Ah, football season. For some, it's the beginning of the "real" sports year, when America's real pasttime returns from seven months of hibernation; for others, it's a pleasant distraction between baseball and hockey seasons. (Personally, I sway more towards the former than the latter.) Though I'm excited about my Bears' prospects this year, there can be such a thing as too much optimism. Much like my baseball preview earlier this year, with my predictions I give one or two reasons why your team will not win the Super Bowl this year. Who's got the goods and who are the poseurs? Let's find out:
1. New England (11-5) Tom Brady had better be healthy. The D-line might be on the cusp of an overhaul.
2. Miami* (10-6) Same team as last year, but good luck beating anybody in the AFC East or South. Two rookie starting CBs exposes lack of depth.
3. New York Jets (8-8) Sanchez was a nice long-term pick-up. Playoffs in 2010?
4. Buffalo (5-11) This whole team feels thrown together. Lee Evans will be Trent Edwards' top target, not an aging and overpaid T.O.
1. Pittsburgh (12-4) A model of consistency that defies math and logic. However, do they really have what it takes to be a dynasty?
2. Baltimore* (10-6) Could be really dangerous if the defense stays healthy. Joe Flacco will have a hard time following up his sensational rookie year.
3. Cincinnati (7-9) Carson Palmer and Chad Ocho Cinco are reportedly sharing an apartment. How will this help matters?
4. Cleveland (2-14) Becoming the second winless team of this decade is not out of reach. Hellooooo, first overall draft pick!
1. Indianapolis (11-5) Lots of new faces led to awkward preseason and baffling 1-3 record. Manning and Saturday remain the best QB-center combo of the decade.
2. Jacksonville (9-7) Like Seattle and Baltimore, it all comes down to injuries. Expect an increase over last year's 29 team sacks.
3. Houston (8-8) If Houston were in any other division, they'd compete for a first-round bye. Rex Grossman is Matt Schaub's understudy. Gulp.
4. Tennessee (6-10) Ancient O-line will show its age. Did somebody forget to tell these guys Vince Young is still their quarterback?
1. San Diego (9-7) This team does not deserve to be coached by Norv Turner. With anybody else the Bolts would be a contender.
2. Kansas City (7-9) Matt Cassel is a perfect match for Todd Haley's shotgun-happy offense. Question is, will the new 3-4 scheme work?
3. Denver (6-10) Kyle Orton will make no attempt in replacing Jay Cutler. Also fiddling with that trendy 3-4 scheme, but with all the wrong parts.
4. Oakland (3-13) Adding aging D-liner Richard Seymour won't fix the Raiders' myriad issues on and off the field.
1. New York Giants (12-4) Losing Plaxico Burress won't make a difference. Wondering if the pass rush can keep it together for 16 games will.
2. Philadelphia* (10-6) If Brian Westbrook gets injured again, that last wild card spot will go to the Cowboys. Is Michael Vick worth the distraction?
3. Dallas (9-7) The Cowboys will underperform simply to prevent Tony Romo from getting humiliated in the playoffs again.
4. Washington (5-11) For Daniel Snyder, the 'Skins are like Beanie Babies; it's a big, trendy investment from 10 years ago that hasn't paid off.
1. Chicago (9-7) Cutler's a stud, but will his petulance wear down the rest of the team?
2. Minnesota (7-9) All Day and his fellow receivers will keep this train wreck competitive.
3. Green Bay (6-10) Second-easiest schedule in the league doesn't hide the Packs' inability to convert a first or second down.
4. Detroit (3-13) Will improve on 2008 win total. Need I say more?
1. Atlanta (11-5) The Dirty Birds have a narrow edge on a tight --albeit humdrum-- division. Can Matt Ryan avoid a sophomore jinx?
2. Carolina (9-7) This franchise underwhelms year after year. A winning record might actually be too generous this time around.
3. New Orleans (7-9) Quite possibly the worst pass defense in the NFC. Drew Brees and his pass-happy offense will be stuck doing the Lord's work.
4. Tampa Bay (6-10) Signing Kellen Winslow, Jr. automatically enhances a mediocre offense. Too bad the Bucs couldn't fix their defense or secondary.
1. Seattle (11-5) The She-hawks will pound anything in sight... as long as the offense stays healthy.
2. Arizona (10-6)* Lack of a clutch defense, post-Super Bowl hangover will hinder an otherwise talented lineup.
3. San Francisco (5-11) Coach Singletary will push fundamentals and old-school grit on a brash young team, but where's the talent?
4. St. Louis (4-12) There's a glimmer of hope here... in two years. That's not sarcasm; I can see the nucleus of a playoff contender in the baby Rams.
In all seriousness, here are my straight-up predictions for the 2009 NFL season:
First Head Coach Fired (During Season): Brad Childress, Vikings
First Head Coach Fired (Post-season): Josh McDaniels, Broncos
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Mark Sanchez, Jets
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Tyson Jackson, Chiefs
NFL MVP: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Super Bowl XLIV: Giants 24, Steelers 20