Who is Lombardi bound? Plus week 1 picks
If you missed Part One of my 2007 NFL Power Poll, click here for teams 12-32. Today, we're ripping through the Top 11 and banging out Week 1 picks.
THE NON-LURKING LOOMERS
I've been worrying about my own mortality lately because my memory is slipping -- it's either happening because of my advancing age, or because any parent with a young child gets subjected to nonstop songs from kid's shows that eventually turn our brains into mush. For example, I've heard the theme song from "Maisy" (my daughter's favorite cartoon) approximately 14,576 times over the past three months -- it's always in the background, just loud enough so I can hear it and the chorus starts pounding my cerebrum for the rest of the day. For those of you without kids, Maisy is a female mouse who hangs out with a group of animal friends, including Eddie the Elephant, Talula the Duck, Cyril the Squirrel and Charlie the Special Needs Alligator. You know cartoons have gone too far when somebody decides that a special needs alligator is a good idea. Of course, he's the funniest character on the show and the one my daughter loves most.
THE FIRST ANNUAL SPORTS GUY HANDICAPPING CHALLENGEStarting this season, ESPN.com expanded its Pigskin Pick'em game and allowed an unlimited number of people in a group. In other words, let's say I wanted to start a gigantic NFL Picks Pool in which any reader could pick every NFL game against the spread and compete against me, the Sports Gal and various ESPN and ESPN.com personalities and other readers, and let's say the winner received a dopey prize to be named later.
Would you welcome to the chance to potentially kick my prognasticating ass? Well, here's your chance: If you have an ESPN username, click here and follow the instructions.
The point is, when you have little kids, completely inane topics like "Is it a good thing that my daughter is delighted by a special needs alligator?" start clogging your brain when you should be thinking about more important things like, "Why don't I feel more strongly about Wade Phillips' dooming the 2007 Cowboys?" Now here's where my fading memory comes in. I started writing my weekly NFL column for my old "Boston Sports Guy" site in 1997, back when the only people trying to build an Internet audience were me, Matt Drudge, Rob Neyer and about 30,000 porno actresses. During that time, Phillips coached the Bills during the Flutie/Johnson Era, and I vaguely remember thinking he was terrible and making fun of him constantly. I'm about 87 percent sure this happened. Then I looked up his career record and it wasn't bad (48-39 in the regular season, 0-3 in the playoffs); you could even make the case that, if not for the Music City Miracle, Phillips' 2000 Bills would have made the Super Bowl.
The whole thing left me confused. Was I just imagining the Wade Phillips bashing? Eventually, I broke out an eight-year-old laptop and pored through my '99 and '00 NFL columns to confirm the fact that, yes, once upon a time, I made fun of Wade Phillips' coaching ability on a week-to-week basis. Seven years and about 50 terrible coaches later, he's back in business and nobody seems to think this will be a major problem. Personally, I think Dallas should have hired Charlie the Special Needs Alligator. At least his news conferences would have been fun.
There's enough firepower (Javon Walker, Travis Henry, Ian Gold, D.J. Williams, Champ Bailey, Dre Bly), enough upside (the chance that Jay Cutler will exceed expectations) and enough done-it-before history (Mike Shanahan rarely misses the playoffs for two straight years) here that the Broncos look like a potential playoff team.That's before factoring in what happened to the late Darrent Williams and remembering that tragedy invariably unites a football team and provides an overall purpose that may have been missing otherwise. I'm not trying to belittle what happened to Williams, the Broncos' young cornerback who was senselessly murdered outside a Denver nightclub last spring. But for the sole purposes of determining why a football team will be better or worse than it looks on paper, you can't underestimate the emotional makeup of a team that lost a beloved teammate for a really stupid reason, buried him, mourned him and eventually dedicated its season to his memory (as well as the memory of backup RB Damien Nash, who collapsed during a pickup basketball game last spring). Every little edge counts in the NFL. Just look at the Saints last year.
More importantly, the Broncos might have the easiest schedule in the league. They play Oakland twice, Kansas City twice, Detroit, Buffalo and Houston on the road, and Jacksonville, Minny, Green Bay, Tennessee and Pittsburgh at home. Let's say they go 3-1 against Oakland/KC, 2-1 in the easy road games and 4-1 in the easy home games. That's nine wins. Then, if they can steal one more game against San Diego (home), Indy (road), Chicago (road) or San Diego again (on the road in Week 16, when the Chargers may already have clinched a 1 or 2 seed and will be more interested in resting Tomlinson to screw up everyone's fantasy league finals), that gets the Broncos to 10 wins and pushes them into the playoffs. Sometimes it's that easy.
(My only red flag with the Broncos: Can't say I love the Jay Cutler feedback coming out of training camp. When you're repeatedly described as "quiet," "a loner" and "someone who keeps to himself," you're more qualified to be a serial killer than a starting NFL QB.)
I feel like this Eagles team has one more good run with McNabb and Reid in it. Maybe I'm crazy. Speaking of Reid, some media members always seem surprised when a level-headed, good-natured, well-spoken family man like Reid ends up having a problematic or troubled kid, with the implication being, "Man, if this could happen to (fill-in the coach), it could happen to anyone." Well, imagine being the son of an NFL coach who routinely works 100-hour weeks. How do they juggle coaching and family? If you were Reid's son, you could probably walk around your house emulating Jame Gumb's tuck scene and it would take him 10 minutes to pull his mind away from that week's game just to say, "What the hell are you doing? Put some clothes on!"
How can anyone be a great father and a great NFL coach? How is there enough time in the day? With the way the job evolved over the last 25 years, and with the amount of time it chews up -- not just during the season, but year-round -- the problems of Reid's kids weren't surprising at all. Knowing what we know about that profession, knowing how many times a coach has to move when he's proving himself as an assistant, knowing how fragile and stressful a head coaching job is, knowing that a head coach basically has 53 kids every year ... really, why would anyone want to grow up as the son of a longtime NFL coach? Wouldn't you rather have a dad like me, someone who's home every day and always procrastinating from ever working? If the NFL ever goes to an 18-game schedule, VH1 will be showing a "25 Most Troubled Kids of NFL Coaches" special within five years.
They could go 5-11 or 13-3 and I wouldn't be surprised. Ben Roethlisberger and Willie Parker could make the Pro Bowl or lose their jobs and I wouldn't be surprised. Santonio Holmes could be the fantasy breakout star of 2007 or a waiver wire staple by November and I wouldn't be surprised. Hell, Hines Ward could go an entire week without getting the red flag slapped next to his name in fantasy report, and I wouldn't be surprised. I'm prepared for any scenario.
Here's the X factor: Usually when a team hires a new coach, the players react in one of two ways: If the guy is succeeding a drill sergeant, they play the "It's a whole different atmosphere here, he treats us like men, it's nice to have fun playing football again" card. If the guy is succeeding a player's coach, they play the "He's a no-nonsense guy who makes sure we're totally prepared, we needed that around here, we got a little soft, we needed someone to kick us in the ass" card. But the reactions to Mike Tomlin didn't fit either category -- the various quotes from players sounded like this:
"He's still feeling us out and we're still feeling him out."
"He's definitely a hard guy to read, no question."
"It's definitely been a little different this camp, that's for sure."
You know what it all sounds like? Code language for "THIS GUY SUCKS! WE HATE HIM! BRING BACK COWHER!" On the other hand, last year's Pittsburgh team committed too many mistakes when it mattered and had one of those textbook Super Bowl Hangover seasons. So maybe the players needed a kick in the collective ass. Let's stick them at No. 8 to be safe. By the way, I'm feeling a big year from Big Ben.
THE HEADLESS HORSEMEN
I'm still ticked at McNair because, had he played a passable playoff game against Indy, they would have beaten the Colts and I would have played the "Peyton Manning can't come through in the clutch" card for another year. At the same time, end-of-the-season defeats always end up being a microcosm of what ailed that particular team. The '86 Red Sox had no business winning a World Series with Calvin Schiraldi as their closer, so even though they had 13 different pitches that could have won Game 6 at Shea, those 13 pitches became a microcosm of why they couldn't win in the first place. Same for McNair on the '06 Ravens. At this point of his career, he's not good enough to beat a good playoff team in January without a kick-ass running game.
Which raises the question: Is the upgrade from Jamal Lewis to Willis McGahee enough to change Baltimore's playoff destiny? I like McGahee more than others, but when you remember how fortunate Baltimore was last year -- not only did the Ravens win four legitimately lucky games (Cleveland, San Diego, Tennessee and Cincy), but they avoided killer injuries and somehow got 17 starts from McNair -- and factor in a tougher 2007 schedule (including road games at Cincy, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Seattle and home games against Indy and the Pats), even with McGahee aboard, an 11-5 season seems like a stretch. Plus, what if McNair gets hurt? How much will they miss Adalius Thomas? What if McGahee struggles? What if Ray Lewis slips this year? Out of the top 10 teams, Baltimore and Philly are the ones that could easily slide to .500 or below if a few things go against them.
When the '85 Pats made the Super Bowl, we had an unpopular starting QB named Tony Eason who was basically the J.D. Drew of quarterbacks -- perfect on paper, gifted physically, only he carried himself like one of the aliens in "Blade Runner" and always seemed like he'd rather be checking out somebody's new surfboard over playing his favorite sport in front of 50,000 people. (Note: You can read the unabridged version of this analogy in my upcoming coffee table book, "Caught Looking: My 100 Least Favorite J.D. Drew Late-Inning Strikeouts From the '07 Red Sox Season.") After Eason's shaky '85 season (the team took off when he was injured and Steve Grogan turned things around) and complete meltdown in Super Bowl XX (0 for 6 passing, multiple times sacked while assuming the same position that airplane passengers use right before a plane crashes), every Patriots fan made the executive decision, "We will never, ever, EVER win with this guy."
So what happened? Eason drowned out the boos by throwing for 3,328 yards, 19 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions on the '86 AFC East champs. Somewhere along the line, we convinced ourselves that Eason had turned the corner, that the Super Bowl XX experience hardened him, that Grogan had become the Miyagi to Eason's LaRusso. We voyaged to Mile High in Round 2 to play Elway and the Broncos. Eventually, I learned to block all details of this game out of my mind except for one -- in the final few minutes, trailing by three with the ball, deep in our own territory, poor Tony Eason suddenly looked more terrified than Drew Barrymore in the first 10 minutes of "Scream." I have never had less confidence in a Boston athlete, at any point of my life, and you really had to be there to fully understand. There was NO WAY IN HELL Tony Eason was coming through. This was like every clutch J.D. Drew at-bat in 2007 multiplied by a thousand. So it came as no surprise when Eason ended the season in the worst possible way, turtling in the end zone for a freaking safety on a sack by future Reggie Cleveland All-Stars Hall of Famer Rulon Jones.
What does this have to do with the Bears? I think Rex Grossman is about to re-enact Eason's '86 season -- he'll do better than anyone thinks, he'll get Bears fans to lower their collective guard, and then, when it matters most, he'll kill their season with his version of the Rulon Jones safety. And that will be that.
5. New Orleans
Even though they have all the makings of the "10-6 Team That Got On A Roll With An Easy Schedule, Overachieved and Fell Backwards the Next Year," I'm banking on Year 1 of the Sean Payton Era's being the start of something substantial over a one-year aberration in which a decent team that took advantage of a bad division and a unique emotional lift from a city that needed it to win and keep winning.
(Translation: I had the Saints penciled into the 5-spot before "Indy 41, New Orleans 10" happened and can't move them down after the fact because one of my editors saw a first draft of this column. Dammit! I'm never sending a first draft to them ever again.)
What an intriguing twist for the Manning-Brady rivalry! Manning comes through in the big Pats-Colts game, Manning wins the Super Bowl, Manning hosts Saturday Night Live ... meanwhile, the only way Brady's 2007 would have been rockier was if Bridget Moynihan named their new son "Peyton." (Which would have been the single most vindictive move by a female celebrity since Alanis Morissette released "You Oughta Know" in 1995, but that's a whole other column.) Even though I hate how things turned out, the Manning-Brady debate is more fascinating and complex now, much like Philly's 1967 title took the Russell-Chamberlain debate to another level. Given Manning's new ring and Brady's uneven performances in New England's last two playoff exits, even the biggest Patriots homer on the planet (you know, someone like me) can't blindly make the "If my life depended on one big game, I'd choose Brady over Manning" argument anymore without feeling like an enormous homer. Brady can grab the "Lord of the Flies" QB conch back by winning his fourth Super Bowl, but for now, it belongs to Manning.
That's what makes the following information so interesting: This Colts team has less experience and less depth than any season from Manning's prime, and it's also battling the whole Super Bowl Hangover thing. Of any sport, NFL champs struggle the most in the year-after season, mostly because it's a sport that thrives so much on emotion, luck and good health. Despite what happened Thursday night against the Saints, the odds look like they're against the Colts unless Manning plays out of his mind for five months. Which could very well happen. Put it this way: If Manning pulls off a Super Bowl repeat with this supporting cast, the Brady-Manning debate, for all intents and purposes, would be over. Yikes.
(And to think, if Troy Brown runs the right route on third-and-4 last January, I'd be writing that you couldn't win a Super Bowl with Manning for the umpteenth straight year.)
3. San Diego
If they hired Norv Turner right after the AFC Playoffs and we knew they were sold on him, it would be one thing. Instead, they choked away the Pats game, dragged their feet on firing Marty Schottenheimer when it was the only move, then lost his potential replacement (Cam Cameron) to Miami -- as well as every other potential replacement, by the way -- before canning Marty, settling on Turner at the eleventh hour and giving him a makeshift staff of retread assistants. I'm supposed to pick this team to win the Super Bowl? Yeah, they're gonna score a ton of points with Norv Turner. That's what he does. He shows up, your offense gets better. But he's had THREE chances to be a head coach and failed every time. Why would this time work?
Anyway, I was exchanging e-mails with The Guy Who Knows Things this week and he sent me the following response when I innocently asked him, "Hey, I just want to be sure, the Chargers can't win the Super Bowl with Norv, right?"
"I love Norv, but SD is the perfect storm for bad -- Norv as a head coach and Ted Cottrell as the DC. You cannot get any worse than that. Consider how Laveranues Coles described Belichick and Mangini this week and you'll feel like Bobby Knight felt every time he faced Dale Brown by not picking Norv and the Chargers: 'They have a very smart coaching staff and we have a very smart coaching staff. They basically use us as chess pieces. How they position us to play this game, that's the main thing now. Whoever can make the adjustments the best and the fastest will probably have the edge.'
"With Norv and Ted, they cannot beat enough of the good chess players. The game is in the details and they leave too many untouched."
(Couldn't have said it better myself.)
I wrote it last week, I'll write it again: Everyone is sleeping on these guys. They finished 9-7 during a season when nearly everything went wrong; now they're healthy and happy; they dumped their clubhouse cancer guys; they added a pass rusher (Patrick Kerney) and an overqualified defensive assistant (Jim Mora Jr., who nearly made the Super Bowl 30 months ago); they're playing in one of the easiest divisions (the NFC West); and they'll probably be favored in every 2007 game except Pittsburgh in Week 5 and Philly in Week 12. And it's not like they haven't done it before. Throw in their homefield advantage and skill position guys and they seem like the safest bet in the NFC.
So why can you currently get 25-to-1 Super Bowl odds for them in Vegas? Because it's no fun to pick the Seahawks. They've been there before, they play in a smaller market, they have a bald quarterback, their uniforms are boring, their best player is boring, their coach looks like he should be wearing a sheriff's outfit and buying donuts, and if you say you've met more than three Seahawks fans in your entire life and you're not from Seattle, you're lying. Really, the only thing that stands out about them is their crowd. Switch their roster with Dallas' roster and they'd be 7-to-1 odds right now. Since they're in Seattle, nobody cares yet. But you will. Give it a couple of months.
PLAYOFF PICTUREAFC Playoff Teams
1. San Diego, 13-3
2. New England, 12-4
3. Indianapolis, 11-5
4. Baltimore, 11-5
5. Pittsburgh, 10-6
6. Denver, 10-6
NFC Playoff Teams
1. Seattle, 13-3
2. Chicago, 11-5
3. Philly, 11-5
4. New Orleans, 10-6
5. Dallas, 10-6
6. Atlanta, 9-7
AFC also-rans: NY Jets, 9-7, Houston, 9-7; Cincinnati, 8-8; Oakland, 8-8; Jacksonville, 7-9; Tennessee, 6-10; Cleveland, 5-11; Buffalo, 5-11; Miami, 4-12; Kansas City, 3-13.
NFC also-rans: St. Louis, 9-7; Green Bay, 8-8; NY Giants, 8-8; San Fran, 7-9; Carolina, 6-10; Washington, 6-10; Arizona, 6-10; Minnesota, 5-11; Detroit, 4-12; Tampa Bay, 2-14.
Round 1 winners: Indy, Pittsburgh, Philly, New Orleans
Round 2 winners: San Diego, New England, Seattle, Philly
Championship Weekend: New England over SD, Seattle over Philly
Super Bowl Pick: New England 30, Seattle 19
They blew that Colts game in January for four reasons: They couldn't run for a first down when it mattered; they couldn't catch a third down pass when it mattered; they couldn't stretch the field; and they couldn't stop the pass because their linebackers were too slow and their secondary was too banged up. All four problems have been fixed. Don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger.
Anyway, here's my Super Bowl pick: New England over Seattle. Now that we have that settled, let's hit the Week 1 slate.
WEEK ONE PICKS
(Home teams in caps)
Broncos (-3) over BILLS
It's OK to take road favorites in Week 1. Don't be afraid. By the way, I'm predicting a Travis Henry/Selvin Young platoon from Shanahan just to mess with fantasy owners around the world. The man is evil.
TEXANS (-3) over Chiefs
"I did a bad job preparing this team! I did a terrible job! I DID ... A TERRIBLE JOB!"
Steelers (-4.5) over BROWNS
Did you see the Browns awarded Charlie Frye the starting QB job "on a week-to-week basis?" Yeah, that should work out. Imagine going on three dates with someone, then telling her, "I have good news, you're my girlfriend on a week-to-week basis?"
REDSKINS (-3) over Dolphins
The Dolphins' fans are angry that I stuck them in the Bruce Coslet Division yesterday; this is on the heels of Tampa fans being mad about the Tropicana Field photo essay; and the Jacksonville fans still being ticked because I made fun of their city two years ago when the NFL stupidly awarded them a Super Bowl. I'm slowly turning all of Florida against me and couldn't be prouder.
(Next up: Orlando! If you ever wanted to know why the terrorists hate us, just spend a week there and it will all make sense. I've been there twice and there won't be a third time. No wonder Shaq fled for L.A.)
Eagles (-3) over PACKERS
In my West Coast fantasy league where we can start only one QB, I took Carson Palmer with the last pick of Round 2. When Donovan McNabb was sitting there at the beginning of Round 5, I couldn't resist -- I took him and nearly caused a riot in the room. I'm still taking crap for it. So here's my question: If I took three running backs in the first five rounds, it's acceptable, but if I took two QB's in the first five rounds, it's shortsighted. Why is that? With two of the five best QB's, I can juggle the matchups every week, I'm protected from a killer injury in a position where guys always get injured, I'm guaranteed 18-20 points every week and I have a major trade chip down the road. That wasn't worth the slight downgrade from starting Vincent Jackson every week (he was the next pick after McNabb) versus starting D.J. Hackett (my 10th pick and fourth receiver)? I'm supposed to feel like I did something dumb? Let's see if the barbs keep coming after McNabb throws for 290 yards and 4 TD's this week. Stay tuned.
Titans (+6.5) over JAGUARS
The third-dumbest line of the week.
JETS (+6.5) over Patriots
The second-dumbest line of the week.
Falcons (+3) over VIKINGS
Wait, I'm getting points against Tavaris Jackson? Really? I feel like one of those creepy old guys being waved into Chris Hansen's house by a girl who looks 25 but claims she's 14 ... I'm almost afraid to walk in, but I just can't resist. And hey, I brought a six-pack of Keystone Light with me!
(By the way, remember in Part 1 of my preview when I refused to pick the Texans as a sleeper because their coach and GM didn't seem confident enough about shocking the world this season? Check out Mark Bradley's column in the Atlanta J-C today about my 2007 Sleeper Pick. Now THAT is what I'm talkin' about, Bobby Petrino! Jump on the Falcons Bandwagon right now or forever hold your peace.)
SPORTS GAL'S RANTI wasn't surprised when Michael Vick found Jesus about a dozen dead dogs too late. Every celeb who breaks the law embraces a higher power as soon as they get caught. How many times can we keep testing God's limits? A few weeks after Paris Hilton told Larry King that she found God, two of Bill's friends watched as she give Suge Knight a sloppy post-ESPY's lap dance at the Mondrian. I don't remember reading about lap dances in the Old Testament. Just wait until the day Lindsay Lohan finds religion at her 19th DUI trial, I'm sure God will love that. Get ready for some unexplained atomic explosions afterward.
We should be harder on celeb criminals because they're supposed to be setting examples for kids - even someone like Paris, who's setting an example for aspiring socialite hookers with no talent. If I got hopped up on drugs and drove the wrong way on the highway, I'd be biting into a pillow in a cell with large Marge right now. When Nicole Richie does the same thing, she goes to jail for 10 seconds. So let's make an example out of our dog-hating friend Mr. Vick. Instead of a joke sentence, let's put him in televised cage fights with other dogfighters, with all proceeds going to PETA and the Humane Society. Leading up to each fight, we'll starve Michael the same way he starved his dogs. Each fight will keep going until Michael or his opponent gives up or dies. The loser will be executed by eletrocution, gunfire or hanging. I know this sounds brutal, but I believe in an eyefor an eye and I can't accept anyone ever hurting a dog. If cage fighting is too harsh, then Vick should eat dog food and drink out of the toilet for the entire time he's in jail. Anyone who would hurt a dog deserves to be treated like one.
On a lighter note, I want to challenge Cameron Diaz to a cage fight. This is getting ridiculous. First, she dated Jared Leto while he was still in his "Jordan Catalano" mysterious/smoldering/hot phase, then she nabbed the incredibly talented, inexplicably sexy and on-his-way-up JT, and finally, the funny, talented and inexplicably sexy John Meyer right after he lost weight. That's three of the guys on my list! If I ever see Cameron crossing the street in LA, I'm going to run her over with my car. Maybe I should just find God now and get it over with.
Here are my Week One picks: Texans, Bills, Pitt, GB, Titans, Vikings, Pats, Rams, Dolphins, Raiders, SD, Bucs, NYG, Ravens, SF
This week: 1-0
Since betting on Jake Delhomme can make you feel like you've been brutally murdered, here are reviews of the new Halloween remake from me (the second-biggest Halloween fan alive) and my buddy Geoff Gallo (No. 1 on the list):
Me: "I hate myself for going to see this and will continue to hate myself for some time to come."
Geoff: "I appreciate that Rob Zombie got the mask right after years of idiotic half-assed attempts, and yes, there were a couple tributes to the original that I enjoyed. In the end, I was bored and in disbelief at how badly Loomis was cast and his lines were butchered. Eerily, only William Shatner himself could pull off the greatness of Donald Pleasance. But when you change the greatest ending in cinematic history you have to ask -- what was the point of this film? We don't want to know about Myers' childhood, especially when he looks like one of the kids from Hanson. I'm really disappointed. The only thing that could have saved this film was if Myers walked into a video store, saw all of the remakes and stabbed himself to death."
CHARGERS (-6) over Bears
This feels like one of those games when you talk yourself into the Bears, then you're ready to hang yourself between Rex's third and fourth picks.
(Hey, speaking of losing, I keep getting e-mails from readers wondering where Appalachian State's upset over Michigan ranked on the Levels of Losing. The answer? For the first time since I wrote that column, a crushing defeat that combined the elements of the "This Can't Be Happening Game" and the "Stomach Punch Game" and created its own new level -- the "Drive-By Shooting," for any college football upset in which a 30-point underdog shocks a top-5 team in front of 100,000 of its fans and kills its title hopes before Labor Day. Let's stick it at Level 3 and move everything else down one. This case is adjourned.)
RAIDERS (-2) over Lions
Detroit shouldn't be getting less than a field goal on the road unless it's a reason like, "Half the guys on the home team came down with mono" or "Tim Donaghy will be working as a field judge and told two of his buddies to take the points."
SEAHAWKS (-6) over Bucs
The dumbest line of the week. Throw the Hawks in a two-team tease and thank me later. No, really. I insist.
COWBOYS (-6) over Giants
I'm glad Tiki Barber became a broadcaster -- we needed another former player who smiles a lot, can't really think on his feet, has nothing interesting to say and over-laughs at everyone else's jokes. There aren't enough of those around.
BENGALS (-2.5) over Ravens
The season hasn't officially started until (A) I lose the Thursday night opener by stupidly taking the road team against the Super Bowl champs, (B) Cincy suckers everyone into thinking it'll be a playoff contender, (C) Chris Berman spruces up a mundane highlight by referencing a song that came out 35 years ago, and (D)
NINERS (-3) over Cardinals
Someone says, "I can't believe I thought the Cards were gonna be the big sleeper this year!"
THIS WEEK: 0-1
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available in paperback.
2007 NFL PREVIEW
In our 2007 preview, 'Secrets of The Game," we take you inside the NFL, with stories on the playbook, video preparation and a peek at Peyton Manning's passing camp.
THE BASICS• Team-by-team previews, more
• Power rankings: Pats clear No.1
• For your ears only: SB predictions, more
• Our experts' picks... | ...and yours
SPORTSNATION• Vote: And the Super Bowl teams will be...
• Vote: NFL 101 | Week 1 Pick 'em
• Rank 'em: Teams | MVP favorites | QBs
DAY 1: Mystery of the playbook• The NFL's sacred diary of trust
• Scouts Inc on go-to plays: AFC | NFC
• Inside an '04 playbook | 10 pages from it (PDF)
• Playbook stories: Lost, found, confused
• Pasquarelli: How different are they?
• For your ears only: Talking X's, O's
• Scout-speak: A glossary
DAY 2: Tales of the tape• Breaking down the game with Matt Hasselbeck
• How teams collect, dissect video
• Merril Hoge's all-game tape team
• Film room: 'Holy land' of the NFL
• Video: Hoge, EA Sports on tape study
• Future film study could be like video game
• Clayton: Five sleeper teams
• Scouts Inc.: 10 unnoticed contributors
• Jeremy Green: What I learn from tape
DAY 3: Inside Manning's passing camp• Behind the scenes with Manning & Co.
• Football joy at Manning Passing Academy
• Milestones: Favre, others approach marks in '07
• Brett Favre Zoom gallery
• Scouts Inc: 5 passers of near future
• Scouts Inc: 5 passers of distant future
...and in ESPN The Magazine
Season preview: NFL players spend the entire offseason looking forward to September. Then poof! A star QB (hi, Mike) is indicted and a marquee DT blows out his knee (that's gotta hurt, Booger). Winning the Super Bowl isn't easy. Ask LT, who's trusting his my-way-is-the-only-way GM to take him all the way.
On newsstands Wed., Aug. 29
...and on ESPN
Watch the season debut of the award-winning "Sunday NFL Countdown" on Sept. 9 at 11 a.m. (ET).