The most wonderful time of the year

This is my favourite time of the year.  As a life-long student, September always signifies change, opportunity and new beginnings.  This is really my new year.  Plans are made and dreams take flight on cool fall breezes. 

A big part of my love for the fall is the return of NFL football.   I’m a complete junkie.  Every Sunday at 2pm, you’ll find me on my sofa in front of 2 televisions (guilty admission: I hook up our second TV in the living room so I can follow more than one game at a time) for the start of about 11 hours of football.   The sport has hooked me for a couple of reasons:

1.  The team I follow (the Philadelphia Eagles) typically comes tantalizingly close to being a championship team, only to break my heart in spectacularly creative new ways each year.  Oddly, this makes me come back for more abuse each season.

2. Each week of the season is crucial.  With only 16 games, each one could be the game that puts your team over the top or kills your championship dreams. Week by week, you never have any idea what is going to happen.

Predictions are a fool’s game for football fans.  Each year as the season approaches, I’ll make a bunch of bold predictions that only Jodi will hear sitting next to me while I disagree with football pundits on TV.   This year,  I’m going to put my thoughts on the season down in writing so I can later brag about what I got right, and so I can have some good laughs when February rolls around and I see that most of my predictions are dead wrong. 

With only a few days to the start of the season and with my Eagles’ Super Bowl dreams wildly alive, here’s what I see for the 2011/12 NFL season:

1. My Eagles aren’t going to win the Super Bowl.   I’ve been a sports fan my whole life.  My Montreal Expos – departed.  My Quebec Nordiques – gone (and won a championship the first season in their new home).  I feel doomed to never cheer for a winning team.  The only thing in question is the manner in which they break my heart this year (more on that later)

2. Jodi’s Steelers – She’ll have household bragging rights (again).  I see the Steelers winning the AFC North with minimal competition this year.  The Steelers make it back to the AFC Championship game for the second year in a row.

3. Playoff teams from 2011 that won’t get back to the playoffs this season:

  • Seattle – got lucky last year, won’t happen 2 years in a row
  • Chicago – their defence looks old and overrated, their OL is brutal, they have a QB who I don’t trust and I still don’t know how they won 13 games last year
  • Indianapolis – even if Manning is healthy, they made some head scratching personnel choices: when you sign Ernie Simms as a key part of your linebacking core, you’re got issues
  • Kansas City – they got lucky during a down year in their division last year, lightning doesn’t strike twice in a row

4. Teams that missed the playoffs in 2010 who make it this year:

  • Detroit – ferocious DL and under-rated linebackers and DBs, an emerging QB who if he stays healthy is going to impress
  • Arizona – they play in a terrible division and although everyone is on the Rams to win the NFC West, I like the pairing of Kolb-Fitzgerald to put up lots of points this year.
  • Tennessee – I think they have one of the best O-lines in the league, they can run the ball and have a veteran presence at QB.  They pull the upset and take the AFC South
  • San Diego – everyone is on their bandwagon and I am too, plus they play in a bad division

5. A few assorted player and team predictions:

  • Tim Tebow doesn’t see a snap this year for the Broncos.  He won’t be back with them next year. The Broncos wasted an entire year’s draft last year – the Tebow pick was just the most visible of a bunch of bad selections.
  • Iron man streaks for Eli and Peyton Manning both come to an end this year
  • Brett Favre makes a November comeback for some team with playoff hopes that lost its starting QB to injury for the season
  • Baltimore’s defence takes a big step back this year.  Ray Lewis gets exposed as a very aging LB.  They miss the playoffs.
  • In the first 4 weeks of the season, someone gets a precedent setting 4 game suspension for targeting an opponent’s head.  The NFL finally takes a real stand on head injuries.
  • Ben Roethlisberger has a monster season for Pittsburgh.  He was good before he even realized what practice was.  Look out this year.
  • The Cincinnati Bengals end up dead last in the league in offensive production and tops in the league in defensive production and play some of the lowest scoring football ever seen.
  • Colt McCoy starts to look like a franchise QB for Cleveland.
  • The once proud Oakland Raiders will have one of the top running games in the league, but without the ability to stop anyone on defence, they end up with 4 or 5 wins.
  • Julius Peppers (Chicago) becomes invisible this year after a monster year last year

6. Division predictions:

AFC East: Patriots, Jets, Bills, Dolphins

AFC North: Steelers, Ravens, Browns, Bengals

AFC South: Titans, Texans, Colts, Jags

AFC West: Chargers, Chiefs, Broncos, Raiders

NFC East: EAGLES, Cowboys, Redskins, Giants

NFC North: Packers, Lions, Vikings, Bears

NFC South: Falcons, Saints, Bucs, Panthers

NFC West: Cardinals, Rams, 49ers, Seahawks

So given I’m taking Philly to win their division, it begs the question – how will they break my heart in the playoffs?  I see a close playoff match up with New Orleans.  Game tied at 24 late in the 4th quarter.   Andy Reid will have used all three time-outs early in the 3rd quarter due to his lackluster game management.  Drew Brees throws a ball over the middle, the ball pops up in the air and is ruled to have fallen to the ground incomplete.  A quick TV replay shows Eagles middle linebacker Casey Matthews clearly catching the pass for an interception, but without any timeouts left, the Eagles can’t challenge the ruling on the field.  Four plays later, Brees completes a last second pass to the end zone for a 31-24 win.  If you think I’m exaggerating, ask any Eagles fan what will cost us a trip to the Super Bowl this year and I bet more than half will bring up Andy Reid’s game management as a likely cause.

I think I’m ready for some football, but maybe not as much as the guy on the right…

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