September 6, 2002

Going Out on a Limb: NFL Preseason Picks

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The beauty of getting to write a column is that I can put whatever I want in my allotted biweekly space. I could decide to draw a comic strip. I could repeat the words “Big Red” 250 times and run that. Some of you might even think that would be better that my actual columns.

Since I am a rabid baseball fan, I picked the division and wild-card winners back on April 4. I did this mostly because I could, and because being a baseball fan is enough of a qualification to do so. My picks, as of now, are so-so — I would be 3-for-8 if the season ended today. However, all the teams I picked to make the playoffs are still contending, with the exception of the Phillies (who are still in second in the NL East).

Since my picks weren’t a total bomb and the NFL season kicked off last night, what better subject for today’s column than my picks for the 2002 NFL season?

I’m glad you couldn’t come up with a better subject, either.

AFC North:

Pittsburgh Steelers. If Pittsburgh had just buckled down in the AFC championship game, they could have been in last year’s Super Bowl. This year, they won’t let the opportunity pass them by again. The Steelers are motivated, and Jerome Bettis is in better shape than he’s been in a while.

AFC South:

Indianapolis Colts. This one could very well go to the Titans, but I think Tony Dungy will have the Colts playing fundamentally sound football, something that didn’t happen last year, when they gave up 30.4 points per game. Also, Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James comprise the second nastiest backfield in football to the Rams’.

AFC East:

New England Patriots. The road to the Super Bowl goes through the Pats, and despite all the knocks on Tom Brady, his passer rating last year was better than Donovan McNabb’s, Manning’s, and Daunte Culpepper’s, to name a few star QBs. Miami will give the Pats a push, but Ricky Williams, Dartmouth alum Jay Fiedler, and the rest of the Dolphins will end up making the playoffs as a wild card.

AFC West:

Oakland Raiders. The Raiders are still bitter about the infamous “tuck play” that went the Patriots’ way and eliminated the Raiders from the playoffs last year. The Raiders have a fierce defense, a consistent quarterback, and wide receivers who will have plaques in Canton one day. The Broncos will also come from this division as a wild-card team.

NFC North:

Green Bay Packers. Brett Favre is still a great quarterback, and he’s got a solid target if Terry Glenn keeps his head screwed on straight. Ahman Green will provide the rest of the offense without a problem. In fact, Green is going to have an incredible MVP-type season this year. I can feel it.

NFC South:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is the toughest division to pick. The Falcons could surprise in a major way if Michael Vick and rookie RB T.J. Duckett play to their potential. Still, it’s probably too early to see that from them. Aaron Brooks, Deuce McAllister, and the Saints also could take this division, but I think they’re more likely to slide into the postseason with a wild-card bid.

NFC East:

Philadelphia Eagles. The Birds are a lock to win the division. But once in the playoffs, it will get tricky without Jeremiah Trotter in the middle. If anyone can figure out a way to compensate for that loss, though, it’s defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.

NFC West:

Seattle Seahawks. This spot is supposed to be reserved for St. Louis, but Seattle is going to be the surprise of the fall. If Trent Dilfer (who has a 15-game winning streak) gets healthy, then Seattle has a QB with a Super Bowl ring and Shaun Alexander, who is poised for an amazing season, in the backfield. Darrell Jackson is one of the most underrated receivers in football. The Rams, meanwhile, have a tough schedule ahead of them, and although they have the best QB and RB in football in Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk, their 0-4 preseason record shows they might not be as deep as they seem to be. Plus, the Patriots showed that the Rams are beatable. That being said, the Rams will take a wild-card bid.

Wild-Card Round:

Patriots over Broncos, Dolphins over Colts, Seahawks over Saints, Rams over Buccaneers. As a unit, the Patriots are almost unbeatable. Ricky Williams will run circles around the Colts’ D. Seattle is still largely unknown to many NFC teams. The Bucs have a thing about losing in the first round of the playoffs.

Divisional Round:

Patriots over Raiders, Steelers over Dolphins, Eagles over Rams, Packers over Seahawks. Bill Belichick will be able to outcoach the Raiders’ Bill Callahan. Jay Fiedler isn’t good enough to take a team to the league championship. The Rams’ run ends here. The Eagles came thisclose to beating the Rams in the NFC championship last year, and the Birds also took the Rams to OT in last year’s regular season. The Seahawks aren’t good enough to make it to the championship game.

Conference Championships:

Patriots over Steelers, Eagles over Packers.

Nobody outside of New England believes in the Patriots. That’s probably enough motivation for the Pats to show that they aren’t a fluke. McNabb is such a good quarterback that he should be in the Super Bowl, and he’ll make sure he gets there this year.

Super Bowl:

Patriots over Eagles.

If the Patriots make it this far, there’s no way they don’t finish the job. If you didn’t believe in them last year, they’ll make you believe this year.

MVP: Ahman Green

A lot of this pick depends on how well Glenn pans out for the Pack. If the passing game draws defenders away from the run, Green has the ability to score 14 TDs and rush for 1,800 yards.

Rookie of the Year: T.J. Duckett

By the end of the season, the NFL will have forgotten about Warrick Dunn. Duckett is the man in the backfield for the Falcons. He and Vick will one day be one of the most frightening duos to defensive coordinators. The Browns’ William Green might also contend for Rookie honors.

Coach of the Year: Mike Holmgren

I know I’m going out on a limb with my confidence in the Seahawks. But if they can do what I predict them to do, then Holmgren should have this award, no question.

Well, there you have it — my picks for the upcoming NFL season, because I can. You may think I’m full of myself, or you may think I’m full of crap. And if you really feel that way, then I want you to wait until the season ends. If I’m as wrong as you think I am, then by all means, feel free to tell me so then. But as of yesterday, every team was in first place.

Archived article by Alex Fineman