Oh how time has flown. As you might recall, quite possibly the earliest direct reference to the events of this week's Democratic National Convention came in the form of a sports story when NBC and the NFL decided to move up the annual primetime opener to Wednesday instead of the traditional Thursday spot. After a thankfully fairly regular offseason with the usual comings and goings and hanging on, finally some honest to goodness games. We know the National Conventions are usually pretty manicured, stage managed productions aside from occasionally celebrity ad-libbing (for what its worth, that segment if nothing else got Bob Newhart trending on Twitter, nothin wrong with that), so the change in script that football represents is welcome from this view. Like most of you, I am fascinated by what Elizabeth Warren has to say, less fascinated by what Bill Clinton has to say (the OFA ad with him talking about the dangers of deregulation was a triumph of chutzpah), and happy to have something to click back and forth between. As for the rest of the view of the season? Keep on readin'
Quick hit thoughts on the divisions:
East: The Giants won the Super Bowl. They also went 9-7 including being left in a roadside ditch by the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football. Clearly, the team is somewhere in between those two datapoints. Not having Hakeem Nicks early at 100% could be an issue, and the decrease in receiver depth loses some of their special sauce. But the defensive front is as strong as ever. The Redskins with Robert Griffin III will stink, but in a fun way - I just don't see the blocking. The Cowboys finished 8-8 and are probably an actual 9-7/8-8 sort of side, not sure how much upside there is, though Tony Romo had a marvelous season last year. But the Eagles - last year's hype team - this year benefit from a full offseason where there is not crazy turnover. They played very well down the stretch a year ago, and have continuously given the Giants fits as a head to head opponent. Eagles are the pick in a strong group.
South: The league can puff up its chest sanctimoniously at the Bounty Gate saga - it got to look like they cared about injuries because the Saints were so stupid in their own program. Blaming the players seems short sighted to me, as players in this sport are raised to follow orders. That said, between losing Sean Payton and losing Drew Brees, the Saints still have the right dude. Meanwhile the Panthers will be better as Cam Newton is growing, but hard to see them better than the Saints. The Falcons might win the division (not like Payton's loss is inconsequential) but they continue to give off the "boring, steady boyfriend" type of vibe. They need another gear to impress me, but the gears they have are plenty to put 10 wins together. Saints are still the pick though.
West: Mario Manningham helps. Randy Moss could in theory I guess, although any of those "what amazing shape he is in" sort of comments are barely worth the paper they are printed on. That said, Moss is a frontrunner, the 49ers are good and like a fresh carton of milk, he can provide a lot of value before he sours. The real intrigue though is in Seattle - with an ace RB, a good defense, can Russell Wilson shatter common perceptions about rookies and shortish quarterbacks? His footspeed and intangibles are off the charts, but Tim Tebow has intangibles too. It is a fascinating experiment - and a good test of whether Pete Carroll's theory of competition holds water. 49ers should win the division here, and aside from fantasy purposes the other two teams don't need much discussion.
North: The Packers were 2011's best team. Their defense was a sieve, but the offense was so good it didn't matter. They got blown out in their biggest game of the year though, and while 16 datapoints outweighs one, players and fans can't take any solace from that. Packers defense needs to tighten up obviously. The Bears lack such a problem - their problem is if the receiving corps is up to snuff. Does Brandon Marshall give them that extra gear? Jay Cutler had a very strong season a year ago, and despite any charisma transplant he requires, he is a plus quarterback. The Lions will be the most exciting team in the league - the combination of great offense and below average defense will lead to a lot of barn burners. I like the balance of the Bears here over the Packers, just barely.
East: My favorite statistic related to Bill Belichick that he is directly involved with all four of the New York Giants' Super Bowl titles. The Patriots offense needs a little more verticality and their defense a bit more stoutness. I liked their approach with the latter, going young and athletic, while the former the jury is out a bit. The Bills could jump over the Jets for #2 here, as Mario Williams gives that defense a focal point, and Ryan Fitzpatrick has established himself as a legitimately decent NFL QB. If you want me to type something about the Jets and Tim Tebow, I wish I could help you. Patriots the pick.
South: The Texans have the "it" bug about them. The great running back, the excellent QB, the defense which made Baltimore work like hell in the playoff. But so often these lofty predictions end up being a "step back for a leap forward" sort of deal. That said, nobody else in the division is close - although Tennessee might be if you look really hard. Frankly I want to see Andrew Luck every time he plays. But it's Houston's baby.
West: The hardest division to scout. Denver for good reason has made the most news, although I'm not sure who Peyton will throw it to really - although with his history who cares. San Diego are the perennial underachievers, but they still have a great-ish QB and the components to be interesting. Same with Kansas City, and now they have a decent head coach. The Raiders are awfully talented in a scattershot way too. I could argue for all four, but will instead pick San Diego with no confidence whatsoever.
North: The Ravens-Steelers holy war is the best of the modern football rivalries - there are other fierce contests, but none where it is so personal and so palpable. The Bengals made quite a leap and AJ Green is going to be a superstar. However, they beat up on the chum in their schedule last year while fizzling against the grownups. It is hard to see where that changes, though the margin may have slimmed a tad. As far as Baltimore/Pittsburgh goes - I think Baltimore is just a more complete team, though a Steelers argument is totally fair.
As far as tomorrow - Giants raising the banner, two strong defenses - I see a low scoring opener for some reason here. Defenses usually ahead of offenses, especially in a year with a full offseason so teams are playing less vanilla stuff - Giants have had the Cowboys number though. Giants 23, Cowboys 13
We'll try to run the week report next week and starting Week 2 we'll get power rankings. And finally NFL, get the refs back to work!