Upon returning to his preseason picks, our man finds wins and losses
As Evander Holyfield once yelled at a cowering Charley Steiner in an old This Is SportsCenter spot, "Charley, come on out and get your whuppin'."
So here I am, willing to take a whuppin' for any of the 100 predictions I made nearly five months ago about the 2007 NFL season. It's the least I can do.
100:Preseason: What do quarterbacks JaMarcus Russell and Michael Vick have in common? They both won't play in 2007.
Turns out the Oakland Raiders were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs moments after they reported to training camp. So by the time Week 13 of the season rolled around, the 3-8 Raiders were in the fetal position and already looking at 2008. Russell, the No. 1 overall pick, made his debut Dec. 2 and then started the final game of the season. His 2007 numbers: 36-66 for 373 yards, 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
Peterson had fewer carries than Lynch (238-280), but more yards (1,341-1,115). The Purple People Movers were a large part of the equation, but Peterson was his usual Sooners self. A knee injury probably cost him the rushing title, but he still finished as the league's Rookie of the Year.
98:This will be the year new Denver Broncos running back Travis Henry scores more on the field than off it. For the first time in four seasons, he'll finally have more touchdowns (let's say, 12-14) than kids (nine).
He ended up with four. Touchdowns, that is.
97:San Diego Chargers football savant LaDainian Tomlinson outscored the entire Oakland Raiders team last season (186-168). It won't happen again -- not because LT isn't good for another 170-plus points, but because the Raiders' offense can't be that gruesome again ... can it?
LT, in what would be considered a career year for most, "only" gained 1,474 yards and scored 108 points. But even if he had reached the 170-point mark, the Raiders were comfortably ahead with 283 points. The bad news: Oakland gave up 398.
96:I still think the Dallas Cowboys could have done better than Wade Phillips as their new head coach. That said, Phillips will do what Bill Parcells couldn't do with the Cowboys' 3-4 defense: tweak it enough so Dallas finishes higher than 13th in total defense.
Dead coach walking. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones knee-capped Phillips in mid-January when he paid offensive coordinator Jason Garrett a reported $3 million per to turn down head coaching jobs in Baltimore and Atlanta. Phillips still has the corner office, but that could change after a three-game losing streak. Anyway, you don't money-whip Garrett unless you've already decided on a succession plan.
Phillips finished the regular season 13-3, but the man still can't win a playoff game. This time he had the No. 1 NFC playoff seed, the luxury of a bye week, home-field advantage and an opponent (the New York Giants) he had beaten twice during the regular season. And it didn't matter. The Cowboys lost, stretching Phillips' playoff oh-fer to four games. But Phillips did improve the Cowboys' total defense ranking to No. 9.
95:Don't tell me post-concussion syndrome isn't a real problem in the NFL. Why else would quarterback Jon Kitna and wide receiver Mike Furrey say the Detroit Lions would win more than 10 games in 2007? I figure 7-9, and that's only if Matt Millen isn't allowed within a Ford factory of the roster.
I don't know what's more amazing, that the Lions won six of their first eight games and still ended up 7-9, or that Millen is still employed in a position of football authority. He really ought to be running a Cracker Barrel in Dearborn.
Maybe I ought to be working at the same Cracker Barrel as Millen. Why? Because the Eagles didn't even make it unbeaten through the first Sunday. They lost to Green Bay in the opener.
93:... And then they'll get beat Nov. 25 at New England. You'll hear the 1972 Miami Dolphins popping champagne corks.
New England won, 31-28. No cork-popping, though.
92:For the first time since 2000, someone from Appalachian State better be selected in the NFL draft.
Offensive guard Kerry Brown or wide receiver Dexter Jackson (or both) will end Appy State's draftless streak.
91:Everybody keeps saying Rex Grossman is the key to the Chicago Bears' season. Nuh, uh. Grossman will be fine. No way does he throw another 20 interceptions or slop around with a 54.6 percent completion rate. Nope, the guy who absolutely has to deliver the goods is running back Cedric Benson.
Grossman did slop around (54.2 completion percentage, 4 TDs and 7 INTs) before a knee injury did him in. But the tag team of Brian Griese and Kyle Orton were serviceable enough as Good/Bad Rex's replacement. Benson, though, was the key to a team that disposed of Thomas Jones during the offseason.
He didn't. And just as he started to resemble Cedric Benson, he got hurt. His disappointing numbers: 674 yards, just 3.4 yards per carry and four rushing touchdowns. Sadly, that led all Bears running backs.
89:Priest Holmes, who is on the reserve/non-football injury list until Week 6, will play again for the Kansas City Chiefs. He'll make an appearance for no other reason than the Chiefs owe their franchise career rushing leader a proper farewell.
Holmes' final NFL carry came during a Nov. 18 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He retired three days later, citing concerns about the long-term effects of previous neck and head injuries.
88:Sorry, LT, LJ, Frank Gore, Shaun Alexander, Steven Jackson and Willie Parker, but nobody is going to come within 200 yards of the 2,000-yard rushing mark.
Turns out nobody came within 500 yards of the 2,000-yard milestone. Tomlinson was the closest with those 1,474 yards. Assorted injuries doomed the chances of Larry Johnson (559), Alexander (716), Jackson (1,002) Gore (1,102), and Parker (1,316).
87:But if somebody does, it will be Parker.
Parker was leading the league in rushing when he fractured his right fibula during his first carry of the Dec. 20 game at St. Louis. Remember? That's when Dr. Bryant Gumbel of the NFL Network said the injury didn't look serious.
Even if Parker had been able to play in the final regular-season game, he would have needed to gain 684 yards against the Ravens to reach 2,000.
86:The Houston Texans didn't get a new offensive line, right? Until they do, it doesn't matter how much they paid quarterback Matt Schaub ($48 million -- $7 mil guaranteed -- despite just two career starts) or that 30-year-old Ahman Green is the new starting tailback (as opposed to, you know, drafting Reggie Bush). Here's an idea: ½-step drops for Schaub.
The Texans bumped up their wins from six in 2006 to eight in 2007, while reducing their sacks allowed from 43 to 22. That's only one sack more than the Patriots gave up and six fewer than the Pats' Super Bowl opponent, the Giants. As an added bonus, the Texans' O-line made fill-in running back Ron Dayne look good (773 yards, 4.0 per carry, six TDs).
85:NFC East finish: 1. Philly, 2. Dallas, 3. Redskins, 4. Giants.
Stupendously wrong. Dallas, G-men, Washington, Philly.
84:NFC North finish: 1. Chicago, 2. Green Bay, 3. Detroit, 4. Minnesota.
Green Bay, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago. I don't know what's worse for the Bears: going from a Super Bowl appearance a season ago to a tie for last place in the division or having the same record as The Millens.
83:NFC South finish: 1. New Orleans, 2. Carolina, 3. Tampa Bay, 4. Atlanta.
Tampa Bay, Carolina, New Orleans, Atlanta. Somehow Falcons owner Arthur Blank lost a quarterback to the feds and a head coach to Arkansas.
82:NFC West finish: 1. Seattle, 2. St. Louis, 3. San Francisco, 4. Arizona.
Picked the winner and third-place team, not that it mattered. I think the SEC West was a tougher division.
81:Now that the Super Bowl hangover/motorcycle accident/lame-duck coach/got-sacked--times-in-a-single-game phase of his career is done, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will have a bounce-back year. He's much better than the 18-TD/23-INT numbers of '06.
Roethlisberger bounced the Steelers all the way to a 10-6 record and AFC North title. He almost doubled his touchdown passes (32), cut his interception total by more than half (11), completed 65.3 percent of his passes and rushed for 204 yards.
80:Another Chicago Bear will do something stupid at 3 a.m. (park his Ferrari on top of the Sears Tower ... try a swim move on a cop ... attempt to buy North Korean nuclear launch codes), and yet head coach Lovie Smith will bristle when reporters ask him if alcohol was involved.
Kyle Orton's beard. If the Amish had a postage stamp, he'd be on it.
79:The Saints' Reggie Bush won't rush for 1,000 yards, but he'll be in the vicinity. Count on his attempts, total yards and rushing average all to bump up.
The trickle-down effect of Deuce McAllister's season-ending knee injury on Sept. 24 meant about 3½ more carries per game for Bush, but not necessarily more production. He gained just 581 yards in 12 games (he missed the last four games because of injury) and only had two 70-plus-yard rushing performances. However, Bush did see an increase in one category: more allegations that he and his family took money from an agent while still playing for USC.
78:First coaching casualty: Jon Gruden of the Bucs.
Brian Billick got the axe right after the season ended. Gruden signed a three-year extension Tuesday.
77:First coaching hire during the offseason: Jon Gruden.
Tony Sparano was the first hire of the season in Miami. John Harbaugh followed, replacing Billick in Baltimore.
76:Brady Quinn will be the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback by the Oct. 14 home game against Miami or, with the benefit of a bye week, the Oct. 28 game at St. Louis.
Did I say Quinn, the 22nd overall pick of the 2007 draft, would start? What I meant to say is that Derek Anderson, picked up on waivers from Baltimore in 2005, would come out of nowhere, lead the Browns to 10 wins, throw for nearly 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns and turn Quinn into a 2007 afterthought (3-of-8 for 45 yards).
75:If one NFC team is going to shock the world, it's going to be ... the New York Giants. Workable schedule. Desperate team. Quarterback with something to prove. Better-than-you-think replacements for Tiki Barber (remember what Tiki says in those Caddy ads about opportunity?). Understanding, patient fan base. It all adds up to a possible mini-miracle.
Sometimes you just have a feeling on a flyer pick. Unfortunately, that feeling didn't take place in front of a betting window at the Mirage sports book back in August. If it had, I'd be cashing a ticket on the Giants with about 12-1 odds of reaching the Super Bowl. Think about it: $5 times 12, less the vig. ... I'm going to Sizzler!
Look, Barber was a helluva player, but I thought quarterback Eli Manning would be better without him. Call it something as quaint as team chemistry.
All you need to know about Barber's replacement, 6-foot-4, 264-pound Brandon Jacobs, is that opposing cornerbacks contact their local HMO provider before trying to tackle him. But I have to admit, I never saw the emergence of rookie Ahmad Bradshaw (the guy had a total of six carries for 39 yards after 15 games).
Did I figure on seven road wins (10, counting the playoffs)? If I had, I wouldn't have picked them to finish fourth in the NFC East. But I did figure on that defensive line, on Manning making a quantum leap and on Tom Coughlin learning how to better co-exist with his players. He didn't have any choice. (By the way, with the exception of "30 Rock," there isn't better television than watching Coughlin on the sideline. Nobody does utter anguish better than this guy.)
74:Runner-up: the Packers. In Favre We Trust.
For my next trick, I'll bend first-down markers with my mind.
As flyers go, this one wasn't such a reach. First, you never, ever underestimate Favre (4,155 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, leadership skills out the wazoo). And I liked the defense. Plus, I've got a soft spot for the Pack, who were about 16-1 preseason odds to reach the Super Bowl.
73:OK, this will be the year Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne catches more touchdowns than the AFC's Jerry Rice -- Marvin Harrison.
This is sort of a cheapie, what with Harrison missing most of the season with a knee injury. Wayne finished with 104 catches, 1,510 yards and 10 touchdowns compared to Harrison's 20-247-1.
But if you injected Peyton Manning with truth serum, I think he would have said the same thing: "I'll kill a snitch if I have to."
No, wait. He would have said Harrison, even without the injured knee, would have been the Colts' No. 2 receiving option.
72:Team with best chance to go winless: Falcons.
The Miami Dolphins came closest, waiting until Dec. 16 against Baltimore to win their first and only game of the season. In overtime. Meanwhile, the Falcons went 4-12.
71:At the halfway point in the season we'll be raving about the Eagles and Baltimore Ravens.
Philly was 3-5 at midseason, while Baltimore was 4-4 and on their way to what would become a nine-game losing streak. So with that said, why don't we just move along to No. 70.
70:No Richard Seymour and Rodney Harrison for the first four weeks of the Patriots' season. Hello, 2-2 start. Seymour is on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, while Harrison is on the cheated/took illegal performance-enhancer list. He'll miss a quarter of the regular season. Meanwhile, Barry Bonds, who ... argh, nevermind.
Turns out I was on the Physically Unable To Predict List. The Patriots won those first four games by a combined 148-48 points.
69:AFC East finish: 1. New England, 2. New York, 3. Buffalo, 4. Miami.
Got the top and bottom right.
68:AFC North finish: 1. Baltimore, 2. Cincinnati, 3. Pittsburgh, 4. Cleveland.
Should have listened to NBC's Jerome Bettis, who picked the Steelers and said the Bengals were overrated. How it finished: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincy, Baltimore.
67:AFC South finish: 1. Indianapolis, 2. Jacksonville, 3. Tennessee, 4. Houston.
In exact order.
66:AFC West finish: 1. San Diego, 2. Denver, 3. Kansas City, 4. Oakland.
The Broncos won just seven games and still finished second. K.C. and Oakland tied for third.
65:The Vikings' Peterson will catch more passes this season than he caught during his three years at Oklahoma (24).
But close. He caught 19.
64:For the first time in his -year career, Cardinals running back Edgerrin James will reach 300 carries and NOT gain at least 1,000 yards. His rushing average has decreased in each of the last three seasons. Love the guy, but the numbers usually don't lie when it comes to running backs.
Edge made it by 222 yards. But he needed 324 carries to get there.
63:Randy Moss won't be able to help himself. He'll pop off at least once this season about not getting the ball enough. Patriots QB Tom Brady will approach him on the sideline, in full view of NFL Films cameras and boom mikes, and tell Moss he has two choices: (1) Shut up and play; (2) Retire at 30 and spend the rest of his adult life in the exciting world of smoothie franchises.
Moss was a model Patriots citizen. He put up humongous numbers (98 receptions, 1,493 yards, a record-setting 23 touchdowns), blocked like he had a sled at home and never pouted -- at least, not within in viewing distance of cameras, Brady or Bill Belichick.
62:Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young will break the Madden Curse.
Sort of. The Titans won 10 games and reached the playoffs as a wild-card entry. But Young only had nine touchdown throws (offensive coordinator Norm Chow was fired after the season) and he suffered a quad injury in an Oct. 14 loss to Tampa Bay. The injury forced him to miss one start.
61:And the Titans will still struggle to reach .500.
60:The All-Wish-We-Were-Starting-For-A-Contender Offense: Bucs QB Jeff Garcia, Chiefs RB Larry Johnson, Browns RB Jamal Lewis, Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez, Lions T Jeff Backus, Dolphins T Vernon Carey, Vikings G Steve Hutchinson, Chiefs G Brian Waters (save yourself the e-mailings -- I know Backus and Carey are both left tackles, and Hutchinson and Waters are both left guards), Vikings C Matt Birk, Texans WR Andre Johnson, Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald.
Only Garcia's team reached the playoffs. And they lost in the first round.
59:The All-Wish-We-Were-Starting-For-A-Contender Defense: Dolphins DE Jason Taylor, Vikings DT Kevin Williams, Falcons DT Rod Coleman, Raiders DE Derrick Burgess, Titans LB Keith Bulluck, Texans LB DeMeco Ryans, Browns LB Kamerion Wimbley, Cardinals SS Adrian Wilson, Vikings CB Antoine Winfield, Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders FS Stuart Schweigert.
Only Bulluck played past Dec. 30. And they lost in the first round.
58:Falcons coach Bobby Petrino will wish he had never left Louisville.
Petrino bailed with three games left in the season. Arkansas handed him the Wooooooooo, Pig! golden parachute.
57:You will do very well in your fantasy league if you stole one of these three players in the later rounds: Chargers WR Vincent Jackson, Patriots WR Wes Welker or Redskins QB Jason Campbell.
Welker (112 catches, 1,175 yards, 8 TDs) was an all-time mid- to late-round heist. Jackson (41-623-3) was decent, while Campbell (2,700 passing yards, 12 TDs) would have been a nice insurance policy, especially during Weeks 10, 11 and 12 (two 300-plus-yard games, a combined six TDs).
56:If one AFC team is going to shock the world, it's going to be ... the Steelers. They could be 4-0 going into October. They also get their bye week just before they have to go Denver and then Cincinnati. Granted, December won't be fun (Cincy, at New England, Jacksonville, at St. Louis, at Baltimore), but there's still enough talent on this team to cause Terrible Towel sales to jump.
I've got to start trusting my flyer picks. The Steelers lost three of their last four regular-season games (injuries -- and opponents such as the Patriots and Jaguars -- had something to do with that), as well as the wild-card game at home against Jacksonville. But 10 victories and a division title with a first-year head coach (Mike Tomlin) counts as a success.
55:Runner-up: the Titans. VY makes the impossible possible.
They made a wild-card loss to San Diego possible. That's what happens when you only score six points in a playoff game.
54:The AFC wild-card teams will be the Bengals and Jaguars.
The Jaguars made it, but the Bengals were doomed by a 2-6 start.
53:Last AFC team eliminated from playoff mix: Broncos.
52:The NFC wild-card teams will be the Panthers and Cowboys.
The Giants and Redskins.
51:Last NFC team eliminated from playoff mix: Rams.
What I meant to say is first NFC team eliminated. The Rams started 0-8.
50:Can the Colts repeat? We'll learn a lot about their chances during a brutal four-game stretch that begins Oct. 22: at Jacksonville, at Carolina (only five days of prep time for the Panthers), New England, at San Diego.
The Colts went 2-2, beating the Jags and Panthers, but losing by a combined six points to the Patriots and Chargers. What did it all mean? That the Colts were still a force to be respected, but that they had some soft spots. And the softness, especially during that four-game period, was partly the cumulative effect of injuries to players such as Marvin Harrison, offensive tackle Tony Ugoh, defensive end Dwight Freeney, cornerback Marlin Jackson and backup wide receiver Tony Gonzalez.
49:If the Colts scuffle, it won't be because of rookie left tackle Tony Ugoh. I'd be more worried about the Colts' defense than Ugoh.
Ugoh, who was forced into the starting lineup because of the surprising preseason retirement announcement by three-time Pro Bowl tackle Tarik Glenn, missed five games because of injury, but otherwise performed well.
And the Colts' defense? It finished third in total yards allowed and first in scoring defense.
48:If sentenced to prison, Michael Vick will not be allowed to order Direct TV's NFL Sunday Ticket package.
I'm pretty sure that's not allowed, even at the minimum security facility in Leavenworth, Kan.
47:Titans running back LenDale White can't screw it up two years in a row, can he? Nope. He'll get his act together. If he doesn't, you won't remember the Titans this year.
He's not going to make anybody forget Eddie George, but White did rush for 1,110 yards (five 100-plus-yard games) and scored seven times.
46:The Colts will beat the Jaguars and the Ravens will beat the Bengals in the AFC wild-card games.
Jacksonville beat Pittsburgh, San Diego beat Tennessee. I stink.
45:The Bears will beat the Cowboys, and the Panthers will beat the Seahawks in the NFC wild-card games.
The Giants beat Tampa Bay, Seattle beat Washington.
44:I picked him in 2006, I'll pick him again in 2007: Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman will be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. And unless he suffers a serious injury, I'm already picking him for 2008.
Hard to argue against the Associated Press' choice of Indy safety Bob Sanders.
43:If the Dolphins' newbie offensive line can keep 37-year-old Trent Green upright, Miami will be the best of the AFC's win-challenged teams.
Green actually sustained a season-ending head injury while trying to make a block in an Oct. 7 game against the Texans.
42:Just to jerk their chains, Dolphins coach Cam Cameron will angrily tell reporters that's he's not leaving Miami for Alabama.
But he did leave, courtesy of the organization's purge by new Dolphins executive vice president of football operations Bill Parcells. (By the way, could they get Parcells a longer title?)
41:This year's Grossman will be Broncos QB Jay Cutler. Up, down. Up, down.
His overall numbers were OK (3,497 yards, 20 TDs, 14 INTs, 63.6 completion rate), but Cutler had his share of clunker games, especially in the latter part of the season when the Broncos lost four of six. He remains a work in progress.
40:The Chargers will beat the Colts, and the Patriots will beat the Ravens in the AFC Divisional playoffs.
OK, so the Pats beat Jacksonville, but that's good enough for me. And the Bolts beat the Colts in Indy, though I'm not exactly sure how.
39:The Bears will beat the Saints, and the Panthers will beat the Eagles in the NFC Divisional playoffs.
The Bears did beat the Saints. Problem is, it was in the regular-season finale, not in the playoffs. That's because the Bears, less than a year removed from a Super Bowl appearance, didn't make the playoffs. They finished 7-9. Not that I'm bitter or anything.
Instead, Green Bay beat Seattle and New York beat Dallas.
38:The best thing about the Raiders will be their unis. And Asomugha.
Turns out that punter Shane Lechler was the best thing about the Raiders, which is never a good thing for a team. He was Oakland's lone Pro Bowl selection.
37:The worst thing about the Chargers is that they can't wear those powder-blues every week.
Knee injuries to Tomlinson and Philip Rivers and a toe injury to Antonio Gates were the worst things about the Chargers' sense of timing. Had they been healthy for the AFC Championship, maybe the Patriots are 17-1. Maybe.
36:Relax, Jets fans. Even though a calf injury limited RB Thomas Jones to just eight carries and 27 yards during the preseason, he'll be in the starting lineup against New England on Sunday. He didn't come to the Jets to sit; he came to prove to the Bears that they kept the wrong running back.
Jones played against the Patriots and finished the season with 1,119 yards, but exactly one rushing touchdown. Sometimes that happens when you play for a 4-12 team. This much is for sure: The Bears overestimated Benson and underestimated Jones (who they traded for a second-round pick).
35:A league willing to sell a $40,000 book on itself -- the MVP Limited Edition Super Bowl XL OPUS -- isn't going to be too concerned about ripping you off during the joke that is preseason football. (By the way, according to the NFL Catalog, the Opus "comes with white cotton gloves and delivered in silk clam-shell box.")
NFL teams ought to prorate your ticket prices for exhibition games. You pay full price if the starters play a full game. If they don't, then you get a refund. Chances of that happening: the same as Vick judging the Westminster Dog Show.
34:I used to think Los Angeles would get an NFL franchise sooner rather than later. Now it's looking like the reverse is true. We're going on Season 13 without an NFL presence in the nation's second-largest market.
The NFL would love a franchise in L.A. But first it needs a state-of-the-art stadium with lots of really expensive suites. That way the league could have a Super Bowl there every 3-5 years.
Don't count on an expansion franchise just yet, though you never know what someone like Mark Cuban might be thinking. A more likely possibility would be the relocation of, say, the Jacksonville franchise. Or maybe even New Orleans or Buffalo. The Chargers have been mentioned, but Orange County makes more sense than moving them all the way up to L.A.
33:Best sleeper player: Colts WR Anthony Gonzalez. Is the guy serious about football? Let's see, at Ohio State he slept in a tent that simulated low-oxygen conditions so he could improve his body's ability to better function when winded. That serious enough? Plus, the guy can catch.
Gonzo had a solid rookie season (37 catches, 576 yards, 3 TDs), but the Packers' Ryan Grant (956 rushing yards, 8 TDs) is the sleeper choice.
32:Chic 2007 NFC pick San Francisco isn't ready yet. Let them finish .500 or better (and they haven't done that since 2002) before we start crowning them.
Won their first two, lost their next eight, finished 5-11. When you get outscored, 364-219, you've got problems. And injuries. But they'll be a factor in 2008, especially if new offensive coordinator Mike Martz can get his mojo back.
31:They'll finish .500 this year.
30:The league will somehow muddle along without Tank Johnson.
In Johnson's defense, he returned from his eight-game NFL-imposed suspension and conducted himself, generally speaking, as a professional.
29:And Pacman Jones.
See you in '08.
28:And Chris Henry.
Henry did his suspension time and returned for the second half of the lost Bengals season.
The living, breathing cautionary tale.
26:Chargers general manager A.J. Smith won't be able to blame Marty Schottenheimer if San Diego doesn't reach the AFC Championship this year. According to Sports Illustrated's player rankings, new coach Norv Turner has the No. 1 running back in the game (Tomlinson), the No. 2 linebacker (Merriman), the No. 1 tight end (Gates), the No. 2 defensive tackle (Jamal Williams), the No. 3 offensive tackle (Marcus McNeill) and the No. 5 offensive guard (Kris Dielman).
After a 1-3 start, sideline dancer Norv Turner guided the Chargers to an 11-5 season and an admirable effort in the playoffs. Yeah, he could have taken a few more chances in the AFC Championship, but it's hard to rip him too much.
25:The most underrated player in the league will be Eagles RB Brian Westbrook.
A pro's pro. The Eagles finished 8-8, but Philly fans can't blame Westbrook for it. Not after a 1,333 rushing yards, 90 catches for 771 yards and a total of 12 touchdowns.
24:All my chirping about the Bears gets stuffed into the garbage disposal if Cedric Benson struggles and DT Tommie Harris' hamstring injury of 2006 lingers more than Chicago coaches are saying.
Benson struggled, then got hurt. Harris was never completely healthy. Still, I never figured the Bears to be such a nonfactor. At times they were unwatchable.
23:The NFL Rookie of the Year will be Peterson.
And next year's rookie of the year will be Darren McFadden, sort of a Peterson clone.
22:Runner-up: Detroit WR Calvin Johnson.
21:Week One mini-Upset Special: Baltimore over Cincy at Cincy.
The Ravens led 20-19 early in the fourth quarter, but couldn't hold on.
20:Tomlinson will be the NFL MVP.
Tom what's-his-face won it.
19:Of the seven new head coaches in the league, Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt will have the most impact on his team's record.
The Cowboys' Phillips was plus-four wins (9-7 in 2006 under Parcells, 13-3 in 2007). Whisenhunt was plus-three, Oakland's Lane Kiffin and Pittsburgh's Tomlin were plus-two, San Diego's Turner was minus-three, Atlanta's Petrino was minus-four (7-9 in 2006, 3-10 when Petrino left in 2007), and Miami's Cam Cameron was minus-five.
18:Workout freak Kevin Jones (I once saw him do an intense hour-long workout session at his Blacksburg, Va., apartment after a two-hour practice at Virginia Tech) would have never signed off on his Lions return if his injured foot wasn't sufficiently healed.
After missing the first two games of the season, Jones slowly returned to form before being undone by injuries again. The one that ended his season had nothing to do with his foot, but with a torn ACL in his right knee during Game 15 against the Chiefs. And he still finished as the Lions' leading rusher (581 yards, eight TDs).
17:In a way, it won't matter. Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz wants to go steady with new RB Tatum Bell.
Didn't happen. When Jones returned, Bell's carries decreased. By October he had asked the Lions to be traded.
16:If Gruden isn't fired first then the new pink-slip favorite will be Cleveland's Romeo Crennel.
I need to send Crennel an apology note. The Browns didn't make the playoffs, but they did win those 10 games.
15:Brett Favre will break the NFL all-time record for victories, TD passes and, if he averages 241.3 yards per game, passing yards. None of it will matter to Favre unless the Packers are in the late-season playoff chase. Favre has always been about the Ws.
He broke all three records and, knowing Favre, probably broke his own heart with that second interception against the Giants in the NFC Championship. Yeah, he forced the pass. Deal with it. Because without No. 4, the Packers aren't within Lake Michigan of the playoffs.
14:Will he retire at season's end? Well, he turns 38 on Oct. 10. He's been reduced to making Wrangler jean ads where's he's playing ball with male models. And his hair is grayer than a December Green Bay sky. And, no, I don't think he'll call it quits if he thinks the Pack are thisclose to winning something in '08. At least, I hope not.
He threw for 4,155 yards, completed 66.5 percent of his passes, had 28 TDs and 15 interceptions. He has a running back, a nice group of receivers and a solid offensive line. And the Packers are good enough to make another Super Bowl run.
13:Jaguars RB Fred Taylor will break the career 10,000-yard rushing barrier, but everyone will still be talking about teammate Maurice Jones-Drew. Even Taylor will talk about Jones-Drew.
Taylor got his 10,000 career yards, got 1,202 yards for the season (5.4 per carry) and helped get the Jags to the playoffs. He also got a Pro Bowl invite. But Jones-Drew isn't much fun to try to tackle, either, and his 10 touchdowns doubled Taylor's TD total.
12:Tens of people around the country will watch the thrilling Colts-No Vick Falcons on Thanksgiving night.
A total of 4.2 million viewers watched the game; Monday Night Football that week saw about 14 million viewers, according to Nielsen numbers.
11:No two defenses will mess with quarterbacks' minds more than the ones used by the Ravens and Patriots.
Twenty-two other teams gave up fewer points than the Ravens this season, so we can pretty much quit with the defensive dynasty thing. Meanwhile, the Patriots had nine games where they gave up 14 or fewer points. They finished ranked fourth in total yards allowed and total points allowed.
10:At some point this season there will be a Chad Pennington-Kellen Clemens quarterback controversy. And not just because it's New York.
This was easy money. Pennington was benched after the Jets started 1-7. Clemens started the next six games, but got injured early against New England. Pennington came in, played well and the controversy bubbled again. Pennington started the next game at Tennessee, then Clemens returned in the final game against Kansas City. Then -- you know what, who cares? It's the Jets.
Anyway, GM Mike Tannenbaum says he expects Pennington and Clemens to compete for the starting job during training camp -- unless they trade Pennington.
9:Philly's no-name WRs Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown will surprise you with their production.
Curtis had more receiving yardage (77 catches, 1,110 yards) than Plaxico Burress, Donald Driver, Steve Smith or Andre Johnson. Brown had lower numbers (780 yards on 61 catches), but the two combined for 10 touchdowns. Works for me.
8:He isn't Randy Moss (the guy Favre desperately wanted the Packers to sign during the offseason), but rookie WR James Jones of San Jose State will become one of No. 4's favorite.
But with an asterisk. Favre liked Jones enough that the rookie had 47 receptions for 676 yards and two touchdowns. He just liked Driver (82 catches), Greg Jennings (53 catches) and Donald Lee (48 catches) a bit more.
7:The presence of veteran QB Garcia will mean Cadillac Williams rushes for more than 1,100 yards. Last year, he didn't reach 800.
This year he didn't reach 210. But he had a good excuse. He tore his right patella tendon in a Sept. 30 game at Carolina and was lost for the season.
6:The Bengals offense will be the new Colts. Now the bad news: The Bengals defense will be the old Bengals.
The Bengals defense was still awful (27th in total yards allowed). And the Bengals offense could do no better than 10th in total yards. Hard to believe they finished 7-9.
5:Byron Leftwich or no Byron Leftwich, if you gave the Jaguars a draft day do-over right now, they'd still take S Reggie Nelson over QB Brady Quinn.
Nelson plays as if his hair is on fire. And the Jags seem to have found a quarterback for the future at a fraction of the cost: David Garrard.
4:The Chargers will beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship.
Right teams, wrong pick.
3:The Bears will beat the Panthers in the NFC Championship.
If it was the 7-9 Bowl, I'd be golden.
2:The Chargers will beat the Bears in Super Bowl XLII.
Neither team even reached the Super Bowl.
1:I'll do better than the 53 percent I got right last year.
A lousy 50 percent on my football SATs. Whuppin' time.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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