Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.
Minnesota @ New Orleans (-2 ??)
Are you ready for some football? It's a question asked all over the country, and sure to get a quick answer, unless you happened to ask Brett Favre. After weeks of waffling, limping, shucking, and jiving, Favre was convinced to return when teammates Jared Allen, Steve Hutchinson, Ryan Longwell, and head coach Brad Childress flew to Mississippi to beg for Favre-giveness.
"By golly," Childress said. "I heard it was a heck of a lot easier to get Daunte Culpepper on a boat than it was to get Favre on a plane. And easier to get off, as well."
"Thank heavens it was Favre's ankle on which his return hinged. Can you imagine the confusion and turmoil had it been ???Brett Favre's back?'"
I'm not sure what you did to hasten Favre's return, but you said a mouthful, Chilly.
Las Vegas odds makers established the Saints at 8-1 to win Super Bowl 45, just behind the 13-2 number given the Colts, who the Saints beat in Super Bowl 44. Sure, eight-to-one sounds pretty good, if you're the Lions, Rams, or Chiefs, or if you're estimating the female-to-male ratio at a Tiger Woods orgy, but for the Saints, defending Super Bowl champions, it's much too high.
"Those odds are high," Sean Payton, "but nowhere near as high as the odds of Brett Favre and Peyton Manning throwing game-winning, at least for the Saints, passes last year. That had to be 1,000-1. Last year, everything fell into place for us. Or, more specifically, you could say everything fell into Tracy Porter's hands."
Things are no different this year. Favre's first pass in intercepted by Porter, and the Saints cash in immediately with a Pierre Thomas score. Faced with a 14-0 deficit, and without Sidney Rice, Favre again threatens retirement, unless the Vikes broker a deal for Vincent Jackson.
New Orleans wins 27-21.
Cleveland @ Tampa Bay (-1 1/2)
Jake Delhomme will face a familiar foe when the Browns travel to Raymond James Stadium, a place where Delhomme, as a Carolina Panther, lofted many a pass up for grabs. So, like two Panther cheerleaders intertwined in a carnal embrace in a bathroom stall inside a seedy Tampa bar, you could say Delhomme is familiar with the "turf."
"Indeed," Delhomme said, "they don't call Tampa bars watering holes for nothing. But I'm thrilled to be a Brown, and the Browns are thrilled to have me. I'm concerned, though, about how Browns fans will accept me. Fortunately, I'm following in the tiny footsteps of Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, so unless I play horribly, or go play for Miami, I expect Cleveland fans to treat me like a king."
The Bucs and head coach Raheem Morris look to improve on last year's 3-13 record, and, as optimists like to say, "build on that foundation." Morris has given the Tampa "Cover 2" defense his own personal touch, sprinkling it with features slightly different than those of former coordinator Monte Kiffin.
"Monte certainly left his mark here," Morris said, "and we're working diligently to jettison that smell from the coaches' offices."
"A 3-13 record leaves plenty to ???build on. Perhaps a ???room for improvement' would be a good start. But we all know Tampa is better than a 3-13 record would indicate. Our goal is to return this franchise to the caliber of teams in its glory days, when Tampa dominated their division and Warren Sapp terrorized offenses with his play and tobacco-stained uniform. Those are the Bucs we aspire to be. Until then, my brand of tough love dictates that I tell these players they're not ???worth a Buc.'"
Delhomme has looked good in the preseason, and, much like a bucket of Bojangles fried chicken, he's well-seasoned. In other words, he's nearly led the Panthers to a Super Bowl victory, but he's also thrown five interceptions in a single playoff game. Expect something closer to the latter against the Bucs.
Tampa wins 20-13.
Miami @ Buffalo (+3)
What's hot in Miami, besides the escapades of the hot-tubbing, club-hopping, gelato-scooping **** of the Jersey Shore gang? Well, the arrival of Brandon Marshall, expected to be Miami's big-play threat and ticket back into the playoffs, is creating quite a buzz. Marshall was acquired for the Broncos for a 2010 second round pick and a 2011 second round pick, plus baggage to be realized later.
"People aren't quite sure what to make of the ???Brandon Marshall experiment,'" Marshall said. "It's more than an experiment, it's a way of life. Unlike Snookie, I'm no ???guinea pig.'"
"I look forward to playing for Tony Sparano. I support all Italian-Americans, and I'm a loyal, card-carrying member of the Grenade-Free Foundation."
The Dolphins will face the Bills, a team in transition, with a new coach, Chan Gailey, taking over for the pink slip-wearing Dick Jauron. With a loyal fan base, as well as the musical backing of hometown icons the Goo Goo Dolls, and dynamic weapon C.J. Spiller, Gailey will try to restore the Bills to AFC East relevance.
"I like our ???Chan-ces,'" said Gailey. "Spiller is the most dangerous offensive weapon Buffalo's had in a while. He's a cross between O.J. Simpson and Thurman Thomas. When his career is done, I expect him to end up somewhere between the Hall Of Fame and total disgrace."
Spiller is impressive in his regular-season debut, scoring on a 24-yard screen pass. But Marshall scores twice for the ???Fins, easing a contentious relationship with Miami general manager Jeff Ireland, forged earlier when Marshall asked if Ireland's mother was a prostitute.
Miami wins 24-19.
Cincinnati @ New England (-6)
After a sweep of their AFC North opponents and a division crown last year, the Bengals are looking for more in 2010. A humiliating home defeat to the Jets in the wildcard round left them with very little to show for their season, save for thousands of Tweets courtesy of social-networking prodigy Chad Ochocinco.
True to form, talk so far centers not on the Patriots, but on Ochocinco's vow to celebrate a touchdown in New England by firing a Minutemen rifle, as is done when the Pats score.
"Ochocinco's got millions of followers," said Marvin Lewis, "but very few believers. I love it when Ochocinco talks strategy, though, like his plans to fire a Minuteman rifle. But let's face it, Chad with a gun is much like his trivial, meaningless updates on Twitter-it's bad news."
In New England, the Patriots are coming off a stinging 33-14 playoff loss to the Ravens, and a strong statement against the AFC North champion Bengals would send a signal loud and clear that the Pats will be a team to be reckoned with. Randy Moss is in a contract year, entering the final year of his four year deal with the Patriots, and Tom Brady is close to signing a massive extension.
"This may be my last contract year," Moss said. "but it's definitely not my first, which came after my freshman year at Marshall. Ah, the good old days, when you negotiated your own contract. Mine was incentive-laden. We weren't called the ???Thundering Herb' for nothing."
Alas, Moss has expressed unhappiness at not having a contract beyond this year. History tells us that for a physically gifted, but spoiled, athlete such as Moss, it could mean he either puts out, or pouts.
Moss does both, balking at the physical play of Cincy corners Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph, but scoring on a spectacular one-yard jump ball from Brady. It's not enough, as the Bengals manhandle the Pats with the AFC North brand of rough-housing from which the Pats shy away.
Cincinnati wins 24-21.
Carolina @ NY Giants (-7)
If you asked Lawrence Taylor, via a phone line separated by plexiglass, to name a favorite in the NFC East race, he would likely reply that it would be "no runaway." That would be a valid assessment, as all four teams could make a legitimate claim to the division.
"You have to take L.T.'s words of wisdom with a grain of salt," Tom Coughlin said, "or a gram of cocaine. The fame of Taylor's exploits on the field is matched by the infamy of his legal problems off it. Sure, he's in Canton, but he's a habitual offender. Either way, he's been busted."
"The division crown is obviously a goal, but not our ultimate goal. That would be a Super Bowl victory. Many of my players know the prestige that comes with wearing a Super Bowl ring. I sure do. It keeps my finger warm and my job cozy."
Change is evident for the Panthers, who are now without mainstays Jake Delhomme, Brad Hoover, and Julius Peppers. What remains are head coach John Fox, in the final year of his contract, and dynamic running back duo DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who both eclipsed 1,100 yards rushing last year.
"Hey, make way for the ???dead man walking,'" said John Fox, "and the ???2 Live Cr??e' running. We know it won't be easy running against the Giants and their talented and deep defensive line. But we won't shy away from passing the ball, particularly since the Giants can't defend it. He may be young, but we have faith in Matt Moore. As they say, ???When Delhomme's not your guy, and the new guy's not shy, that's a-Moor-e."
Fox is clearly living, and rhyming, on borrowed time. Eli Manning throws for three scores, and the G-Men subdue the Carolina running attack.
Giants win 27-17.
Detroit @ Chicago (-6 1/2)
Expectations are rising in Detroit, where a highly-rated draft class has the Lions faithful optimistically thinking playoffs, and, pessimistically, the third pick in next year's NFL draft. But this could be the year the Lions make the giant leap into NFC North relevancy, out of the shadows of the Packers, Vikings, and Bears, and into the realm of contenders.
"Not only is Detroit the ???Motor City,'" said Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, "it's now also the ???Matter City.' Like many things in Detroit, we had to redefine ourselves, from perennial losers to expectant winners. Ford Motor Company recovered from dark days by redefining itself. Heck, the Motor City Madman himself, Ted Nugent, did it. There was a time, long ago, when he was known only for rock and roll. Now, he hangs his hat on beef jerky and two-bit bow-hunting programs. As a human, he may have devolved, but his career has evolved."
Hopes are high in Chicago as well, with athletic freak Julius Peppers now anchoring the defense and offensive genius Mike Martz scheming to add his wizardry to the Bears offense. Martz's offense will demand more accuracy from Jay Cutler, with routes relying more on timing than on Cutler's strong arm.
"Everyone knows Cutler has a cannon for an arm," Martz said, "but you can't thread a needle with a cannon. All too often last year, Cutler emulated Ben Roethlisberger, and tried to put things where they didn't belong."
The Bears offense clicks, and Cutler throws three touchdowns, limiting his interceptions to one. A satisfied Lovie Smith, who served as Martz's defensive coordinator in St. Louis, gushes when asked by a reporter about Martz's contribution, simply replying ???Works for me.'"
Chicago wins 31-27.
Atlanta @ Pittsburgh (+ 2 ??)
With Ben Roethlisberger suspended for four games, and Byron Leftwich injured, quarterbacking duties in Pittsburgh fall to Dennis Dixon. With Roethlisberger relegated to an onlooker for four games, he's offered his assistance to Dixon in any way necessary to prepare the former Oregon star for this crucial four-game stretch.
"We didn't expect to have to call on Dennis so early," Mike Tomlin said. "But, with Leftwich's knee injury, and Ben's conduct issues, I guess you could say we made a ???knee-jerk' reaction."
"Dennis has shown a great willingness to learn, although he balked at a cram session with Ben in a locked bathroom."
The Falcons are primed to challenge the favored Saints for the NFC South crown, led by Matt Ryan's strong right arm, Michael Turner's powerful thighs, Tony Gonzalez's supple hands, and the gray-haired leadership of Mike Smith, a man with a name so generic, he was "Common" long before Lonnie Rashied Lynn, Jr. (no relation to Loretta) wisely adopted a stage name and became "Common," the rapper.
"I ???un-Common-ed' myself long ago," Smith said. "I've moved on. Just call me ???Whitebread.' The name may be bland, but the Falcons are anything but. And unless there's a law against being incredibly polite, Matt Ryan won't be serving a four-game suspension. Matt's still a captain, unlike Roethlisberger, who lost the title of ???captain' due to his ???privates.'"
Dixon runs the Falcons ragged, running for one score and passing for another. Pittsburgh win 24-20.
Oakland @ Tennessee (-7)
With a new contract, the Titans satisfied, for now, the demands of their dreadlocked, golden-grilled superstar Chris Johnson, who led the NFL with 2,006 yards rushing last year. Now, Johnson has vowed to rush for 2,500 yards on the ground, a lofty goal considering Eric Dickerson's record of 2,106 yards set in 1984.
"Don't even tell me to put my money where my mouth is," Johnson said, "because I already have. Usually, when I mention ???2.5k,' I'm referring to the contents of my mouth, as in carats. And if I pull this off, it will cement my status as the king of NFL running backs, and I'll celebrate appropriately, with a gold crown."
While Johnson is the unquestioned offensive force for the Titans, the Raiders offense features no superstars, and will likely employ a conservative offense backed by an attacking defense. Quarterbacking duties will fall on Jason Campbell, whom Raiders owner Al Davis likened to former Raider great Jim Plunkett.
"I'm impressed," said Campbell, "that Davis remembers Jim Plunkett. I think Plunkett was the last decent player Al had a hand in acquiring. But I'll give the Raiders my best. Trust me, it takes a unique player to go from Dan Snyder to Al Davis while maintaining his sanity. That's like going from the frying pan to the frying pan."
Johnson shows flashes of brilliance, when he smiles, and rushes for one score, and tacks on a TD reception, as well.
Tennessee wins 26-12.
Denver @ Jacksonville (-1 ??)
Tim Tebow fever is gripping Denver, and has even caught the attention of former Bronco and 11-time father Travis Henry, who's intrigued by anything that is "spreading." And the Tebow #15 jersey is the NFL's top-selling jersey, which, according to Jacksonville's David Garrard, can mean only one thing.
"Not since O.J. Simpson's last dash," Garrard said, "has there been this much fuss about a ???white Bronco.' Everybody knows that the only #15 Broncos jersey that matters is Brandon Marshall's. And he's no longer a Bronco, thanks to Josh McDaniels' master plan to trade the Broncos best players. Boy, I wish Jack Del Rio shared that philosophy."
Jacksonville's best player is undoubtedly Maurice Jones-Drew, who recently returned to practice amid reports that he had been dealing with a knee injury. Jones-Drew says his knee is fine, and reports saying otherwise are just plain false.
"Who are you gonna believe?" Jones-Drew said. "Me, or some sleazy beat reporter? You've got to ask yourself: ???Drew, or false?'"
Almost forgotten amidst the Tebow hoopla is Kyle Orton, Denver's hard-nosed quarterback who epitomizes the tough brand of football Josh McDaniels loves. Like Tebow, Orton practices abstinence. Not from sex, mind you, but from Tebow worship.
Denver wins 23-20.
Indianapolis @ Houston (+3)
The Colts begin 2010 in a familiar position: as one of the NFL's Super Bowl favorites. As any NFL analyst worth his salt, and Jamie Dukes, will tell you, Manning's presence alone can practically give Indy a Super Bowl ticket.
"It's true," said Gary Kubiak. "Manning gives any team a good chance to win the Super Bowl, be it the Colts, or, let's say, the Saints. He's that good."
"For years, we've been building a team, piece by piece, that's capable of ending the Colts reign. At our current pace, we should reach our goal, the date of which should roughly coincide with Manning's retirement."
"But let's be serious, if we can't beat the Colts on Sunday, at Reliant Stadium, then our chances of dethroning them are about as believable as a claim that ???overtraining' can cause the presence of a fertility drug. Honestly, Brian Cushing should stop training, before he tests positive, for a baby."
Manning and the Colts know a win on the road in Houston won't be easy.
"For years," Manning said, "the Texans have been trying to find that one thing that could slow down the Colts. That ???one thing' wore a Colts uniform for many years. He was called Mike Vanderjagt, ???Canadian Missed.' And we know the Texans don't have him."
"And the NFL itself tried to get in on the ???Colt revolt' and slow our hurry-up offense with a well-positioned, albeit decrepit and slow umpire. Well, just a few complaints from me, and he's gone. Vincent Jackson's not the only one with a substance abuse problem. The NFL itself is ???under the influence,' of me."
Fantastic Peyton. Now show us that lonely Super Bowl ring of yours.
Manning lights up the Texans for 308 yards and three touchdowns, and the Colts overcome an early 13-3 deficit for a 31-27 win.
Arizona @ St. Louis (+4)
There calling this the "Damn, I Miss Kurt Warner Bowl," as two of Warner's former teams square off in an early NFC West confrontation. The Rams, with overall No. 1 pick Sam Bradford, host the Cardinals, who advanced to the Super Bowl in 2008 and the divisional round in 2009 with Warner at the helm.
"As you know," said Ken Whisenhunt, "we released Matt Leinart. So, here in Arizona, if a government official asks to see Matt's ???papers,' Matt will likely be required to show his ???walking' papers."
"Although he's answering to a higher calling, we still feel let down by Warner's departure. It's called a ???Christian Bail,' and I think it's clearly a sin to leave a team in the hands of Derek Anderson. May Warner sunburn in Helena on that mission trip to Montana."
Bradford has been named the starter for the Rams, and an impressive preseason has the city buzzing with a case of mild optimism.
"Not only is there a city anticipating my every pass," Bradford said, "but an entire nation, as well. The Cherokee nation. I'm 1/16th Cherokee, and I surely don't want to disappoint the natives, lest I leave a trail of tears."
Cardinals win 27-21.
Green Bay @ Philadelphia (+3)
Confidence is high in Green Bay, where quarterback Aaron Rodgers leads a loaded offense, while reigning NFC Defensive Player Of The Year Charles Woodson headlines a highly-rated defense. For the Packers, anything less than an NFC North title will be viewed as a failure.
"Failure is not an option," said Aaron Rodgers, "nor is the wearing of Wrangler jeans. This year, we're thinking big, and ???Super Bowl' is the answer, whether it be to the question ???What's the Packers goal?' or to the question ???What do you call that haircut?'"
The Eagles will lay their hopes on the arm of Kevin Kolb, a fourth-year pro from the University Of Houston, a player whom Andy Reid felt confident enough to entrust with the Eagles offense.
"I've got loads of confidence in Kevin," Reid said. "But even more confidence in this multi-color-coded, laminated play sheet that I actually hold a conversation with during games. One day, I pray it talks back."
Rodgers and the Packer offense jump on the Eagles quickly, scoring two first quarter touchdowns. Kolb looks shaky against the aggressive Green Bay defense, and throws two interceptions, one of which is returned by Woodson for a score.
Green Bay wins 34-24.
San Francisco @ Seattle (+2)
Pete Carroll is back in the NFL, taking over the Seahawks job that was vacated when Jim Mora, Jr. was fired just minutes after Seattle's 5-11 2009 campaign ended. Carroll was heavily courted for the job, and will be paid handsomely for it, with a five year, $33 million contract.
"Heavily courted? Paid handsomely?" Carroll said. "What, more talk about Reggie Bush's recruitment at USC? I've said it once, and I'll say it again, this time with a straight face, that I knew nothing of the improprieties that occurred while I was in charge at USC."
"The only thing I have in common with Reggie Bush is a sex tape. Oh, how'd I'd like to add ???with Kim Kardashian' to that, but sadly, I can't. It's just another example of the lengths some coaches will go to bring a player to USC."
The 49ers are the favorites in the NFC West, and their defense, led by All Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, is expected to be one of the NFL's best.
"I think there are great things in store for this team offensively as well," Willis said. "We've got a great running back in Frank Gore, maybe the league's fastest tight end in Vernon Davis, and a quarterback, Alex Smith, who has really improved. I'm not kidding myself when I say that Alex reminds me a great deal of Joe Montana.....from those ???Joe Montana for Shape-ups' commercials."
Willis and the 49ers defense offer up a rude awakening to Carroll, shutting down a Seahawk offense in dire need of firepower.
San Francisco wins 24-13.
Dallas @ Washington (+3 ??)
It's tough to overlook the Redskins' addition of Donovan McNabb, but leave it to Albert Haynesworth to make that seem secondary. The massive defensive lineman failed multiple conditioning tests this summer before finally passing in mid-July, clashing with head coach Mike Shanahan along the way.
"Contrary to an oft-quoted line from The Hangover," said Shanahan, "it's not funny because he's fat. I shouldn't call Albert ???Fat;' that's disrespectful, to the real Fat Albert. So, let's just call him ???Hay-hay-hay-nesworth."
"But Albert's made a lot of progress, towards being traded to the Titans. That makes sense, because I'd love to send him right back where he came from."
"But really, this team's outlook hinges less on Haynesworth, and more on McNabb. After eleven years in Philadelphia, it's difficult, even for me, to comprehend McNabb as a Redskin. Almost as much as it is to comprehend a Muslim as president of the United States."
With the Super Bowl scheduled for early February at Cowboys Stadium, the 2010 season could be a magical one for Dallas. Or, it could be another marked by disappointment, Tony Romo dating scandals, and nervous Jerry Jones visits to the Cowboy sideline.
"Let's face it," said Jones, "if we don't make it to the Super Bowl this year, it will be painfully disappointing. But it won't be unprecedented. I can't count the number of times the Cowboys had a home playoff game and didn't show up."
The Cowboys take advantage of a team in turmoil, forcing three Redskin turnovers, and dominating on offense.
Dallas wins 30-17.
Baltimore @ NY Jets (-3)
Faced with the possibility of a season without All Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Jets may have to ultimately rely on Antonio Cromartie as the de facto stopper in the defensive backfield. Cromartie has been impressive, and coaches and teammates alike have marveled at his athleticism, a trait that can only be exceeded by his sperm count.
"Luckily," said Rex Ryan, "we got Revis signed just in time. Now, he and Cromartie will give us one of the league's best cornerback tandems. On one side, you've got Darrelle patrolling ???Revis Island;' on the other, you've got Antonio supporting the ???Isle Of Man-y.'"
Like the Jets, the Ravens primary concern is "secondary." Ed Reed's hip surgery, along with injuries to an already thin defensive backfield, have exacerbated an issue that many have identified as the Ravens solitary weakness. For a team on the cusp of greatness, with a 2008 AFC championship loss and a 2009 divisional loss, it could very well be a fatal flaw.
"No one ever said getting to the ???next level' would be easy," said John Harbaugh, "although opposing offenses, once they clear the defensive line and linebackers, might very well deem it as such."
Revis shuts down Anquan Boldin, frustrating Boldin to the point that he engages in a shouting match with Todd Haley 3,000 miles away. Two Jets takeways lead to two short, Shonn Greene rushing scores, and the Jets, along with the New Meadowlands mascot, a wacky swamp creature known as "F.U. Dungy," celebrate the Jets first win in the stadium.
New York wins 23-16.
San Diego @ Kansas City (+4 ??)
The Chargers enter the 2010 season in a familiar position, as favorites in the AFC West. They're likely to begin that quest without two critical members of their offense, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill.
"Vincent knows how to drive a hard bargain," said Philip Rivers, "much better than he knows how to drive a car. Frankly, I'm more concerned by the absence of McNeill, whose job it is, or was, to protect my backside. As Jay Cutler would say, that's my best side."
Kansas City head coach Todd Haley has the Chiefs headed in the right direction, with their sights set on legitimately competing for the AFC West crown.
"This team is going places," Haley said, "at least eight times this year. We've got a lot riding on success, particularly our jobs. If we fail, there's likely to be more exporting than importing here in K.C."
San Diego wins 24-21.