The NFL season is upon us once agin and is accompanied by the optimism that permeates out of every fall training camp, even that of the Arizona Cardinals. With that in mind, I will make a few predictions that will likely fall short before the first snowflake falls here in Brookings.
AFC East: New England looks to have an easier route back to the playoffs since the rest of the division has taken a step back. The Jets may make a run for a wild card berth, but Buffalo and Miami will struggle all season without a reliable offense. The Patriots win the East while the jets fall short of a playoff berth.
AFC North: Baltimore already has a scary defense and it will be downright frightful if Deion Sanders does play at a high level. The offense needs another great season from Jamal Lewis, however, to have a good chance to reach the Super Bowl. Cincinnati is no longer the league’s running punch line and will frighten many teams. Pittsburgh and Cleveland both seem destined for another season of mediocrity as the Ravens take the division and the Bengals edge out a wild card berth.
AFC South: Indianapolis has enough offense to win it all, but the defense is still suspect. A retooled Tennessee team is relying on the frequently battered Steve McNair, Jacksonville may prove to be a dark horse, and Houston plans to boost their offensive attack. The Colts should win a close division race with the Titans left out on the outside.
AFC West: Denver upgraded their defense by acquiring cornerback Champ Bailey. As for replacing Clinton Portis, the Broncos are able to produce running backs out of nowhere quite frequently. Kansas City can rack up points, but the defense and the health of Priest Holmes will be a season-long concern. Oakland and San Diego will both be mired in misery this fall as Denver takes the division and the Chiefs earn a wild card slot.
NFC East: Philadelphia looks primed for another deep playoff run after acquiring Terrell Owens and Jevon Kearse, but the Giants may surprise if Kurt Warner is able to regain his MVP form. Dallas has set their hopes upon 40-year-old quarterback Vinny Testaverde and a worn-out Eddie George, while Washington has brought Coach Joe Givvs back from NASCAR in hopes of reviving the franchise afer the Steve Spurrier debacle. The Eagles look to cruise to another division title.
NFC North: Minnesota’s defense collapsed the Purple out of the playoff picture last season, but defensive upgrades should allow Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss to outscore most teams. The Packers are always a threat with the indestructible Brett Favre under center. Detroit’s young offense may rack up the scoreboard while Chicago rebuilds. The Vikings should reclaim the division while the Packers take the wild card.
NFC South: Carolina looks to return to the Super Bowl out of a division full of enigmas. Atlanta is too dependent on the health of Michael Vick, New Orleans seems to always stop playing in December, and Tampa Bay may rebuild once Jon Gruden’s “Oakland East” strategy collapses. Carolina should be able to take the division crown again this season.
NFC West: St. Louis and Seattle both have potent offenses and solid playoff hopes while San Francisco and Arizona will be battling for the top spot in the 2005 NFL Draft. The running back depth of the Rams should win them the division and send Seattle to the wild card round.
As for the playoffs, Baltimore will remind New England that repeating in the NFL is almost impossible as the Raven defense stops the Patriot team. Philadelphia will be ready to play in the Super Bowl after falling short the past three seasons as they edge a resurgent Viking squad, setting up a bird fight for the Super Bowl. Baltimore’s defense and running attack will overwhelm the Eagles as the Ravens take their second NFL title in five years.