I'm excited that it's football time, mostly because I've given up on the White Sox. Sure they are only 4.5 games out, but they've been outmatched all year and here at the stretch run they are all starting to get hurt.
On to football. This is my take with a completely uneducated guess. I haven't been watching pre-season closely. I haven't watched the offseason trades. Teams for the most part remain who they are. Football is not like baseball in that a team can completely change with free agency, or basketball in that a team can have a single player make a huge impact. Sure the draft helps, but only marginally, coaching and schemes have a lot to do with it, as do the players who are still there.
First and foremost I'm a Chicago Bears fan. I will watch every game this year cheering for them, but I only expect them to win 5 games. The defense in the pre-season has not looked good against opponents, but it has looked great against our own offense. To me that says that our defense is weak and our offense is weaker. 5 wins may be a stretch. The good thing that should come from that is that Lovie Smith and the crappy Tampa 2 will be gone. He can say that there is nothing wrong with the scheme as many times as he wants, but the fact is that a Tampa 2 really has only ever had 3 a few good seasons on teams. It does work if all of the right players are at their peak and working perfectly, however any weakness in the players and the system is crap. We do not have premier players in all of the positions, so get over yourself and switch to a scheme that can work with the talent we do have. You've been coaching too long to be this stupid, so stop being stubborn.
As a backup, I'm picking the Houston Texans to be the sleeper team to watch this year. San Francisco is the team that everyone else is watching, and with Singletary as the coach and the team in a weak division I think they will win the division, but when everyone expects a team to be the sleeper, they really aren't the sleeper, they are expected to be good. The San Francisco offense will be the only real throwback offense that tries to pound it out in a throwing league, but they have the defense to allow that to happen.
Houston on the other hand has a lot of talent on defense and Andre Johnson for a wide receiver. They picked up Matt Leinart as a backup after Arizona unexpectedly cut him. Leinart may stick around a few years as a servicable backup, but I think he's already proven that he'll never be a solid starter. Houston's running back core led by Steve Slaton will be interesting. I thought he was overrated at West Virginia and he's been somewhat of a bust already, but maybe this year he will show more.
NFC East - Dallas Cowboys
Romo is not a star quarterback and will never be Brett Farve or Peyton Manning, but he is on a very good team and he's a good quarterback.
NFC North - Minnesota Vikings
I think the Vikings with this division even without Farve. Green Bay is their only real competition, but Adrian Peterson is a far better back than Ryan Grant. I love watching and cheering for Grant since he came out of Notre Dame and has performed better than anyone expected.
NFC South - New Orleans
I don't think the Saints will repeat as Super Bowl champs, but they kept almost the entire team together and Drew Brees is a star quarterback. He will can carry the team late in the 4th quarter all by himself. This is the strongest division.
NFC West - San Francisco
San Francisco will be the team with the worst quarterback in the playoffs. Alex Smith is not the answer for them, but they also haven't had many other options. I like that they are building a very solid team and they have the ability to plug in a better quarterback later. Teams can win the big game without a quarterback. Most recently the Ravens did it with Trent Dilfer, and Delhomme, Hasselbeck, and Rex Grossman even took teams to the superbowl. Anything is possible.
NFC Wild Cards - Green Bay, Atlanta Falcons
Green Bay I think is the strongest team to not win a division. The 2nd wild card was really a toss up. I went with my gut and picked the Falcons.
AFC East - NY Jets
New England is finally knocked from their pedestal. New England's defense cannot slow other teams down enough to allow their own offense to win. Brady throws for 4,000 yards, but it's not enough. The Jets win ugly, but a win is a win.
AFC North - Cincinnati Bengals
There will be drama, everywhere that TO has ever been there has been drama. But winning keeps it at bay until the team falls apart in the playoffs. If TO can finally take responsibility then they may go all the way, but if he continues to point fingers at others this team will not make it past the first round. TO will leave pouting and nobody will pick him up next year, everyone is tired of his drama, even if he can still perform they are tired of dealing with it.
AFC South - Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis wins again, but they don't run away with the division. Peyton Manning is probably the best quarterback to every play the game. He'll need to be. The new rules hurt the Colts offense more than any other team. I predict the change will cost the Colts 2 wins this season.
AFC West - San Diego Chargers
San Diego makes sense to repeat despite letting one of the better running backs in history go. LT was definitely past his prime and didn't help a lot last year. That's ok though, because the Chargers will have the fewest rushing yards for a playoff team. Their offense will be completely based on the pass, even their "running" plays will be quick dump passes or pitch plays. Ron Rivera's defense is what makes the difference. The same defense that managed to take the Bears to the Super Bowl brings wins in SD. I don't understand why he isn't given more credit for what happened in Chicago, the defense hasn't even been good since he left, and the new defense that he's running is good, not great, but good.
AFC Wild Cards - Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins.
There are about 6 teams that you could pull out of a hat and any of them would be a good choice. Oakland without Jamarcus Russel will actually be a fun team to watch this year. Denver with Orton being a solid quarterback and 2 intriguing backups behind him will probably cause some drama at some point. I look forward to seeing a very hard hitting Baltimore Ravens defense. Pittsburgh is a good team, but being without big Ben to start the season puts them out too far to overcome late in the season. New England has enough that they could be here, I think that coach Belichick is finally not able to get enough from his players. The talent has gotten too thin and the help at coaching has also thinned out. This is a rebuilding year, not for player talent, but for coaching talent, he needs to be able to relinquish some control again to focus on development more. Miami with the wildcat, and two strong running backs will plow through teams and win with ball control.