Michael Goldstone is a huge football fan. He specifically loves fantasy games so each game takes on additional meaning. When not watching or playing football, Michael can be found playing casino games like roulette at intercasino, or taking his dog for a walk to clear his mind.
NFL Season Preview
We’re now halfway through the slate of preseason NFL games, so I think it’s time for a preview of sorts. When the season kicks off on September 5th in Metlife Stadium as the Giants meet the rival Cowboys, it will be an all out war between 32 teams to see who hoists the Lombardi trophy after Super Bowl XLVII. This season already has its fair share of intriguing storylines that even the casual fan can appreciate. Let’s take a look at what this season has in store.
1. Watch out for the Patriots:
This one should go without saying, as the Pats were the favorites in the Super Bowl before once again being upset by the Giants. That said, the Pats acquired a whole bunch of talent this offseason, and they are the league’s best team on paper once again. Though aging, the legendary Tom Brady has been the model of efficiency that he has always been. The Pats also brought back their old offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who masterminded their legendary 2007 aerial attack, and added Brandon Lloyd, whose best season came under McDaniels in 2010 with Denver. Defensively, the Pats were old and slow last year, but they addressed that by adding some young blood in talented first-rounders Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower.
2. Can the Eagles make a run?
Just over a year ago, backup QB Vince Young called the Eagles a dynasty in the making following a flurry of big signings. After missing the playoffs, Young looked like a dunce. That said, there is still a lot of talent there. If healthy, Michael Vick demands a defense’s full attention, but LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, and a refocused DeSean Jackson make that level of attention impossible. That is a big “if” though, as Vick hasn’t played a full season since 2007 and already left a preseason game with sore ribs. Defensively, the Eagles have a counter for the new aerial brand of offense that has become so popular with two shutdown corners in Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. That said, if Vick doesn’t stay healthy and productive, the team won’t make it to the promised land anytime soon.
3. Will the NFC East rebound?
Last year, the Giants won the division at 9-7 despite losing half of their starting secondary for the year in the preseason and being outscored in the regular season. They then got hot at the right time to win the Super Bowl, showing that the division is still very tough. We just addressed the Eagles above. The Cowboys upgraded their defense in the offseason, but they already dealing with injuries to Jason Witten, Miles Austin, and Dez Bryant. Tony Romo is great, but without good targets, he can only do so much. Even the Redskins fans are hopeful that number 2 overall draft pick Robert Griffin III can lead a quick rebuild. We’ll have to see how things play out on the field.
4. How well will Peyton Manning play?
After an awkward situation emerged when the Colts decided to draft Stanford QB Andrew Luck with the first pick in the draft, Manning was released. He went on a whirlwind tour of potential destinations, and eventually decided the Broncos were the best fit for his services. Denver boasts a very good defense, so if Manning can be an above average signal-caller, they should make the playoffs in his first year with the team. The problem is that that’s far from a sure thing. Though he is already a Hall of Famer in my mind, Manning is coming off 4 neck surgeries and a year off from the game. He is also going from a home stadium with a dome to Mile High Stadium and a freezing temperature that Manning has never dealt with very well in the past. Finally, no longer will Manning have the comfort of throwing to Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, or Dallas Clark. Peyton’s best target right now? Either Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker. Yikes! I predict a pedestrian first year in Denver for #18, and a big improvement next season coming from more familiarity with his new weapons and a free agent signing or two to help him.
5. End of story: who will the playoff teams be?
Injuries play a huge part in answering this question, and they are nearly impossible to predict. Here is my best attempt at predicting the playoff field and results:
NFC Division Winners (overall seed in parentheses):
East: Philadelphia Eagles (2)
Too much talent not to win. Real test will come in the playoffs, where scrambling quarterbacks have never gone all the way.
West: San Francisco 49ers (4)
Sadly, they are the only legitimate team in a historically bad division.
North: Green Bay Packers (1)
The Lions and Bears will challenge, but Aaron Rodgers is just too good.
South: Atlanta Falcons (3)
Without offensive guru Sean Payton, I see the Saints falling a bit. Second-year player Julio Jones is ready to give the Falcons the best 1-2 receiving punch in the NFL.
NFC Wild Cards:
New York Giants
Defending Super Bowl Champions resemble last year’s Packers in that they won it all despite a lot of injuries, and are mostly healthy now as they look to repeat.
The Bears got their big-name QB in Jay Cutler previously. Now, they’ve reunited him with his favorite target from his Denver days in Brandon Marshall, the first great wide receiver the team has had in decades. I see big things coming from the Windy City if the offensive line holds up.
Wild Card Round:
Giants defeat 49ers – Repeat of last year’s NFC Championship goes the same way, as Randy Moss and Mario Manningham don’t make Alex Smith into a good quarterback.
Falcons defeat Bears – Matt Ryan and Mike Smith finally get off the schneid with a playoff victory. It’s about time for a team who has been good for years now.
Packers defeat Giants – Aaron Rodgers gets his revenge for his team’s defeat in last year’s divisional round, as the Giants pass rush can’t slow him down this time.
Eagles defeat Falcons – Michael Vick sends his team to the NFC Championship game with a great performance. The Falcons aerial attack is shutdown by Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie, and Michael Turner isn’t enough to save the Falcons.
Packers defeat Eagles – The Eagles’ run ends here as the Packers again show that they are the best team in the conference.
AFC Division Winners:
East: New England Patriots (1)
As addressed above, this team is simply stacked and led by a legendary coach/QB combo.
West: San Diego Chargers (4)
Every other team in the division is really flawed on paper. Philip Rivers should rebound and have another great season.
North: Baltimore Ravens (2)
If Joe Flacco can be an above average quarterback, they could be the biggest threat to the Patriots. They have an aging but very good defense, and one of the league’s best all-around running backs in Ray Rice.
South: Houston Texans (3)
With Peyton Manning out of Indianapolis, Houston should run away with this division. I expect a bigger year from Matt Schaub, who struggled at times last year and is coming off an injury.
AFC Wild Cards:
Ben Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl winner backed by an amazing defense. There aren’t enough quality teams in the AFC to stop them from making the playoffs.
I don’t think Peyton Manning has a great year, but they made the playoffs last year with AWFUL quarterback play. They’ll make it again this year with #18 behind center.
Wild Card Round:
Steelers defeat Chargers – No more Vincent Jackson and a constantly banged-up Antonio Gates means easy pickings for the Steelers defense. Norv Turner and his normal conservative game plan never stood a chance.
Texans defeat Broncos – Second straight year with a playoff victory for Houston. With their offense, that’s not a surprise anymore.
Steelers defeat Patriots – This might be the only team capable of beating the Patriots at full strength. The Pittsburgh defense is simply something you can’t plan for, you just have to catch them on a bad day. With a third Super Bowl in sight, the Patriots won’t.
Ravens defeat Texans – Though they fell a missed field goal short of sending last year’s AFC championship game to overtime, the Ravens are more experienced in these situations this year. If anyone can stop Arian Foster, it’s Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis. Joe Flacco finally plays well in a big game.
Ravens defeat Steelers: Flacco plays conservatively and lets Ray Rice do the work. The Ravens defense forces Roethlisberger into a few mistakes and capitalizes to propel Baltimore to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLVII:
Packers defeat Ravens:
Flacco’s run has to end somewhere. He’s simply not in the same class as Aaron Rodgers, who matches Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger with his second Super Bowl. Rodgers now only trails Tom Brady among active QB’s. In response, Brett Favre “accidentally” sends inappropriate pictures on his phone to every person he knows in the NFL to try to take the headlines back. Some things never change.
Thoughts? Let me know in the comments. If not, enjoy the season. I know I will!