The NFL Meets HBO
The first half of an NFL Preview
By Adam Hoff
is time to get the old NFL predictions on the books and there really is no other
way to do that than to ram some pop culture references into the mix. I mean, what is the point of writing
about sports anymore if you can’t mention Johnny Drama and Tony Soprano in the
same breath as Tom Brady?
I am borrowing from my NBA preview columns by pairing up HBO shows with various
groups of NFL teams. Let’s roll.
be sure to avoid Bryant Gumbel anywhere in the column, lest the NFL sick their
watch dogs on me. Talk about the No
Fun League. They are one step away
from renaming the commissioner’s position “Big Brother.”)
The Dane Cook’s Tourgasm Group (the six
worst teams in the league).
is the show that alerted all of America (at
least those with HBO on Demand) to the fact that Dane Cook is an insufferable
baby. Tourgasm was excruciating to watch and,
even worse, a harbinger of potentially dozens of awful films to come (starting
with the horrendous Employee of the
Month). In the case of each of
these teams, we’ve had some equally excruciating moments from them in the past
12 months, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. The real horror – the romantic comedy
set in a Wal-Mart and co-starring Jessica Simpson type of horror – is that which
comes next. Folks, the 2006 season
is going to be grisly for an unlucky few.
49ers (2-14) – For some reason, half of my friends that care about football
are Niners fans. Go figure. Needless to say, it has been a rough few
years for the San Fran faithful.
The good news? With running
back Frank Gore taking over the football-toting duties full time, San Francisco has someone
worth taking in the first four rounds of a fantasy draft for the first time
since T.O. left town. The bad
news? They will be lucky to win
four games this year. At least
their coach looks good in a suit.
Tennessee Titans (4-12) – The Titans are a total
mess. With the regular season only
days away they have both a quarterback and running back controversy on their
hands. No one knows whether Billy
Volek will be the starter or will get cut.
Whether Kerry Collins and Travis Henry headline the World’s Greatest
Reclamation Project or they just hand the keys to the young guys and spring a
Vince Young/LenDale White backfield on us.
It’s total madness.
(3-13) – Right here we have the most depressing team in the league. Brett Favre should have retired three
years ago, Ahman Green looks like he’s being operated with a remote control, the
secondary is awful, and the offensive line is embarrassing. Sounds like a recipe for a three-win
(2-14) – The Jets are old, but at least they are slow. They have no running backs, but on the
other hand, they have a quarterback that can’t throw the ball downfield. The defense is shaky, but they have a
rookie coach in over his head.
Okay, I think the point has been made.
Cleveland Browns (5-11) – The Browns should be
better this year, but it probably won’t show up in the win column. They have an inadequate quarterback,
shaky skill position players, and – worst of all – they play in a beast of a
division. With two games each
against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Baltimore,
there is a very real chance Cleveland will go 0-6 inside of its own
Detroit Lions (3-13) – Everywhere you look,
there seems to be great optimism surrounding the Lions. They are supposedly tougher thanks to
their lunatic of a head coach and his two-a-days and game-day flights. Guys like Kevin Jones, Jon Kitna, and
Roy Williams are the next Emmitt, Aikman, and Irvin thanks to Mike Martz … or so
they say. Personally, I’m not
buying any of it. Just because the
NFC North may be up for grabs (which I actually sort of believe), that doesn’t
turn this inept franchise into some sort of powerhouse. They still suck. End of story.
The Rome Group (four teams that aren’t as
good as people think).
HBO decided to run a new show focused on the Roman
Empire, it left me scratching my head. I mean, this ground has been covered,
right? However, people kept saying
that the first season was great.
That it was amazing. So I threw it in the Netflix queue
and ordered it up. The problem
here? People are confusing
“explicit” with “good.” Just
because Rome shows naked
women taking showers in the blood of slain oxen doesn’t mean that it packs any
extra entertainment value. I’m not
saying it is terrible, it just isn’t as good as people seem to think. Just like these teams.
(7-9) – Look, I love Larry Johnson as much as anybody. I love that he wears #27 to remind
everyone that he slipped to that pick in the draft. I love that he broke Kansas City’s
single-season rushing record despite starting only nine games. I love the fact that he shares a name
with one of my all-time favorite NBA serial fathers. All of that said, this team simply isn’t
going to be playing postseason football.
They lost their two star tackles.
They have a new coach (Herm Edwards) that can’t ever seem to win as much
as he should. Worst of all, half
the starters are as old as Rafael Furcal.
There is no way this team wins 11 games, which is probably what it will
take to either win the AFC West or nab a wild card spot.
Atlanta Falcons (8-8) – Atlanta is a decent team,
so this isn’t a prediction of total doom.
However, I don’t see them competing for a playoff birth and a lot of
other people do. Supposedly, this
is the year that Michael Vick puts it altogether, but I’m waiting until he
actually does it once before I hitch my wagon to his star. He still lacks a number one wide
receiver and the Falcons have a porous run defense. So they can’t throw and they can’t stop
people from running: bad combo. The
one caveat here is rookie running back Jerious Norwood. If the Falcons turn him loose in that
zone blocking scheme, he could drag them into the playoffs.
Arizona Cardinals (5-11) – You know the “wait
and see” approach I’m taking with Vick?
Well, apply that to this whole franchise. On paper, they should be a whole lot
better this year. They have an
underrated defense, arguably the best receiving tandem in the league, two
quarterbacks to get those guys the ball, and now a featured back in Edge. On the other hand, they have a few
things working against them: 1) They have a brutal offensive line (as everyone
knows), 2) Dennis Green appears to be somewhat delusional, which is dangerous in
the NFL (see: Spurrier, Steve), and 3) They are, in the end, the Arizona
Cardinals. It is entirely possible
that they shed that baggage, ala the 2005-2006 Los Angeles Clippers, but I’ll
believe it when I see it.
Dallas Cowboys (8-8) – Don’t take this the
wrong way. Just because I’ve listed
Dallas as the
10th team discussed, that doesn’t mean they are going to finish in the bottom
10. It just means I think they are
going to be worse than everyone else seems to think. I think T.O. will be fine and have a big
year and I think that whether it is Drew Bledsoe or Tony Romo’s Ribs throwing to
him, the Cowboys will move the ball through the air. However, I don’t think that Dallas runs the ball like
they need to and I don’t think the defense is going to be any force of
nature. Most importantly, I think
they are in a really rough division that will cost them needed wins.
The “Entourage” Group (four teams that
are better than people think).
of you might be wondering why I would use Entourage for this group. I mean, everyone loves this show,
right? The answer is yes, many
people rave about it. However, if
you really press folks, they will never admit that it is even “very good,” Let
alone “great.” It is passed off as
a guilty pleasure, a fun show to watch, even as merely “something to fill the
summer void.” All of these
disclaimers are unnecessary. It is
a very good show, period. It has
managed to retain water cooler value through three seasons, it makes you laugh
out loud, and it tells a very “inside” story in a way that is accessible to
everyone. Yes, some of the actors
could be better. Yes, the show
probably peaked midway through Season Two.
Yes, Dom was excruciating.
But you can nitpick all you want, it is still a good show. Now, as for these four squads, you can’t
nitpick them and still come to the conclusion that they are good teams. However, they are better than people
think, so they get the Entourage
Buffalo Bills (8-8) – I know this seems crazy,
but hear me out. The No Fun League
is the most dynamic league in pro sports.
Before you note the contradiction in that sentence, understand that I
mean dynamic in the sense that there is a lot of movement, not in the sense that
fans are treated to dynamic touchdown celebrations. This isn’t a static sport where the same
teams are good all the time. Now,
granted, the ever-increasing salary cap is allowing teams to retain talent and
prevent bad teams from re-stocking, so it is true that franchises like the 49ers
and Titans are finding it much harder to recover from mismanagement, age,
injuries, and salary cap debacles than they would have five years ago. However, teams still move up and down
the standings in the NFL like pistons.
Every year half the playoff teams change, some teams collapse, and a few
bound upward. So the key is to pick
a few that seem like they could thrive, against all odds. I’ve got the Bills as one of those
teams. The offensive line was a
major weakness before camp, but line coach Jim McNally has worked hard with them
and now they are healthy and enter the season no worse than mediocre (hey, it’s
an improvement). This, in turn,
should help Willis McGahee regain his 2004 form, which should help J.P. Losman
throw more strikes to breakout candidate Lee Evans. And so on. Toss in the return of Takeo Spikes (the
went from 2nd to 29th in his absence last year) and a pretty favorable schedule
and I think the Bill can go 8-8, maybe even 9-7. Of course, in the AFC, that doesn’t get
you very far.
Oakland Raiders (9-7) – I’ve got Oakland going 9-7, besting Kansas City in the AFC West standings, and
staying in the playoff hunt until the season’s final weeks. And to quote Will Ferrell in Zoolander, “I feel like I’m taking crazy
pills or something.” Seriously, I
have to be losing my mind. This is
a team relying heavily on Warren Sapp and Aaron Brooks. A team featuring Randy Moss and Jerry
Porter (two of the few receivers that can actually be called “T.O.-esque”
without raising eyebrows) as its best wideouts. It’s a team with a head coach and
offensive coordinator that have both been out of the league for over half a
decade. Did I mention that the
defense is young and unproven? And
that the offensive line is shaky?
And that they play in a tough conference and an even tougher
division? Yeah, like I said, I am
crazy. Nevertheless, I am
predicting a “sum is greater than the parts” season for Oakland that will result
in ESPN.com running a feature on the front page with the words “Shell Game” or
“Old School” that details the way Art Shell turned the Raiders around with
discipline. You heard it here
New Orleans Saints (8-8) – This is the new
“America’s Team.” Hit the road, Cowboys. With everything that has happened in the
Gulf Region over the past year, there would be nothing better than an improbable
run to the playoffs for the Saints.
And while I am stopping short of putting them in the playoffs, I do think
they can get to at least .500 this season, which is a whole lot better than
anyone else seems to think they can do.
I like Drew Brees as an upgrade from Aaron Brooks. I like Sean Payton as an upgrade over
embattled Jim Haslett. I like the
Deuce-Reggie 1-2 punch at running back.
I even like a small resurgence for Joe Horn (hey, he only looks 45). The defense is brutal, but I think the
magic in the air will give them a few memorable victories, they will outscore a
few more teams, and finagle their way to an 8-8 season. Go Saints.
Houston Texans (7-9) – Everyone is just
automatically slotting the Texans into a 4-12 season, but I think this team will
surprise people. They may not crest
7-9, but that still makes them an Entourage team. I think Mario Williams will be a monster
while Bush is up and down and you can expect plenty of “Texans Got it Right”
stories to pop up during the season (even though I think they got it wrong in
the long run) as the defense makes a big improvement. On offense, Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking
scheme will propel the running game and thereby keep defenses honest, which is
good news for David Carr. And yes,
I know that Domanick Davis is out for the year. Have we learned nothing from the Denver
Broncos? When the system is
perfect, any back that can make a read, make a cut, and accelerate can
thrive. Wali Lundy can do
that. The Texans are going to be
better-coached, have better athletes, and win more games. Done and done.
St. Louis Rams (9-7) – I think the
Vikings and Rams will both be better than people expect this year, but I
couldn’t see the Bears missing the playoffs with their defense, so I flipped a
coin to see which team would get the wild card bid. The Vikings are in, the Rams are
The Sopranos Group (five teams that fall out
The Sopranos is one of the great
shows of all time. It is a
classic. But lets face it, even
classics fade. Likewise, these are
five teams that played postseason football last year but will be hitting the
golf course early this time around.
Some of them are being plugged in as automatic playoff teams this
year. I don’t care. As Mike Wilbon would say, “Get em
New England Patriots (9-7) – If you think keeping
the Pats out of the playoffs is some sort of football blasphemy. just wait until
you read what I have to say next. I
think this is the year that Tom Brady misses some significant time. It probably isn’t cool to write
something like that, but hey, this is about making predictions, right? I love Brady and hope he is healthy,
wealthy, and well, but I have a feeling that won’t be the case. Throw in their awful situation at
receiver and disastrous secondary and this team won’t have enough to get
Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) – I know Carson Palmer
looks healthy, but I just can’t see the Bengals returning to the
postseason. Not when their whole
season rides on a guy trying to come back seven months after nearly having his
knee ripped apart, and not when they have a beast of a schedule, and not when
they spent the offseason morphing into the 2001 Portland Trailblazers. Cinci may be good on the field now, but
they were back to being the Bungles off of it. What goes around comes around. Expect them to put up a lot of points,
to win more games than they lose, but ultimately miss the playoffs.
Jacksonville Jaguars (7-9) – Not sure why I’m in
the minority on this one, as the writing appears to be on the wall. I know they have the best set of
defensive tackles in the game, but that is literally ALL they have working in
their favor. The Jags lack
game-breaking receivers and game-breaking running backs. Byron Leftwich looks like Jason Statham
in The Transporter when he drops back
to pass – I swear, there are five guys (maybe not ninjas like in the movie, but
still) swarming him at all times. I
give them .500 at best.
Washington Redskins (6-10) – Here’s your best
candidate for a “wheels fall off” kind of season. Offensive cog Clinton Portis is already
dinged up. Mark Brunell is running
around like Barry Bonds on an afternoon following a 14-inning night game. The defense is still only average. Last but not least, they play in the
best division in football. All
told, it is starting to look like Daniel Snyder’s best investment is now
Six Flags Amusement
Park, just edging out the ‘Skins, followed by the
completely insane Tom Cruise.
Tampa Bay Bucs (7-9) – I remember thinking that
the Bucs were the luckiest team in the league last year. Obviously, the pundits penciling them in
for 11 and 12 wins remember something else entirely. What I see is an offense that is too
young and a defense that is too old.
Sadly, unlike in Tiger Woods Golf for X-Box where you can sprinkle your
power boosts around, Tampa Bay won’t be able to borrow from one side
to give to the other. Expect
mistakes on O and injuries on D and a disappointing year for Jon Gruden and
there you have it … all of the NFL’s non-playoff teams grouped HBO style.
We’ll be back tomorrow with Part II of the preview as well as my bold playoff
and award predictions. See you then.
Adam Hoff is a columnist for the
Webby-winning WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of
America. He can be reached at
Read Part 2 >