hernandez's murder charge was the most publicized of what will be around 50 arrests of NFL players since the end of the last regular season. It coulda been the angel dust, mighta been losing his dad at 16 or maybe the fact his mom then married an abusive coke dealer. Most likely though it was the cash, both what he earned and what he earned for others. This Rolling Stone article paints a portrait of a young man who not only, in his own words, "fell off especially after making all that money", but also blames a cast of shady characters for helping to cover up Aaron's past misdeeds. After all, he couldn't help Urban Meyer's Tim Tebow led Gators win college championships or make Robert Kraft millions rotting away in a metal cage. Oops, too late for that I suppose.
NFC North - Oh Canada!
That's right, the CFL invasion has finally begun. Ok, maybe not a full scale invasion but the Dolphins' Cameron Wake must be the best CFL import since Warren Moon and there's a new coach in Chi-town as the Bears try to salvage the train wreck that turned a promising 7-1 start to last season into a 10-6 playoff missing breakdown by bringing in former Montreal Allouette coach Marc Trestman from the CFL where he won two of the last three Grey Cups. Of course he'll find that while the Packers colours are quite similar to the Edmonton Eskimos, the similarities end there as the Detroit Lions ain't the BC Lions and there's no teams called the Roughriders, Blue Bombers or Stampeders.
Green Bay Packers - 11-5
Hit - A healthy Nick Perry compliments Clay Matthews on defense while Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones each have 1,000 yards receiving and 10 TDs.
Miss - Eddie Lacy continues the Packer drought at running back
Chicago Bears - 10-6
Hit - Trestman convinces Jay Cutler to finally have brain surgery and the defense dominates without the services of Urlacher and Idonije.
Miss - Brandon Marshall misses any time meaning they can't complete any passes. Seriously, the dude made every Bear reception last year.
Minnesota Vikings - 9-7
Hit - Three first round picks gives them a chance to continue the improvement they made a year ago going from a 3-13 disaster to a 10-6 wild card team especially if Cordarrelle Patterson can replace Percy Harvin.
Miss - Matt Cassels Christian Ponder
Detroit Lions - 7-9
Hit - Lion receivers stop falling down inside the 5-yard line (um, 23 times; Calvin Johnson was downed at the 1-yard line five times), their coach doesn't lose any more games throwing 'illegal' challenge flags and Reggie Bush is more Dolphin like than Saint like.
Miss - Ndamukong Suh keeps kicking QBs in the balls and Matthew Stafford's arm falls off on his 728th pass of the season.
Just a week ago it seemed the over/under (or in this case the before/after) bet on when the latest US bombing of a country run by some bad guy we don't like would have been an easy one had it been for the NFL's opening night though America usually prefers bombing countries closer to the Super Bowl. Obomber's sudden about-face decision to seek permission to blow stuff up from Congress not only achieves the goal of making him appear troubled by the decision but also provides more circus to distract the public. It's easy to confuse long bombs with exploding bombs when watching them on the TeeVee, cheering from the comfort of the couch.
Without permission, From Mexico courtesy of the comment thread at nakedcapitalism.com -
It’s quite amazing to witness this normally clandestine love affair between the Democrats and Republicans blossom into public view. This bursting into bloom only happens, though, when public opinion reveals the lovers’ hand, like what happened with TARP or the current advance on Syria. Both flowered into blitzkriegs on the American people, perpetrated by our newfound Romeo and Juliet.NFC South
Shakespeare’s inamoratos, in comparison to our stealth lovers, were harmless. The pairing of Democrats and Republicans looks a lot more like the will to power achieved in the marriage of Stukas and Panzers, Luftwaffe and storm troopers in Germany’s Wehrmacht than the tragic resolve of Shakespeare’s hapless duo.
Not far behind, if not ahead, of the north in terms of competitiveness, the south boasts four great offenses so it'll be on the defensive side of the ball where the division is decided. I know, it's accepted wisdom that the Falcons coming off a 13-3 season and the Saints getting their head coach back will battle for top spot but I'm going out on a limb here and taking the Bucs. Something tells me Matty Ice used up his luck in beating the Seahawks in the divisional round last year and the 'aints 'll always be the 'aints in my book while the Panthers still don't have enough pieces around Cam Newton to push past to the top.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 11-5
Hit - Doug Martin ran like he did in his rookie season last year in which he picked up 1,454 yards and 11 TDs, only this time with two returning All-Pro offensive linemen in Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph who will also be protecting Josh Freeman giving him more time to find Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
Miss - Mike Glennon ends the year at QB and Revis Island sees more air traffic than Fantasy Island.
Atlanta Falcons - 11-5
Hit - They find a way to make me stop disliking them so much despite all their talent which is doubtful for a team that can managed to blow a 17 point lead in the NFC Championship.
Miss - Steven Jackson makes me stop disliking them and actively hating them.
New Orleans Saints - 10-6
Hit - The return of the bounty program overlord Sean Payton heralds the return of Breesus to the Super Bowl and the city residents are forced to attend mandatory speech therapy sessions; Who Dat, seriously?
Miss - Hiring Rob Ryan to fix the mess that is the Saints defense leads to them giving up more than the 15% more yards than the next worse defense they did last year.
Carolina Panthers - 7-9
Hit - First rounder Star Lotulelei becomes a defensive, well, star and 2013 DeAngelo Williams finds a way to become 2008 DeAngelo Williams.
Miss - Cam Newton takes another step backwards
The Atlanta Falcons were one of a group of teams who decided it was time to give their quarterback way more money than they deserve. Sure, it's become a quarterback's league but this summer saw some ridiculous pay days. One could argue that Aaron Rogers deserves his $130.75 million deal or maybe even Joe Flacco could be sold as meriting his $120.6 million after winning the Super Bowl (the Ravens have to be kicking themselves for not negotiating it earlier) but $119.5 million for Tony Romo, he of the 1-3 playoff record and 0-3 record when a playoff berth is on the line? $103.75 million for Matt Ryan of the 1-4 playoff record? $41.5 million in guaranteed money for the same Matthew Stafford who missed six games in 2009 and all but three games in 2010 due to injury?
Ah yes, that phrase, guaranteed money. In this age of salary caps NFL contracts have become as meaningless as the green pieces of paper they promise. They're backloaded in such a way as to guarantee they'll be renegotiated before getting close to the final year. Stafford's deal was made this summer well before his rookie deal was set to expire to free up salary cap space, thanks to signing bonuses, workout bonuses and other accounting tricks, Roger's salary-cap charge for this season in only $12 million, a figure that increases yearly before hitting $21.1 in 2019. What worries me isn't the whole kicking the can aspect of the contract game so much as the inequality it is creating. Sure, quarterbacks have always been the pretty boys, paid a bit better than the men paid to protect and make him look good but this trend is set to continue; imagine when the group of QBs now in their rookie deals come up for renewal. The more spent at this position, the less there is for elsewhere and we all know the problems inequality always seems to cause...
Ah, the east, home to the bane of my football existence, my Dallas Cowboys. Saddled with them from childhood as my favorite team, I've enjoyed many highs but have of late suffered many more lows. Nevertheless, I'll be a homer and take them this year as Romo rises to silence his many detractors, all the more after his massive offseason deal, the Giants stumble and bumble there way to a 3rd consecutive 9-7 season, the Redskins ambitions pop with RGIII's knee and the Eagle's need a season under Chip to cleanse the stench left by Andy Reid.
Dallas Cowboys - 10-6
Hit - DeMarco Murray somehow stays healthy and DeMarcus Ware plays even better with his hand on the ground with the transition to the 4-3 defense.
Miss - The deafening offseason Buzz around Dez turns into screams from his mom, or mall security or some jeweler and Jerry Jones is, well, Jerry Jones.
NY Giants - 9-7
Hit - Eli gets hot and the friendly schedule maker's gift that sees them not need to get on a plane from October 11th to December 7th keeps nor even sleep in a hotel bed for 34 days keeps them fresh.
Miss - Jason Pierre-Paul's back and the absence of Osi Umenyiora tame the pass rush while David Wilson fumbles away the offensive ground game.
Washington Redskins - 8-8
Hit - Alfred Morris and RGIII avoid the sophomore slump
Miss - Off-season LCL and ACL surgery leaves RGIII running less than
Philadelphia Eagles - 7-9
Hit - Michael Vick takes a lick and continues to tick and the defense somehow manages not to really suck.
Miss - Chip Kelly's high tempo Duck offense doesn't translate to the NFL from Oregon.
Seems like just yesterday that this division was a joke, Pop Warner quality and suddenly this year all the talk is Seahawks versus Niners being the new Steelers/Ravens rivalry. What happened to the old Sea Chickens? The Shithawks? Pity the poor Rams as they look better and even the Cardinals who might even compete in most other divisions as the NFC will be represented in the Superbowl by one of the west coast contingents.
San Francisco 49ers - 12-4
Hit - Colin Kaepernick's second time around the league is as successful as his first while Justin Smith returns healthy on defense making Justin Smith good again.
Miss - Jim Harbaugh spontaneously combusts following a missed call and the defense can't shake the nightmares of this happening.
Seadderall, er, Seattle Seahawks - 11-5
Hit - Russell Wilson really is the man, Marshawn Lynch is the beast (mode), Percy Harvin returns in late Nov/early Dec and the defensive secondary plays up to half its potential.
Miss - Refs start flagging the Seahawks at home for 12th man violations leading Pete Carroll to inexplicably announce all games will be played on the road.
St. Louis Rams - 8-8
Hit - Off their best season since 2006, 7-8-1, high expectations could be met if rookie Tavon Austin's can't-miss superstar label isn't a knockoff and new left tackle Jake Long turn QB Sam Bradford into something resembling the former #1 pick he should be.
Miss - Most of their wins come scoring 12 points (on four Greg Zuerlein field goals, one over 70-yards).
Arizona Cardinals - 7-9
Hit - New head coach Bruce Arians means Carson Palmer becomes Kurt Warner just like Andrew Luck became Peyton Manning, Patrick Peterson becomes a triple threat superstar and the Honey Badger sticks at safety.
Miss - When your running backs are Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams you know you'll have injury issues and maybe that defense isn't as good as it seems on paper.
Seadderall, as in Adderall, the PED (performance enhancing drug) normally fed to kids by the bucketful to treat ADD (attention deficit disorder). Always on the lookout for an edge teams and players use anything, from Ray Lewis' deer antler spray to Alex Rodriguez's human growth hormone (HGH) are always o one step ahead as they deploy an army of scientists to beat the testers. The Seahawks lead the league under Pete Carroll in suspensions for PED violations with six. By sheer coincidence, Carroll's college team, the USC Trojans, also seemed to have a little problem with PEDs. Feeding kids drugs, sounds about right in a country that glorifies torture, sanctifies killing and indemnifies those who do it. Guess it's no worse than feeding them the propaganda that passes for news and education.
Meanwhile, there's a substance that an unknown number (possibly a majority) of players are taking that makes them bigger, faster, stronger and helps them recover from injuries faster that isn't banned and another that may make them bigger bellied thanks to the munchies, and may help treat a variety of ailments which is. The players' union has been dragged kicking and screaming to the point where an NFL player “population study” to determine baselines for HGH is being done (a concept akin to using rock stars in a study to determine a baseline for recreational drug use) to make possible the testing for the use of HGH (human growth hormone), but penalizing is still a ways off while those caught smoking marijuana are seeing their careers thrown into jeopardy or destroyed. The smart GMs are beginning to see the opportunity such a ridiculous policy affords them as the Arizona Cardinals were able to nab Tyrann 'Honey Bear' Mathieu in the 3rd round of the draft thanks to his past 'problems' with weed.
Whatever it is they've been feeding the football team in the Pacific Northwest, it's not hurting their play on the field. As wildcard or division winner they're the team I'm picking to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl where they'll triumph over the Bengals, not the Broncos on February 2, 2014 in a snowstorm at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.