The NFL schedule begins tonight in New Orleans, with the Super Bowl champion Saints hosting the Minnesota Vikings in a rematch of January’s exciting overtime NFC Championship game. With one eye on my crystal ball and the other on injured reserve, I offer the following predictions for the 2010 season:
1. Brett Favre’s consecutive starts streak will not survive the season. Including playoffs, Favre has started 309 straight games. His ankle, injured in the playoff loss to New Orleans, will limit his mobility, and with Sidney Rice out and Percy Harvin battling migraines, he’ll have fewer playmakers to work with. The Saints battered him in the playoffs, and they’ll pick up where they left off tonight. Other teams will follow the blueprint, and for all his competitive will, Favre knows that durability’s not forever and luck runs out. This is the year.
2. Pete Carroll will lose as many games this season as he did in has last six seasons at USC. Even with a schedule that matches them up against St. Louis (twice), Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Oakland, and Chicago, the Seahawks are bad enough to go 6-10. That would equal their coach’s total losses from the 2004 season on, not counting victories vacated for assorted violations. All observers will agree this couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
3. The Detroit Lions will be the surprise team of the year. Next year. The improvement is for real, with running back Jahvid Best and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh legitimate rookie-of-the-year candidates on both sides of the ball. The results, however, will be limited by a schedule that pits them against the AFC and NFC Easts in addition to their home-and-homes with Green Bay and Minnesota. They’ll pull some upsets, but the real leap will come in the 2011 season. If there is a 2011 season.
4. Aaron Rodgers will be the NFL MVP. Green Bay looks like a monster, and the only thing that can keep Rodgers from putting up Drew Brees-like numbers will be the fact that he plays outdoors. Oh, wait, last year he did put up Drew Brees-like numbers (4,434 yards v. Brees’s 4,388; 30 TDs v. Brees’s 34, seven INTs v. Brees’s 11). All he needs is to reduce his sack total from an absurd 50 to a more manageable number.
5. The Jets will win two games while scoring fewer than ten points. And they’ll have to. With Revis Island again open for business, the defense will be as formidable as it was last year, while the offense will be as ugly. Mark Sanchez has the body language of a star quarterback; so did Matt Leinart. He looked great managing the game in the playoffs, but still threw 20 interceptions versus 12 TDs last season. Jets fans will see their PSL money buy a bunch of wins, but not much entertainment.
6. Jay Cutler’s time in Chicago will end badly. The Bears will finish in last place in the NFC North, and the blame will fall equally on Cutler and Lovie Smith. Smith’s season-by-season records with Chicago: 5-11, 11-5, 13-3, 7-9, 9-7, 7-9. The next number is the sequence is 5-11. Cutler will react to being pulled from the Week 14 game against New England with a tirade about the fair-weather fans, leading to his off-season trade to Tampa Bay.
7. Ben Roethlisberger will be cheered on his return in Week 6. After four weeks of Dennis Dixon, Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch, Steelers fans would cheer Jeffrey Dahmer if he could find a deep receiver. I’ll believe fans really care about off-field incidents when they boo one of their own when he comes back from a suspension. Hasn’t happened yet. Won’t happen here.
8. Mike Singletary will win Coach of the Year. The 10-6 49ers will win with NFC West, then get trounced by Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs. When the Niners start 5-8 in the 2011 season, Singletary will be replaced as coach after a practice-field incident in which he rips the arm off a defensive back and begins to eat it. If there is a 2011 season.
9. Buffalo fans will send a thank-you note to the people of Toronto. Imagine their relief at realizing they won’t have to pay NFL prices to watch the Bills play Chicago on November 7. Even a favourable exchange rate won’t salvage this stinker.
10. Green Bay will defeat Baltimore in Super Bowl XLV. Mannings may come and Mannings may go, but defense wins championships, especially when it’s accompanied by a kick-ass offense.