Sunday, September 14, 2008

NLF 2008 Week 2: Life After Brady

The day the music died in New England
Not sure if you heard about this, but Patriots quarterback Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury eight minutes into the opening game last Sunday.

And at that moment, the 2008 NFL season unofficially ended for New England fans.

Now, some people (read: unmitigated homers and eternal "glass half full" optimists) are trying to put a positive spin on the devastating loss by implying that career backup Matt Cassel could come in and make like his mentor by "pulling a Brady", a.k.a doing what Brady did when he replaced injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001 and go on to league superstardom.

Me, I don't buy it for a second.

For one reason, Cassel hasn't started a football game since high school. He was permanently parked behind Heisman winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC, and then all-everything league poster boy Brady in New England for the last four years. That type of resume doesn't portend to years of success in this league.

For another, he isn't that good. He's somewhat mobile, somewhat accurate, and somewhat efficient. But nothing that he has done, in four years of preseason action and mop up duty, strikes you as seeing a player who has star potential. He looks very much like a career backup, which is what he has been his whole career.

For these reason I say the Pats season is over. Oh sure, they might win 10-12 games, thanks to a weak schedule and the pitiful parity that plagues the league nowadays, but so what. A first round playoff loss is not what Pats fans and players strive for, not with three Lombardi trophies already residing in Foxborough.

No matter what else happens, anything less than a fourth trophy is a failure for this team. And if New England couldn't win that last season with Tommy Boy, then I'm willing to go out on a limb and say they're not going to win it this season without him.

But you're welcome to go out and prove me wrong, Matt.
As for the rest of the league, there were plenty of other injuries in Week 1 to depress other fan bases as well. Chargers DE Shawne Merriman finally smartened up and decided to have reconstructive surgery on his mangled knee, so his season is over; New Orleans lost potent offensive weapon WR Marques Colston for 4-6 weeks with a thumb injury; and Titans QB Vince Young injured more than his knee in a win over Jacksonville, as a bizarre scene unfolded in which the police were called to locate VY after his mom worried he might kill himself.

Other than that it was a quite Week 1.

Some surprises included the Cowboys dismantling the supposed playoff-contending Browns; ditto the Broncos destroying the hapless (again) Raiders; the Panthers snuck a last second victory out from under the Chargers; and Brett Favre led the Jets to a win over a game Miami team in his debut with Gang Green.

All of this makes for a wide open season (what else is new), and of course there are some key games to keep an eye on this week. Here are some to watch in my special "farewell to football in Foxborough" edition of the Top 5, complete with my predictions:

1.) Patriots (1-0) at Jets (1-0) 4:15
The first game AB (after Brady) was supposed to be one of the most intriguing on the schedule this year. You've got the Mangini/Belichick angle, made even spicier since the protege ratted out the mentor last season to ignite the whole Spygate saga. You've got Brett Favre's first division clash, leading the little team that wants to be great against the mighty Pats. And now, sans Brady, you've got the Jets thinking they can actually dethrone the king and take over the AFC East penthouse.

Even without Brady, this one promises to be a decent match up, if only to see which QB disappoints his fans more.
MY PICK: Jets 24, Pats 21

2.)Bears (1-0) at Panthers (1-0) 1:00
Both teams are coming off surprising road wins in Week 1; Chicago crushed the rusty Colts, spoiling the debut of Peyton Manning and shiny new Lucas Oil Stadium with a punishing ground game, led by rookie Matt Forte, while Carolina scored a touchdown with no time left on the clock to stun the Super Bowl favorite Chargers.

So the question is, now that neither team can surprise anyone, who will win? I have to go with the home team, because two tough road games to start the season is not conducive to a 2-0 start. As good as Chicago was, they had the advantage of playing a Colts team that was banged up. Look for Carolina to get to 2-0 today.
MY PICK: Panthers 17, Bears 14

3.)Titans (1-0) at Bengals (0-1) 1:00
While Tennessee tries to ease Kerry Collins into the role of savior as Young nurses is knee and psyche back to health, Cincy must erase the memories of a humiliating opening loss to Joe Flacco and the Ravens.

Although the Bengals mustered just 10 points and 154 yards of offense against the stout Baltimore D, I believe Carson Palmer, perhaps inspired by USC's beatdown of Ohio State last night, will come out blazing against the rocky Titans team.
MY PICK: Bengals 27, Titans 20

4.)Steelers (1-0) at Browns (0-1) 8:15 NBC
This bitter old rivalry gets the center stage as the Sunday Night Football game of the week, and for the Browns sake, they better play better than they did in last week's 28-10 embarrassment against the Cowboys. A night game at the Dawg Pound will have the home team fired up, but the Steelers, behind Willie Parker's 138 yards and 3TDs, had no trouble dispatching Texans in Week 1.

Something tells me Cleveland will play much better in this one (how could they play worse?), and if the prime time night game against their bitter steel town foes can't get this team to perform well, nothing will.
MY PICK: Browns 19, Steelers 17

5.) Eagles (1-0) at Cowboys (1-0) 8:15 MNF
Speaking of bitter rivalry games, nothing like a match between these two NFC East teams to spark tension and hatred, right? TOs old team trots into the Stadium riding a 38-3 smackdown of the Rams in Week 1, while the Boys' effortless win over the Browns proved they are the team to beat in the NFC, if not the league.

Look for a good old fashioned dogfight, with neither team willing to back down or let up, and plenty of fireworks, especially if TO scores a touchdown against his old mates. Something tells me he won't mind being fined for the celebration he'll have in store for his ex-BFF, Donovan McNabb.
MY PICK: Cowboys 31, Eagles 28

As always, these are my best guesses, so please don't lay any money on these picks. Enjoy Week 2, and for Pats fans, there's always next year.