(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
In 20 days, my Oakland Raiders will kick off the 2005 NFL season against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. That’s less than three weeks until the Raiders sock Tom Brady in the mouth and begin dismantling the Pats’ Red, White and Blue dynasty.
The NFL looks different each season, and this year will be no exception. Tons of big names have switched teams, bringing even more parity to a league that is almost drowning in it.
With the exception of a few elite teams (Philly, New England, Indy) everyone pretty much spends 16 weeks taking turns beating up on each other. That’s just one of the reasons that makes it difficult making preseason predictions.
But do you think that’s going to keep me from making myself look like an idiot? Not on your life. Here are my first annual sure-to-bomb predictions, that will solidify one of my more astute reader’s comments of, “Mike Gaines is no Vegas bookie”.
I’m listing the teams in order of worst to first, with the last team listed as my Super Bowl winner. If these come true, I reserve the right to say I told you so. If they are horribly wrong, I reserve the right to say I told you so.
32) Denver Broncos – Once considered an offensive genius, Coach Mike Shanahan is banking on an 85-year-old Jerry Rice and an out of shape Maurice Clarett to save his job this year. Time to polish the resume.
31) San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers off-season was a PR nightmare, and there doesn’t look to be a wake-up call anytime soon. Looks like top pick Alex Smith should have stayed in Utah.
30) New Orleans Saints – The ‘Aints. ‘Nuff said.
29) Buffalo Bills- J.P. Losman will make Eric Moulds wish he were back in Starkville, Mississippi, watching Jackie Sherrill castrate bulls.
28) Chicago Bears – If Brian Urlacher could quarterback, play offensive line, punt, kick, and coach, maybe the Bears would have a chance. Cedric Benson will probably be a keeper, if there was a quarterback in camp worthy of a ‘Rozelle’ headband.
27) Jacksonville Jaguars – After Tom Coughlin squeezed every ounce of life out of the city of Jacksonville and his players, he left for New York. Now Fred Taylor and his washed-up legs get to carry the Jags’ carcass.
26) Washington Redskins – Someone needs to tell Joe Gibbs that the game has changed a little bit since the ‘80s. Fortunately for him, stock car racing is about the same.
25) Cleveland Browns – At this point the Dawg Pound has to be wondering why the Browns ever came back to Cleveland. On the bright side, they have Trent Dilfer on the roster.
24) Cincinnati Bengals – Year two of the Marvin Lewis era gets underway. Defense does win championships, but you also have to score. Jon Kitna is not the man to restore the Bengals’ stripes.
23) Detroit Lions – How long of a grace period does Matt Millen get to right the ship in Motown? It might not take much longer if Joey Harrington can get a full season out of his formidable receiving corps.
22) Houston Texans – The Texans are actually much better than they have a right to be. David Carr is a game breaker when defenses aren’t trying to break his neck.
21) Miami Dolphins – By mid-November Nick Saban will be wishing he was back on the Bayou. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown will be a load for opposing defenses, but unfortunately neither one can throw the ball.
20) St. Louis Rams – The Rams get ranked this high simply because they can drop 48 on you before halftime. They’re ranked this low because Mike Martz is still the coach.
19) New York Giants – Eli Manning will be a little better this year, but it won’t be long before Tom Coughlin breaks his spirit. Rookie running back Brandon Jacobs should be the long sought-after answer in the backfield.
18) Carolina Panthers – After making the Super Bowl last year, the Panthers struggle and barely miss the playoffs this year. Unless former Auburn running back Stephen Davis stays healthy. Then all bets are off.
17) Kansas City Chiefs – This season will provide many opportunities for Dick Vermeil to start crying. Beginning with week one’s showdown against the Jets.
16) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – A Jon Gruden coached team won’t stay down long. The addition of Cadillac Williams will bolster the backfield, but who’s going to quarterback?
15) Tennessee Titans – The Titans will be competitive as long as Steve McNair can hobble back onto the field. Unfortunately, competitive doesn’t always translate into wins.
14) New York Jets – Chad Pennington and Herm Edwards just might be one of the best coaching/quarterbacking combos in the league. If the ageless wonder Curtis Martin holds up, a wildcard berth may be in their future.
13) Minnesota Vikings – With Randy Moss on their team they barely made the playoffs. They got rid of Moss, but not the real problem. Coach Mike Tice lingers like the few remaining hairs on a bald head.
12) Arizona Cardinals – Kurt Warner has something to prove this year, and under the tutelage of the highly underrated Denny Green, the Cards will make the playoffs.
11) Dallas Cowboys – Same thing with Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe wants to prove that the Bills and the Pats made the wrong decision in giving up on him. Add that to the fact that a Bill Parcells team is never bad two years in a row.
10) San Diego Chargers – Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson counteract all the negatives that Marty Schottenheimer brings to the table. Now if they could just play a little D.
9) Baltimore Ravens – It loathes me to put the Ravens this high, especially since Peion Sanders is suiting up for them, but Brian Billick and that defense are too tough to overlook.
8) Seattle Seahawks – Mike Holmgren finally puts a decent season together in Seattle. Matt Hasselbeck is no Brett Favre, but he’s no Trent Dilfer either.
7) Oakland Raiders – Randy Moss, a return to the 3-4 defense, Lamont Jordan and did I mention Randy Moss, will make Oakland the cream of the crop in the AFC West.
6) Pittsburgh Steelers – Barring a sophomore slump from Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers will look to make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the days of Bubby Brister.
5) Green Bay Packers – Brett Favre is smelling retirement, so he’s going to give it all he’s got to get back to Super Sunday. It’s never easy to win in Lambeau, especially when Favre has a chip on his shoulder.
4) Philadelphia Eagles – With or without T.O. (and it’s looking like with), the Eagles have the same core that has made it to the last four NFC Championship games.
3) New England Patriots – It’s been a good run. It’s been a long run. But it’s over. Tom Brady is whining about his image and arm, and don’t underestimate what Ty Law brought to the table.
2) Atlanta Falcons – The new face of the NFL, Mike Vick, finally proves he is an all-around quarterback and leads his team past the Eagles into the Super Bowl, where they will lose to…
1) Indianapolis Colts – Peyton Manning is probably the best quarterback ever to play the game. This year he puts aside the knock that he can’t win the big one. A revamped Colts D as well as the big three of Manning, Harrison and James will give Indy their first Super Bowl.