Sunday, September 07, 2008

NFL 2008 Kickoff

So I see the last time I posted here was in mid-July. Whoa. Guess I let this one get away from me.

But as the 2008 NFL season is about to get underway I thought I'd better get back to blogging and give my thoughts on what might transpire this year.

Without further ado, here are my five stories to watch for this season and five game to watch this week. No betting info here. It's been long enough since I posted, why alienate the few readers I have left with my piss-poor picks.

Top 5 Stories of the Year:

1.) How will the Pats rebound from 2007?
Since the Patriots failed to complete their perfect season and culminate their undefeated run with another world title, the chant "18-1" has replaced the old familiar Red Sox "1918" refrain as the mocking cry for Boston haters.

Hard to argue with them, too, because coming so close to perfection only to come up short (thanks to a one-in-a-million, miraculous, lucky catch) hurt us pretty badly. But this is a new season, and the Pats have a clean slate and a whole host of issues to overcome in order to make it back to the Bowl.

For starters, Tom Brady missed the entire preseason with a foot injury, so no one is sure how healthy he is and how he will get out of the gate in the opener against Kansas City. he says he's fine, but there's gotta be some rust since he hasn't thrown a meaningful pass since February.

Also the defense has been severely altered in the off season. Stud DB Assante Samuel took the money and ran to Philly, aging LB Junior Seau was not brought back, and a unit that was already pretty old got a year older. Throw in a couple of ugly arrests, the lingering spectre of Spygate, and the hangover effect of falling short in an otherwise stellar season, and all eyes are going to be on New England, especially in the beginning of the year.

2.) Brett the Jet
As you may have heard, Brett Favre went from the Green Bay Packers, where he played in every game since 1992, to the New York J-E-T-S in a ballyhooed unretirement that made headlines throughout the summer.

Now that he has swapped his cheeseheads for the Cosmo crowd, how will the self described redneck adjust to life in the big city, with a new team, new scheme, new coaches, and most important of all, new ugly unis?

I saw somewhere that he has gotten more and more comfortable in the Big Apple as time has passed, but to me that's like saying a wild animal got used to his life in the zoo. They may have adjusted to their new surroundings, but that doesn't mean they are liking it.

Favre will be under the microscope all season, as detractors will be looking to pounce on every misstep and sign of despair and fire off a "he should've stayed retired" story. But don't be surprised if Brett the Jet takes that chip on his shoulder and turns in a playoff berth. Oh, and expect a lot of interceptions, too.

3.)Rookie watch
There was a time when rookies came into the league and carried the clipboard for a few seasons, hoping to get an appearance in an actual game here and there in between playing tackling dummies on the practice squad. But now more than ever rookies are expected to make major impacts on the game and their new teams, which are shelling out big bucks to see their risky draft picks pay immediate dividends on Sunday.

More than a few big time picks have turned into big time busts, putting more pressure on these kids to come out performing like Pro Bowlers right from the get-go.

Some of those candidates who better put up big numbers early this year include RB Darren McFadden, who is expected to give the moribund Raiders a shot in the offensive arm; QB Matt Ryan, who will tackle the monumental task of making Atlantans forget about Mike Vick and a disastrous 2007 season; OT Jake Long, who needs to validate Miami honcho Bill Parcells' decision to lock up the No 1 pick well before the draft; and KC DE Glenn Dorsey, who slipped to #4 due to health and weight issues, then held out for most of camp and comes into the opener already behind the rookie 8 ball.

It's put up or shut up time, guys. You're not in Kansas (or Mizzou or Arkansas) anymore.

4.)How will the Giants follow up their Super season
Many (read: Pats) fans believe that the G-Men's run to the Bowl was a product of getting hot at the right time and having a couple of incredible breaks go their way (yes, we're talking about you, David Tyree). Now with a ring on his finger and Michael Strahan in the TV studio, we get to see how Eli "the other" Manning can produce when his team is the favorite instead of an unexpected underdog.

My guess is that they fall apart like a balsa model in a wind storm, and the loss of Osi Uminyora in the preseason finale will be the beginning of an onslaught of injuries and unfortunate circumstances that combine to fell the soon-to-be former champs. But that's just my unbiased opinion.

5.)New rules for the new year
On the heels of Spygate, defensive players will be allowed to hear signals from the sidelines like the offesnive players have been for years. How all this gabbing in the helmets affects the play on the field has yet to be determined, but something tells me it could do more harm than good. Don't be surprised if in a couple of years, all helmet communications are outlawed anbd we go back to the good old days of plays being brought in from the sidelines.

But the biggest rule chance could be the shoving out of bounds play. No longer will a catch be upheld if an offensive pplayer was forced out by a defender. From now on, if you don't come down in bounds, it's not a catch. This could be one of the single biggest rule changes to come along in years, and after a number of receptions and TDs are taken away, I think players and coaches are going to clamor for this rule to be revoked next year.

Top 5 Games to watch, Week 1
-NY Jets at Miami Dolphins

This one has more story lines than a David Lynch film. Not only do you have the Favre in Gang Green headliner, but the Big Tuna is calling the shots for the Fins against one of his old teams in hopes of resurrecting the once proud franchise, and the new QB for Parcells happens to be the old Jets signal caller, Chad Pennington. Intrigue and interest abound in this grudge match between two clubs that hope to compete with the Pats for AFC East supremacy.

-Detroit at Atlanta
The debut of Ryan will be highly anticipated and scrutinized by people who are curious to see if handing the reigns of a franchise over to a kid who was in college just a few months ago is a good idea. I say how can it be worse than allowing a freak of a quarterback who smoked week and killed dogs to run the franchise into the ground? Not only will Ryan be under the microscope, but Detroit, which had high expectations last year, is trying to get to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years and will rely on rookie RB Kevin Smith to lead them there.

-Dallas @ Cleveland
Definitely one of the more intriguing match ups of Week 1, as the sideshow of T.O., Romo and PacMan travel to the Dawg Pound to battle the feisty Browns. While all eyes will be on Jessica Simpson's fuck buddy and the return of Adam Jones to the NFL after a 1-year hiatus, the Browns, with an explosive offense and solid defense, could surprise the stars of HBO's Hard Knocks by applying a hard knock of their own.

-Kansas City at New England
The Chiefs are predicted to be one of the worst teams in the league, while the Pats nearly went undefeated last season. On paper this one looks like a mismatch of epic proportions, which is backed up by the two touchdown spread. But with Brady shaking off the rust, the defense adjusting to life without Samuel and Seau, and one crummy team always surprising the league, this one could be close than the experts expect.

Put it this way, if the Pats don't win big, or God forbid lose, it's gonna be a long week in the Commonwealth.

-Minnesota at Green Bay Monday Night
This was supposed to be the night that the Packers retired Brett Favre's jersey before the game against the arch rival Vikings. Now it's a curious contest that will be remembered as the first game someone other than Favre starts under center for the Pack since 1992. The Vikes, with stud RB Adrian Peterson entering his second season, have a golden opportunity to steal a win on the not-yet-frozen tundra, and if Favre's replacement Aaron Rodgers doesn't wow the crowds, expect the chants of "we want Brett" to rain down from the rafter of Lambeau Field.

Enjoy Week 1, and I promise I will be back here on a weekly basis from now on (no, my fingers aren't crossed).