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Old 09-08-2009, 04:43 PM  
Lord Bestyle Lord Bestyle is offline
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If you close your eyes and train your focus on the play that defined a season, you can still see Ben Roethlisberger’s(notes) picturesque pass spiraling through the end zone and into the extended hands of Santonio Holmes(notes). On a magical Super Sunday night in Tampa last February, the Pittsburgh Steelers rallied to defeat the Arizona Cardinals and took turns caressing the franchise’s unprecedented sixth Lombardi Trophy, and we all rhapsodized about a game for the ages and what it all meant.

Here we are seven months later, blessedly getting ready to play games that mean something once again, and it’s tempting to use that fantastic finish as a frame of reference. Three words, people: DON’T DO IT. It’s a trap. The way last season ended has virtually nothing to do with the way this one will begin, which is simultaneously what we like about pro football and what drives us crazy when trying to handicap it.

This isn’t like TV, when one season’s cliffhanger finale bleeds into the next season’s premiere. For instance, on Monday, Showtime’s “Weeds” ended its fifth season with a pretty and powerful Mexican woman floating face down in a swimming pool after being clubbed in the head with a croquet mallet by a 14-year-old boy. When “Weeds” returns, you can bet the show’s writers will transport us back to the scene of the crime and craft a narrative that deals with the fallout from that spectacular act.

If “Weeds” were the NFL, we’d tune back in to find that the woman we’d presumed to be dead was now a Lebanese belly dancer with a bouffant hairdo, and the kid was Jerry Garcia in his portly prime. Oh, and the croquet mallet would have been transformed into a low-hanging video board in a massive new stadium.

I said it in April, when the NFL released its 2009 schedule, and I’ll remind you again now: Go into every season assuming nothing, for the only certainty in the modern-day NFL is year-to-year volatility.

Consider that only two division winners from 2007 repeated in ’08, and seven of the 12 playoff teams (including five of six in the NFC) were flushed. That wasn’t an aberration, either – the average annual postseason turnover rate over the past decade is 6.4 out of 12, with a minimum of five and a high of eight (in 2003).

That’s why I feel like gagging when I read most people’s predictions, which tend to follow a stale and unrealistic formula: Picking most of the same teams that did well the previous season, with a couple of trendy up-and-comers that fit a predictable profile – a strong finish the previous year, a high-powered offense and/or a marquee offseason acquisition via the NFL draft, free agency or trade. (This explains all the love the Cleveland Browns received before last season and that the Chicago Bears are getting now.)

I can’t tell you definitively what surprises are in store for us in ’09, but I can assure you that the list of contenders won’t be as boringly repetitive as you’ve been led to believe. In fact, I’m going to go the other way and predict a record nine new playoff participants – because it gives this column maximum shock value and because that’s Carson Palmer’s(notes) uniform number, and he’s going back to the postseason for the first time since he tore up his knee in ’05.

So, for what it’s worth, I’m picking the Steelers, Cardinals and Titans to repeat as division champs and every other postseason participant from ’08 – yes, including the Colts – to fall off. Call it Revolution No. 9, and call me the least formulaic prognosticator in the business.

Let’s meet our nascent newbies:

• New England Patriots: They barely missed out last year, they beat the eventual NFC champions by 40 points in December, and now Tom Brady(notes) is back. So the Pats, at the very least, will reclaim control of the AFC East. Duh.

• Cincinnati Bengals: Carson Palmer is healthy. Chad Ochocinco(notes) is re-engaged and chatty and eager to back it up. Chris Henry has been walking the line in his free time and racing uncovered up the sideline all preseason. They’ll score a lot of points and be better than you think on defense, and they’ll edge ahead of the Rex Ryan-less Ravens and finish second to Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

• Houston Texans: If the Texans can avoid the obligatory flat start and play to their collective potential, this explosive team will benefit from Indy’s impending unraveling (which only the brilliance of Peyton Manning(notes) and Tony Dungy staved off last year) and enjoy its first playoff appearance – as a wild card behind the AFC South-winning Titans.

• Kansas City Chiefs: Was this a misprint? Nope – it was a comment on the shaky state of the AFC West (the Broncos and Raiders are messes) and a warning to the Chargers that the whole coast-until-you-need-to-turn-it-on thing won’t work three years in a row. The Chiefs, despite their 2-14 record last season, were more dangerous than people realized by December and will benefit from new coach Todd Haley’s shrewd game-planning and new general manager Scott Pioli’s grasp of personnel. They’re my pick to prevail in football’s weakest division.

• Dallas Cowboys: This team is going to take a major step in one direction this season; either way, it will be highly entertaining. I’m betting the Cowboys will step up and capture the NFC East, and then Tony Romo(notes) will tear it up in their opening playoff game and celebrate the victory by making out with Megan Fox at midfield.

• Washington Redskins: Last year, they were 6-2 at midseason and looked like a legitimate contender. Though that record was reversed in the second half, they did beat the NFC championship game-bound Eagles in their second-to-last game when it meant possible playoff elimination for Philly. These guys have a postseason push in them, and with Jason Campbell(notes) giving off that you-shouldn’t-have-underestimated-me vibe, I’m sensing another fast start and a second-place finish behind the ‘Boys.

• Green Bay Packers: The Pack was 13-3 and played for the NFC title in ’07 with the league’s youngest roster, and last season we found out that Aaron Rodgers(notes) can stay healthy and sling it like a stud. Sure, the Packers stumbled to 6-10, but seven of those defeats were by four points or fewer, which was understandable given their relative youth. A bold switch to the 3-4 defense has the potential to shore up a unit that backslid appreciably in ’08, and I expect Rodgers to make a (figurative and literal) Lambeau Leap, particularly in situations calling for clutch play. I see Green Bay prevailing over the inconsistent Bears, the shockingly well-coached Lions and, yes, the Brett Favre(notes)-led Vikings to win the NFC North.

• New Orleans Saints: With the Bucs and (to a lesser extent) the Panthers headed for a decline, the Saints are the logical team to challenge the Falcons for NFC South supremacy. And while there’s much to love about Atlanta, it’s a team full of young leaders tasting their first success. The Saints have been wildly inconsistent since Sean Payton took them to the ’06 NFC championship game in his first year as coach, but this year they’ll get it together. Payton’s brilliantly conceived offensive schemes and Drew Brees’(notes) near-flawless execution will be augmented by an improved defense now coordinated by the ultra-aggressive Gregg Williams. Throw in Reggie Bush’s(notes) playmaking magic on special teams and it’ll add up to a division crown.

• San Francisco 49ers: General manager Scot McCloughan has quietly upgraded the roster, and I think this team will continue to respond to Mike Singletary’s intense and demanding leadership style. Shaun Hill(notes) will be asked not to make crucial mistakes, and he’ll deliver, with Glen Coffee(notes) spelling a revived Frank Gore(notes) to give the Niners a powerful rushing tandem. Even if that’s not enough to overtake the Cardinals in the NFC West, I think San Francisco will sneak into the playoffs and do justice to those cherry-red uniforms they never should have abandoned in the mid-90s.

So, how will it all shake out? Come February, we’ll be watching the Titans defeat the Packers at Land Shark Stadium in Miami to capture their first Super Bowl championship – and, naturally, assuming that what we see on the field that evening will carry over into the 2010 season.
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Old 09-08-2009, 04:44 PM   #2
Mr. Arrowhead Mr. Arrowhead is online now
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Old 09-08-2009, 04:50 PM   #3
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8-8 could win this division so I guess if we find a RT a C and someone new emerges as a pass catcher we might have a slim shot.
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Old 09-08-2009, 04:50 PM   #4
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positive articles arent allowed to be posted

What the world really needs is one more article pimping either Denver or KC simply because "the rest of the division sucks".
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Old 09-08-2009, 04:53 PM   #5
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positive articles arent allowed to be posted
If it makes any difference, Michael Silver has just about the same amount of credibility as Nick Athan.
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Old 09-08-2009, 05:00 PM   #6
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Old 09-08-2009, 05:01 PM   #7
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SD completely implodes and either us or the Donks or the Fade wins this thing.

At 6-10.

The handwringing around the league would be just tremendous.
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Old 09-08-2009, 05:01 PM   #8
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hey sweet, someone picked us to go to the playoffs

like dan plesac picking the royals to win the central this year, i don't watch baseball or any baseball related tv anymore, but i'll bet they bring that up all the time on the mlb channel
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Old 09-08-2009, 05:03 PM   #9
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SD completely implodes and either us or the Donks or the Fade wins this thing.

At 6-10.

The handwringing around the league would be just tremendous.
Dude don't do that when I'm taking a drink do you want me to choke to death?
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Old 09-08-2009, 05:06 PM   #10
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SD completely implodes and either us or the Donks or the Fade wins this thing.

At 6-10.

The handwringing around the league would be just tremendous.
Herm guaranteed on ESPN Radio that Oakland would go 8-8. So, expect the AFC West to be won by anyone but them.
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Old 09-08-2009, 05:09 PM   #11
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Herm guaranteed on ESPN Radio that Oakland would go 8-8. So, expect the AFC West to be won by anyone but them.
This
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Old 09-08-2009, 05:11 PM   #12
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Old 09-08-2009, 05:16 PM   #13
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too much info
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Old 09-08-2009, 05:17 PM   #14
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I just came tinkle?
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Old 09-08-2009, 05:43 PM   #15
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Cool article. I agree with about half of it but still admire his going out on several limbs there.
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