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December 06, 2001

A few predictions to ponder
By Dan Patrick

Here we are at the beginning of another NFL season. I'm sort of new at this picking stuff, but here goes.

And hey, it's only September. I reserve the right to revisit these predictions after a few balls have been snapped.

National Football Conference
East -- Washington Redskins. If you are supposed to get what you pay for, the Redskins better get a Super Bowl.

Central -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This team will be as good as Shaun King plays. I don't see them in the Super Bowl yet.

West -- St. Louis Rams. Sky-high expectations, rookie head coach, tougher schedule than last year. Still, too much firepower for a weak division.

NFC wild-card teams
Dallas Cowboys -- Old (playoff) habits die hard, but this is the last roundup. WR Joey Galloway must perform if the Cowboys are to play in January.

Atlanta Falcons -- The return of Jamal Anderson is that big a deal.

Detroit Lions -- There are questions, like Charlie Batch's health and inexperience. The running game should be OK as long as people realize that James Stewart is the next James Stewart, not the next Barry Sanders. Underrated receivers will help Batch progress.

American Football Conference
East -- Indianapolis Colts. They have an incredibly tough schedule with only one opponent that had a losing record last year. They'll be playoff-ready well before the playoffs.

Central -- Tennessee Titans. It all comes down to Eddie George. It's a Super Bowl repeat if he stays healthy. Irreplaceable.

West -- Oakland Raiders. Back-to-back 8-8 seasons create a sense of urgency. Rookie bad boy kicker Sebastian Janikowski could be the last game-breaker they need.

AFC wild-card teams
Buffalo Bills -- An evergreen home-field advantage. I am still not sure that Rob Johnson makes the Bills better than Doug Flutie would. Comments indicate that Johnson may at least improve team morale. Underrated deep threat WR Eric Moulds certainly benefits from Johnson's deep ball.

Jacksonville Jaguars -- Can't win the Central if they can't beat Tennessee.

Baltimore Ravens -- League's second-best defense plus an offense that added some nice accessories. Ten wins are possible, but it won't be easy. Five of first eight games are on the road.

AFC title game -- Ravens vs. Colts
The better defense will win in the playoffs, even on the road. Pick: Ravens.

NFC title game -- Redskins vs. Rams
The Rams will be at home, and Kurt Warner will have proven that he is no one-year wonder. Mike Martz is third rookie coach to take a team to the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl -- Rams vs. Ravens
Yes. For one day, Baltimore will forget about whether or not Cal Ripken is coming back. The Ravens. Believe.

So, there you go. You can't say I went with the chalk here. Would you still be reading if I did? Anyway, if the Ravens start out 2-7, this page will get punted into cyberspace by my Web minions, and I will get a do-over.

Hey, it's my Web page.

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