The first nine weeks of the NFL season seem like a limited run for a movie. But those great reviews are about to turn into a wide-release blockbuster. There were lots of outstanding happenings in the first half of the season, but there is so much more great stuff coming over the next eight weeks. The weather's getting worse, the days are getting shorter, the football will be getting better. Perfect.
One great thing, and I think I speak for all pro football fans here, is that there are no more byes. Full 16-game weekends and the weekends start on Thursday and run till Monday night starting on Thanksgiving. Football, football and more football. And ain't it grand?
So what do we expect over the last eight weeks? What do you expect?
Here's my list of 10. You are encouraged to add yours.
1--GIANTS: I'll get the most painful offering out of the way first. The Big Blue Team of Destiny has too many injuries and not enough deep depth to overcome them. The team says Strahan could be back in two weeks; he's not so confident. It's a reversal of the usual but I believe him and am not too hopeful. Our guys have the Bears this Sunday night at home and we greatly anticipate it. In fact, we think they'll win that. Because the rest of the NFC East is pretty bad, the Giants should make the playoffs. (Watch the Eagles, though.) But it's one and out for Big Blue.
2--COLTS: I'm tired of all the Peyton Manning minimizers. QB is the most important position in pro sports, we can agree, but the QB is not alone out there in case you hadn't noticed. OK. If he wins a Super Bowl this season is he then Elway, and if he doesn't do you keep calling him Marino? Up to you. I'm thinking he's Miami-bound this season but he's not going there undefeated. Where's the loss? Not this week, but soon.
3--BEARS: If the QB is the most important position in sports, then the Bears cannot win. Rex Grossman's too uncertain, he's Tiger Pitching balls all over the place and the injuries are making an impact. So playoffs yes, Super Bowl, no.
4--SAINTS: Wouldn't it be nice? How much fun do you think it is playing for the Saints this season? This is not only a surprise team, it's a pretty good team--all with Reggie Bush not quite doing what was hoped for. But Drew Brees is a perfect fit and the rest of the pieces look good. Hey, NFL and NBC how about finding a way to get the Saints on national TV at least one more time, preferably in the Dome? Those are your marching orders, you figure out the details.
5--PATRIOTS: What was going on with the Pats on Sunday night against the Colts? Something seemed missing (yes, I know good wideouts for one) but they just seemed off. Brady threw four INTs and it all seemed wrong. Maroney was almost wonderful but he wasn't. The D stopped stopping at all the wrong times. Rodney Harrison is gone and things can't be great in Foxboro. Funny, this was such a sorry franchise for so long and has been so outstanding now you expect it all to work with these guys. But the Pats only have to really hold off the Jets to win the Division and that seems too easy. The playoffs won't be.
6--CHARGERS: Here's a team that let one outstanding QB go in Brees and managed to make it work with Philip Rivers in his place. It doesn't hurt one bit to have LaDainian Tomlinson running for them. You have to talk LT when you talk MVP and if his next eight are close to the last two, watch out. But Shawne Merriman's suspension for three more games (and the reason for that suspension) is sure to have a major impact on these guys and that impact won't be a good one.
7--STEELERS: Not everyone on this list is going to the playoffs. The Super Bowl champs are going through just an awful season. We've already given our advice to Bill Cowher and we still think he should take it. (Yes to all: I know how many yards Ben has the last two weeks. I also know how many INTs.) I wonder if Cowher would be looking at the Roethlisberger question in the same light if he was going to be the Steelers coach for the next 15 years instead of the last 15. Unfair? Maybe. Sit Ben is my opinion and I'm sticking to it.
8--CARDINALS: Well, any list that has the Cardinals on it is obviously not all about playoff teams. This sorry group could be looking at a historic 1-15 finish. But they do play the awful 49ers one more time. But here's what we expect: Our man Denny Green will manage to lose ‘em all and leave behind the little bits of a team (and a few microphones) destroyed. I hope Matt Leinart has a long, long career with the Cardinals; he's going to need it to get himself a winner.
9--RAVENS: There are two teams that I think are real good and getting better. This is one definitely. McNair's been good at QB and he better stay healthy. But the D is awesome with Ray Lewis and Adalius Thomas, Ed Reed, Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister. Fun to watch. Super Bowl? Not this season.
10--PANTHERS: This is the other team that's real good and getting better. Julius Peppers is having a Player of the Year season and the team has kept fairly injury free (sorry Panther fans for putting the mark on them). And Steve Smith is one of the few outspoken players who are as good as he thinks he is. The NFC Super Bowl team plays in Carolina.
That's it: my new Super Bowl picks are Colts and Panthers. (I started the season with the Bucs and Bengals so what do I know?) Who you got?