The "What the dickens?" Preview
I project the season by playing out the schedule, deciding the winner of each game in fewer than five seconds. I then tally up the records, crying out "What the dickens?" for the teams I think will be much better or much worse than the records my game-by-game exercise arrives at. I also did the projection over a month ago, before any training camp or preseason performances and stories. This is ridiculous, but fun.
New England 12-4
New York 7-9
What the dickens? Do you think if I projected games today, Buffalo would be near 11 wins? No. Still, here's a team that's been knocking around mediocrity for a long, long time. Maybe this is the year a few things break their way and they get to the playoffs.
What the dickens? I don't really think the Steelers will win 14 games this season, but I do expect them to mow through a good chunk of their schedule and be one of the strongest teams in the playoffs.
What the dickens? While it may be unlikely that all four teams have a winning record this season, they do play the NFC West this season. In '08 the NFC West helped three out of four AFC East teams to winning records (with solid contributions from the AFC West). It could happen.
San Diego 14-2
Kansas City 4-12
What the dickens? I don't think the Chargers will reach 14 wins. However, if they fail to go 6-0 against their own division, I'm going to start to wonder about Norv Turner's coaching abilities.
New York 9-7
What the dickens? I don't think Washington is very good, but I think I know how they got to 10 wins in my projection. I think the other teams in this division are good, but I think Washington is the sort of team that can play its division opponents tough, scoring some upsets and breaking up winning streaks. But I don't think they'll really win 10 games.
Green Bay 8-8
What the dickens? I actually think the Vikings, Bears, and Packers will win 10+ games; they do each get to play the NFC West and Detroit twice. I don't why I projected them to 8-8: I always overestimate them in my heart and underestimate them in my game-by-game projection. I also did this projection when I thought Sage Rosenfels would win the starting job: I think Favre might add a win or two to the Vikes' potential record.
New Orleans 9-7
Tampa Bay 2-14
What the dickens? Tampa Bay as the worst team in the league? I guess when I don't really know what they're up to at quarterback, don't really believe in their running backs, and see the defensive players I used to fear no longer on the team, I didn't project them out very well. They can be better than that, can't they? I also don't think Carolina is that good: they might win the division, but I don't think they'll have the best record in the conference.
San Francisco 6-10
St. Louis 4-12
What the dickens? A 6-10 division winner hosting a playoff game would probably build support for reform of homefield advantage in the playoffs. However, I think Seattle will actually get to eight or nine wins pretty easily. They are better than a 4-12 team if Matt Hasselbeck is healthy.
The Default MVP Preview
Only a few players are eligible for AP MVP. You need to be an established star, you need to play quarterback or running back, and your team needs to be in the playoffs. This should be easy then: first, I'll look only at the teams I've projected to at least a .500 record. Then I'll make a list of those teams' starting QBs and RBs, but I'll only add the player to the list if the player is an established star (by my subjective feeling of "established star").
Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Philip Rivers, Ladanian Tomlinson, Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Clinton Portis, Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, Tony Romo, Marion Barber, Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, Jay Cutler, Matt Forte', Aaron Rodgers, DeAngelo Williams, Drew Brees
Now we start weeding out names. Roethlisberger threw a lot of TDs in 2007, but the Steelers win with defense, and he probably won't get the numbers. Chris Johnson, DeAngelo Williams, and Marion Barber will share carries, which will limit their numbers and limit the perception that they "carry their team." If the Bears are extremely good, Cutler will get the credit, so Forte' is out. I don't see 40 year old Brett Favre winning MVP: he'll be a positive contributor, but this is a team that will run the ball a lot and still win with defense. I think Ladanian Tomlinson and Clinton Portis are past the age when they'll be MVP-quality running backs. Eli Manning never puts up great numbers. So that leaves us with a smaller list.
Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Maurice Jones-Drew, Philip Rivers, Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Brandon Jacobs, Tony Romo, Adrian Peterson, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees
For a running back to win, he has to be absolutely dominant. In my perception, sportswriters focus more on rushing yards than yards from scrimmage, so I think Maurice Jones-Drew and Brian Westbrook will have a tough time winning MVP. Brandon Jacobs is a very good player, but he seems like the sort of RB that would get overshadowed even with some sort of career year 1,800 yard season (which he'd need to win MVP). That leaves us a list of eight quarterbacks and one running back.
Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, Adrian Peterson, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees
Drew Brees has had some crazy stat seasons, but those haven't got him MVP. To win MVP, he'll need a crazy stat season plus a great team record, and that will be tough. Donovan McNabb has an amazing array of talented skill position players around him: there's a chance the Eagles will be very good and McNabb will have the opportunity to put up great statistics. But justifiably or not, there is always a great deal of drama around McNabb, the media focuses a lot on this drama, and there are a lot of different feelings about McNabb. I don't think he'll win MVP. As for Cutler, I struggle to see a QB on a new team winning MVP, and a lack of quality WRs and the Chicago weather will prevent great numbers. I think it would take the Bears having the NFC's best record for Cutler to win, and I don't see that happening.
Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers
I'm going to take Peyton Manning out because he's already won two and a half MVPs, and he won MVP last year. That's the whole argument I can make against Manning: his statistics and team record are spectacularly consistent, but if all he does is achieve his consistent standard of greatness, he won't have done anything extra to get MVP attention.
That leaves us with five players, and I predict one of these five players will win AP MVP this season. Let's look at the scenarios that make it possible for each of these players to win the award.
Tom Brady I can imagine a scenario in which the defense struggles and the offense has to lead the Patriots to many of their wins. I can also imagine a scenario in which the Patriots have the AFC's best record. If either of those things happen and Brady has 4,000 yards, 24-28 TDs, I don't think he'll win MVP. If either of those things happen and Brady has 4,400 yards, 30-35 TDs, he could win MVP. It helps that the Patriots will always get a lot of attention.
Philip Rivers He was the Chargers' QB when they won 25 games from '06-'07, but Tomlinson got most of the credit (including an MVP in '06). And he was the QB for the Chargers in '08 when he put up spectacular numbers, Tomlinson notably struggled, and the team finished 8-8. To win MVP, he'll need to again put up spectacular numbers, need the team to return to winning a lot of games, and need the media to see Tomlinson in a diminished, secondary role. Those things are possible, but I don't necessarily see Rivers winning MVP as very likely. Plus a lot of people just don't like him.
Tony Romo Let's say Romo puts up nearly the same numbers he had when he had Terrell Owens to throw to: let's just give him 25-28 TDs and 3,600-4,000 yards. Now let's say the Cowboys win 11-12 games. The Cowboys get a lot of nationally televised games and a lot of media coverage. Can you see Romo getting a lot of credit for that? I can. Can you see him winning MVP and then hearing a lot of commentary basically saying "OK, but now let's see him do it in the playoffs." Yes I can.
Adrian Peterson Last year Peterson led the league in rushing for a playoff team, and was given credit for taking over in several Viking wins. What will it take to win MVP? He'll need to reduce the fumbles, put up another very high number in rushing yards, and have the Vikings improve from close to the bubble playoff team to a first round bye playoff team. Those things can happen, though I think if the Vikings are an improved team (say 11-13 wins), then it might mean that Peterson's rushing total is lower (a better record would probably be the result of a more successful passing game, and a better team might mean Peterson isn't required to take over games as often).
Aaron Rodgers Here's the player whom I believe has the best chance of winning MVP. He's gotten generally raving reviews from members of the media for his handling of being Favre's heir. Many in the media are tiring of Favre, and would like to give MVP to his heir in Green Bay. The Packers have amazing WRs, and so Rodgers will have skill position players helping him put up great numbers. And the Packers have an easy schedule, further helping Rodgers put up good numbers and helping the Packers to a winning record.
Personal stupid TV Predictions
I will miss the unintentional homoeroticism of John Madden's announcing: it was one of the things that could still make me feel like an adolescent. Now all I have to feel like an adolescent is spending many hours watching football, rooting for players that are on my mystical adventure team, and watching sitcoms. Hmmm. I'll still miss John Madden's unintentional homoeroticism.
I will no longer grit my teeth (and may not even notice) when announcers refer to "Brett."
Whenever announcers praise a player explicitly for hard work, effort, or hustle, usually the player being praised will be white. This is especially true for defensive linemen: commentators will often praise a white defensive lineman for having a great "motor," for never giving up during the entire play. Pay attention: you'll see. Also, white wide receivers have "deceptive speed."
You will not miss Tony Kornheiser on Monday Night Football. Replacing Kornheiser with Jon Gruden will mean more focus on football play, and less grasping for "story." This will be a good thing.
I will get annoyed when FOX shows baseball scores during football games.
You will want to pay attention when Joe Buck and Troy Aikman introduce a game on screen. While Aikman is talking, Buck will stare at Aikman, periodically turning his head toward you with an intense look as if to be sure you're getting all this, but you know he's just turning periodically because he's on screen and thinks he should not just stare at Aikman but has to look at the camera, too. It's mesmerizing.
You will daze off as Matt Millen tries to tell you about football, wondering what he's supposed to possibly tell you: you will not be able to not think about the Detroit Lions of the past decade when he's on screen. Most of what he says then will just be gibberish to you, as your stream of consciousness will be "Boy, Millen really ran the Lions into the ground. Why do TV producers think he should tell us about football? Where's his credibility?" Every time. Nothing he says will matter, except to make you think there's a strong chance the opposite of what he's saying is true.
If you enjoy watching people laugh at each other's zingers, you'll enjoy the FOX pregame show. If this is not quite your bag, you'll probably watch a different pregame show.
Charley Casserly's bits on CBS's pregame show will be the most interesting, informative, and insightful thing on any pregame show.
I will try to watch all 32 teams play this season. I might succeed.