Remember the preseason? You know, that special four-week period where all the so-called experts try to determine who’s going to win each division before the games that actually matter even begin?
For yet another season, the prognosticators were 100 percent off with regards to which teams would be the breakout teams at this juncture of the season. How much difference has seven weeks of regular season games that count made in their overambitious forecasts?
Projected Winner: New York Jets
Current Leader: (tie)-New York Jets and New England Patriots (both 5-1)
This appears to be the only division they had right up to this point. The Jets look fantastic as three of their five wins have come against division rivals (including New England), which is why they currently hold the tiebreaker over the Patriots. Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez shouldn’t be content to rest on their laurels, though. Tom Brady and the Patriots are breathing down their neck, undefeated since their Week 2 meeting, which the Jets took 28-14. You can bet that Brady has his calendar marked for their Week 13 Monday night rematch on Dec. 6.
Projected Winner: Baltimore Ravens; Cincinnati Bengals
Current Leader: Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1)
The Baltimore Ravens, along with the Jets, were the other common selection to appear in the AFC Championship Game this season. The Ravens (5-2) may still have a shot in late January, but who could have expected that the Steelers would post a 3-1 record without Ben Roethlisberger at the start of the season. Clearly, the Steelers have to be considered the most complete team thus far, being able to rally around backup quarterbacks for a winning record until the return of their leader in Week 6. Granted, the Ravens are responsible for Pittsburgh’s one loss, but with Roethlisberger back in the mix this will be a division race to keep a close eye on this season. As for the Bengals, who thought they would be a legitimate threat with the combination of the "two-man ego trip" that is Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco? Let’s just say they haven’t delivered; their record stands at 2-4.
Projected Winner: Indianapolis Colts
Current Leader: Tennessee Titans (5-2)
Both the Colts (4-2) and the Houston Texans (4-2) are still legitimate contenders for the playoffs and even the division title, but it hasn’t been nearly the Colts runaway that many may have expected in early September. It appears the Super Bowl hangover has affected both franchises (See: NFC South-Saints). In fact, with a 37-19 win over the Eagles, the Titans have put themselves out in front. Could Vince Young be orchestrating another Music City milestone this season?
Projected Winner: San Diego Chargers
Current Leader: Kansas City Chiefs (4-2)
Remember when everyone said that the Chargers were a shoo-in to win the AFC West this season? Remember when the thinking was if the Chargers didn’t win the West it had to be the Broncos taking the division? Looks like someone forgot there are two other teams in the division. Here we are, nearly halfway through the season and the two teams who were a sure thing to win the division are the 2-5 cellar dwellers. The Chiefs are in the driver’s seat, looking convincing. The Oakland Raiders find themselves competing with Kansas City for the top spot with a 3-4 record.
Projected Winner: Dallas Cowboys
Current Leader: New York Giants (5-2)
I think we can effectively put all the talk of the Dallas Cowboys becoming the first team to host a Super Bowl in their hometown to rest. Dallas is 1-5. Wade Phillips is on the verge of being fired. Now Tony Romo has a broken collarbone and could be done for the season, leaving the Cowboys’ fate in the hands of Jon Kitna. Meanwhile, The Giants hold a one-game lead over nearest competitors, Washington (4-3) and Philadelphia (4-3). At the beginning of the season, the question was: who’s going to win the NFC East? The answer was Dallas. Midway through the season the question remains the same, but the answer is now anyone but Dallas. Don’t get too excited though, Giants fans. Remember this is how you started last season. If the team can discipline themselves into finishing the season, they should be fine.
Projected Winner: Minnesota Vikings
Current Leaders: Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers (both 4-3)
The Packers were a favorite to become a Wild Card in the final weeks of the preseason, but all experts suggested that the division belonged to Minnesota and the Brett Favre machine. Now they’ve all come to the realization that Brett Favre should have stayed home this season. The magic is gone and the Vikings couldn’t even pull out late-game heroics at Lambeau Field against the Packers Sunday night. Now two stress fractures in Favre’s ankle threaten the greatest streak in NFL history, perhaps in sports history itself. It’s over, you have overstayed your welcome. The Brett Favre era is done.
Projected Winner: New Orleans Saints
Current Leader: Atlanta Falcons (5-2)
It was par for the course to think that the defending Super Bowl champions would successfully defend their title, or at least repeat as division champions. Instead, the defending champions are losing to teams like the Arizona Cardinals and…the Cleveland Browns? What kind of representation of a champion is that? There was a glimpse of last season’s team during a 31-6 rout of Tampa Bay, but that team quickly disappeared again. Now at 4-3, the Saints are not only behind Matt Ryan and the division-leading Falcons, but the Tampa Bay Buccanneers (4-2) have pulled ahead. The Saints play against the Steelers next week; Drew Brees better get his head back in the game, quick.
Projected Winner: San Francisco 49ers
Current Leader: Seattle Seahawks (4-2)
I won’t deny that the NFC West is the most chaotic, wide-open division in the league. The 49ers may still win this division. However, at 1-6, they’re not performing to the level that everyone insisted they would. San Francisco was another lock this season to win their division, Arizona (3-3) had just released Matt Leinart and would later find themselves in the midst of an identity crisis between quarterbacks Max Hall and Derek Anderson. The St. Louis Rams (3-4) were introducing a rookie quarterback to a team that had been downright miserable since 2006 and the Seattle Seahawks have been stagnant as of late. It looks as though Pete Carroll hasn’t missed a beat since leaving his post at USC and 49ers coach Mike Singletary can’t catch a break.
So take these figures into consideration: take very little stock into what the so-called experts say before the season even starts. They’re blowing smoke, plain and simple. Why don’t you wait until a few games that matter have been played before passing judgment. Otherwise, you’ll continue to make yourself look stupid.
On to the picks; Six teams have a bye week this week, so a season-low 13 games to select from this week:
• Denver Broncos (2-5) over San Francisco 49ers (1-6); 19-17 (at Wembley Stadium in London)
• Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4) over Dallas Cowboys (1-5); 26-21
• Miami Dolpins (3-3) over Cincinnati Bengals (2-4); 27-17
• Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) over Buffalo Bills (0-6); 34-24
• Washington Redskins (4-3) over Detroit Lions (1-5); 20-16
• St. Louis Rams (3-4) over Carolina Panthers (1-5); 23-15
• Upset Pick: Green Bay Packers (4-3) over New York Jets (5-1); 30-24 (OT)
• Tennessee Titans (5-2) over San Diego Chargers (2-5); 31-19
• New England Patriots (5-1) over Minnesota Vikings (2-4); 42-17
• Tampa Bay Buccanneers (4-2) over Arizona Cardinals (3-3); 16-6
• Seattle Seahawks (4-2) over Oakland Raiders (3-4); 21-13
• Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1) over New Orleans Saints (4-3); 35-20
• Indianapolis Colts (4-2) over Houston Texans (4-2); 24-21 (OT)
Last Week’s Record: 10-4
Season Record: 58-46