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Sleeping Through A Preview (NFL Preview)

So, here we are. A little under an hour and change away from kickoff of the NFL season 2009/10. Technically, the last season to have a salary cap (like it's really mattering for the dregs of the League) and the next to last season of this decade. We all know what the major storylines are going into this year, so there's no need in me beating already dead horses. Certain divisions are all but over the second Tuesday morning hits (the West divisions respectively and if Brady's truly healthy, I'm not seeing anyone in that division coming within fingernail's length of New England after the calendar month turns to October), others are a bit tougher to call. However, I find that gets tedious to boot. So here's how I've decided to go about this year's preview.

I'm going to identify the champions (duh) defending and their odds of retaining, as well as Arizona's probability for actually usurping the Steel Curtain in February. For the record, I don't see the Dolphins having homefield for the Super Bowl, that's going to stay intact as far as the home team not being home for the Super Bowl. I'll identify the major threats from each conference and give you three Sleeping Giants from each conference to look out for. I'm giving you my word that at least TWO of these teams WILL surprise you. Super Bowl Champion: The Steelers.
- As if it wasn't bad enough that they're trying to defend their crown, I've got just one word which may doom their defense before a ball's even kicked off.

Madden. Troy Polamalu's appearance on the Madden cover opposite of the guy he beat in February, does NOT speak well for the Steelers. Now sure, we didn't hear anything from the champions aside from their parade and visit to the White House (which James Harrison skipped, as he had better things to do that day). Oh, can't forget the bogus sexual assault claim on Big Ben, which was absolute bullshit, so let's treat that for what it is too. Beyond that, beyond the very real possibility that Troy's cover gig might doom them, there's one other thing that I think goes against the Steelers.

Tom Brady. If he's healthy, he's not losing in the AFC playoffs. The Pats won't miss a beat even with them fleecing Oakland for the second time in about three years with another lopsided trade. The Steelers are definitely sound on both sides of the ball, their defense is second only to the Giants (IMO) and offensively, they're capable of getting it done. But the Evil Genius known as Belichick and the modern day 49ers have their Joe Cool back. For the sake of the Burgh, they'd best hope they can either slow him up with their vaunted Blitz or pray someone trips them up in advance.

The Field:
Division Champions: The Patriot Empire, The Not Yet SuperChargers & That Other Texas Team (I will explain this at length shortly)
Wild Card: Baltimore & Tennessee

Len's Take
- The Pats are the class of the AFC East. That Wildcat is to the NFL what Auto-Tune is to Hip-Hop/Rap at present time. Consider Belichick the NFL's equivalent of Jay-Z and he's working on his D.O.A. ballad as we speak. The Bills will be an amusing sideshow and no, I don't see T.O. imploding. He has at least ONE more big payday to collect from some team that can use him to take that next step. The Dolphins are a fad and the Jets aren't ready just yet. The Not Yet SuperChargers are the Susan Lucci of the NFL. Every year they've got the look, but somehow, some way, it just doesn't happen. They've got a sound running attack with LT21 and Sproles, they've got Phillip Rivers and their defense with or without Tequila Strangla (yeah, that's my new name for Shawne Merriman) is sound. Baltimore's still Baltimore and even without Rex Ryan, that D is still DAT D. Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are still who they are, I think they'll be fine. I'm thinking the Titans will not match or be even close to last year's pace, but for some odd reason, I just think the Colts are going to slow down a bit without Marvin on the opposite side of Wayne.

- The Texan Theory. So...why Houston? Why am I backing the team that virtually every pundit is pegging as a sleeper? Well, for starters, after last year, I think there's always someone lurking in the weeds to take a division by surprise. (If you think this shocks you, wait till ya see who I have in the NFC along a fairly similar line.) Slaton's a real stud, probably the best back not named Jones-Drew in the division. He's the Next Young Thing and he'll be a major reason that ground attack gives that Houston D rest. Oh, speaking of that D, what'd ya think of Casserly's decision to get Mario Williams now? He, with DeMeco Ryans and Dunta Robinson or as I'm calling this trio MD2, form a formidable triplet on defense that will give opposing offenses hell. I'm convinced the Jags are about done, I think the Colts will start to show their age and Peyton won't be exactly the same without Dungy on the sideline and Marvin on the opposite side of Wayne and Clark.

- Now, Bill Simmons gave me a challenge to pick a sleeper out of these AFC teams and I'm going to take him up on that. Out of the Bills, Browns, Raiders, Broncos, Chiefs and Bengals...

I'm taking the Bengals. I'm sorry, McDaniels might be a great offensive force as far as drawing up X's and O's, but dude...

I'm not sure if you know this, but you let the best QB this franchise has seen since Elway WALK for a guy who may NOT be able to beat out Chris Simms. However, I like Cincy. I was honestly shocked when I saw them on Hard Knocks and honestly, I think they're due. Perhaps they're far enough away from Cleveland to where they can actually make some kind of headway. Palmer being healthy is one big key, Ochocinco (I'm a diehard Chad fan, but even I'm questioning that name) is another and I just don't get them letting T.J. walk to Seattle. Really, that's just confounding to me. Still, if Chris Henry can play ball, then perhaps it's not that big a loss. After letting their offense more or less grind to a halt, it does me well to see they're finally focusing on the defense a bit. If ya really want to look at a team that NOBODY is seriously talking about, I'm going with Cincinatti to be that sleeper team which makes the playoffs.

NFC Champions: The New Show On Turf
- Who knew?! A 9-7 team, that beats Atlanta, makes Delhomme look like Del-Fool and then rallies to beat Philly in the NFC Championship game. If not for their lack of defense, we're saying the words "Super Bowl Champions" and "Arizona Cardinals" in the same breath. Fuck, did we ever think the day would come when we'd be saying "NFC Champion" and "Arizona Cardinals" in the same sentence? Sober no less? Well, Arizona got a good rookie in the draft in hopes of getting a rushing game, which will help them as they attempt to repeat. They fired their defensive coordinator after that loss, because when a team can't withstand a two minute drill just 120 seconds away from winning a know heads are going to roll. Still, I'm just not convinced this defense is quite there enough to get them out of the NFC. It's better than people think and I can see at least 4 possible Super Bowl Champions coming out of this conference.

Oh, I didn't even get to two other things that are going against the New Show On Turf headlining another Super Bowl.

1) The "Super Bowl Loser" Jinx. It's real and it has hit every runner-up of the Super Bowl the year after. Just ask the Pats who went from 18-1 to Brady being KO'd for the year by some obscure Chiefs safety that will be the answer to a trivia question for many years to come. (And to think, it wasn't even enough to keep him on the Chiefs' roster...)
2) Larry Fitzgerald is on the Madden NFL 2010 cover. Ouchies. As far as I know, he's the only guy in recent memory to appear on the covers of both Madden and NCAA Football (the better game if ya ask me) in this decade. Larry may last the year, but I'm just not that confident the New Show On Turf will get through this year unscathed. An injury along the way is going to derail them in some form or fashion. But even then, I'm just convinced the NFC North is getting at LEAST two teams in the NFC playoff mix this year.

So that said...

Division Champions: G-Men, The Saints Go Marching On, Da Bears & ...the Seahawks.
Wild Cards: Minnesota & ???

Len's Take
- I'm sorry, but I'm just not caught up with Vick's Philly Ph-iasco. The NFC East is still Drama Central, while the Boys may have sent T.O. packing it's not going to be enough. Wade Phillips will most likely be done after this season and either Garrett or the widely rumored Holmgren will be next in line. The Deadskins continue buying every big name that hits free agency (can you imagine these guys in a year with no cap to restrain them?!), yet they remain virtually incapable of having it add up on the field when it counts. Oh and Jason, the Skins were right for trying to get an upgrade. You suck. Doug Williams you are not. Oh and Albert Haynesworth. I look forward to seeing you get cleatmarked by B-Jake and the rest of those Giant runners on Sunday. Your career has been bookmarked by you running your cleat along some lineman's head. Wow. Anyway, the East belongs to New York. I'll get to them some more in a bit. As for the North, I think this division is better than folks think. I'm not sure what's got everyone so enamored with Green Bay. If someone knows, can they pass word along to me, because them in the Super Bowl just isn't happening. (Note to self, explain The Franchise Theory and why franchises like the Niners, Broncos and Packers are doomed to fail for quite some time for ignoring it.) Still, Chicago's got the best QB in its history, best QB in recent memory that's for damn sure. Forte's solid and Cutler will make those receivers better. I think Chicago's the best team in that conference. Minnesota, as great as they look on paper with Favre (and trust me, he makes them legitimate threats in the NFC), reading he might not be full time all year gives me reason for concern.

I think New Orleans will rebound after last year and they'll do so with an outrageous offense. Oh and by the by, they're the benefactors of the 'the first shall be last and the last shall be first' theorem. In the NFC South, going back at LEAST four years the cellar dwellers have been divison champions the following season. New Orleans finished dead last in 2005, ended up being a win away from the Super Bowl the following year. I expect Brees to match his year last season and with a healthy Shockey, I wouldn't be shocked if he eclipsed Marino's record. So this leaves just one team missing from this picture which brings me to...

- My Simmons Sleeper Pick!!! So we've got just three teams left on the list he gave in his column...the Lions, Rams and Niners.

Newsflash about the Niners...they haven't been shit since Young retired. Although, you can trace their end back to when they traded away Joe Cool. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER do you trade away a man that won you four Super Bowl Championships!!! The Football Gods do not smile upon franchises that disrespect the face of their franchise like that, hence why San Fran hasn't been or won shit since. Forget about them...

The Lambs. Rich touched on this before I even knew about it and now that I know, Spags...have fun burning in Football Siberia Southwest. Ever since they sent Mad Scientist Martz packing, that franchise has been shit. Letting Torry walk doesn't do that offense any favors, hope Steven Jackson's ready to see a LOT of 8 man fronts. Oh and Spags, kiss my ass.
:) So yes, let this be one of many outrageous picks of mine as I say with a sober mind and body...

The Detroit Lions will be your Wild Card in the NFC this season and fans will rejoice at playoff football for the first time since Barry retired. Yes, you could say that the Franchise Theory applies to the Lions, but in a doesn't. They didn't trade away their franchise player, they simply pushed him to a state of apathy where he simply walked away rather than wear his body out for an also ran franchise. Fact is, if the Miami Dolphins can go from 1-15 to 11-5, I'm holding out hope for the Lions to have the turnaround to end ALLLLLLLLLLLLLL turnarounds. I like what's in place for the Lions offensively, I think they'll be better than most are thinking or even suspecting. Defensively...well, who saw Miami doing what they did a year ago even with older than dirt Joey Porter? My gut tells me Detroit's going to do great, if for no other reason...

How much lower can you go after 0-16? Starting Stafford's smart, because in all honesty, aside from being the #1 pick, what's he up against? Can he be any worse than the last guy? He didn't win in 16 tries. Or however many he had, before the season ended last year.

Alright, that done, I'm...going to have you guys wait just 24 hours for my Super Bowl picks. :) Just cause I can. Enjoy the game, folks.
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