When looking at the NFL schedule and projecting who is going to win each game, there are four factors that determine my decision.
Quarterback: I have trouble picking against great QBs.
Defense: I expect dominant defenses to smother opponents.
Home Teams: I generally think it's tough to win games on the road, but that comes from a Viking fan that experienced 2oo1 through 2004.
Traditional Winners: I'm used to seeing some teams win and some teams lose; when I'm looking at the schedule trying to make a decision, it's hard not to let that factor in.
So my biases are clear. Please, don't get angry if I predict your favorite team to suck, as I'm just some putz that you shouldn't worry terribly about, and plus I won't get angry when you pick the Vikings to suck.
In my Viking preview, I have the Vikings and the Bears splitting with each other, both finishing 9-7, but the Bears winning the division with a better divisional record. I don't respect the Packers or Lions. I've long disrespected the Bears (wrongly). But last year Seattle was coming off a 13-3 season, a Super Bowl appearance, and facing a weak division; they struggled to a 9-7 division title. This year the Bears are coming off a 13-3 season, a Super Bowl appearance, and are facing a weak division. I think they'll struggle more than people expect.
1. Bears 2. Vikings 3. Packers 4. Lions
We can discount the Buccaneers and the Falcons, right? Carolina, the new paper champions, could threaten the Saints, but Drew Brees has pretty firmly established himself as a very good quarterback, and he's surrounded with immense talent.
1. Saints 2. Panthers 3. Falcons 4. Buccaneers
The Eagles are the best team in the NFC, and I think they will go to the Super Bowl (the normal caveat about Donovan McNabb's health applying). I expect them to just romp through the conference. New York (I still believe in Eli), Washington (I get frightened when I imagine LaRon Landry and Sean Taylor looming in the secondary), and Dallas (is Romo-erotic a one-time thing? He's still got a lot of talent around him) are all capable, and will probably beat up on each other.
1. Eagles 2. Cowboys 3. Giants 4. Washington team
I don't like this division at all, and I think 8-8 could take it. Somehow when I played out the schedule Seattle came out terribly. San Francisco still seems mediocre, though they're building something. I like St. Louis, but expect Marc Bulger to miss games with injury, fear Torry Holt's knee, and expect Steven Jackson to regress a bit. Arizona is always a "sleeper," meaning you want to stay away from them; however, you can keep evading death again and again, but eventually it happens, anyway. Eventually. But I think the division is lousy and don't want to declare any of these teams division winners
1. Arizona 2. St. Louis 3. San Francisco 4. Seattle
I always respect the dominant defenses: I'm having trouble predicting any of these teams to beat Baltimore. Pittsburgh should still be good (not long ago it seemed like Bill Cowher had coached there forever; now it feels like forever since he coached there). I always like Cincinnati (Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson are awesome), but they often disappoint. I think they'll get to 10 wins this season, meaning they'll get 8. I expect Cleveland to go on a mini-run mid-season when Brady Quinn takes over, but not enough to knock off the toughies in this division.
1. Baltimore 2. Pittsburgh 3. Cincinnati 4. Cleveland
You know how some people root for Alex Rodriguez to eventually break Barry Bonds' home run record? Well, I think I started rooting for Peyton Manning when Brett Favre was creeping up on Marino's records. Now that Favre seems ready to take over the TD record (by the way, there's a chance I could see this live, which would pretty much shatter me), I've convinced myself the yardage record is more impressive (which Favre could break too). I also tell myself that Marino doesn't have the interception record to taint his accomplishments. When none of these things work, I remind myself that all of these records will belong to Manning eventually. I also have trouble picking against Manning and the Colts (four straight 12 win seasons). When I played out the schedule, Tennesse kept coming up with 12 wins, mainly because I view Vince Young as some sort of demi-god. Now that Byron Leftwich is gone, the Jaguars are a bit like the Vikings: stifling defense, versatile running game, utterly no foreseeable threat in the passing game. I think they'll win about 9 games. I still don't believe in the Texans and probably never will; I sort of pretend they still don't have a team in Houston.
1. Colts 2. Titans 3. Jaguars 4. Texans
The Patriots will dominate. I always want to like Buffalo, but suspect they'll struggle to get to .500 (though for some reason I expect Losman-Evans-Lynch to surprise everybody). I expect the Dolphins and Jets to struggle and lose a lot of low scoring games (I don't know why I'm down on the Jets, but I am).
1. Patriots 2. Bills 3. Dolphins 4. Jets
San Diego and Denver are both good. Both have questions (the Chargers a new coaching staff, the Broncos a second-year QB). Whichever team answers its particular question positively could really have a special season. I think both teams will do well, but the Chargers are slightly more talented. Oakland and Kansas City are pretty irrelevant here; I like Josh McCown in Oakland for reasons that are unfathomable to me, but I don't really like anybody on the Chiefs this year.
1. Chargers 2. Broncos 3. Raiders 4. Chiefs
Let's lay my other biases out there as the season starts. The non-Viking players I root for most are Steve Smith, Peyton Manning, and Donovan McNabb. I always like to watch good offenses and talented individual players. I'm a Viking fan so I have no ability to be objective about other NFC North teams. I somehow can't like Baltimore because I hate their uniforms. Randy Moss is my favorite player of all-time, but I'm surprisingly indifferent about him now. The other biases will come out as we go along.