Ladies and gentlemen, it is finally here: That week that has me and countless millions of NFL football fans as giddy as little kids on their first trip to the zoo. Season kickoff week.
In honor of such a festive and exciting week, it's now time to start making those outrageous statements and bold predictions that we all know and love to get everyone all riled up. Without further adieu, the predictions:
NFC Rookie of the Year
Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings
As espn.com analyst Gene Wojciechowski put it best...Harvin is Reggie Bush without the bum knee. This kid just needs a sliver of space to make a big play, and in an offense that is simply filled with play-makers, Harvin will be able to, as paradoxical as it sounds, "sneak" into a dynamic role with multiple responsibilities, whether lined up as a wideout, slot man, running back, or even quarterback in the wildcat formation, this kid is a difference maker.
Beanie Wells, RB, Arizona Cardinals
I don't care how many touchdowns Tim Hightower scored last year, the guy is just not an every down back. Wells has the ability to give the Cardinals consistency in the run, which is a trait that every consistent contender needs. Wells was a steal as the 31st overall pick, which he has shown throughout the preseason.
AFC Rookie of the Year
Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Brace yourself, folks. This one's a two-fer. The first of the two-fer-one prediction: Joseph Addai will not be the starting RB in Indy by the end of the season. Watching the preseason, Addai could be one of the greatest breakout to flop candidates I have seen in a while.
That said, rookie Donald Brown seeks to bring stability back to the running game in Indianapolis after an injury-plagued, and rather unimpressive run by Addai. And after watching some of what he did against Minnesota's No. 1 rush defense in week one of the preseason, there is no reason to think that this kid has a bright, bright future.
Call me crazy, but there is just something about this guy that reminds me of Matt Ryan. I can barely explain it. The guy just has poise. Not cockiness, not arrogance, but poise. He's smart, and though admittedly unpolished, the guy looks like he has the level-headed decision-making skills to win football games. Will he be the next Matt Ryan? No, but good enough to get consideration for this award.
NFL Most Valuable Player
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Brett Favre will throw the ball. Teams will start to pay for stacking a million guys in the box. Adrian will have a more comfortable time reaching 2,000 yards rushing than he had topping 1,700 last year. End of story.
Coach on the Cutting Block
Denver Broncos' Josh McDaniels.
I know, I know, the guy is in his first year as a head coach, but Denver has gone from being comfortably mediocre, to dazzlingly terrible in the course of one off-season, and a lot of fingers can point straight to this guy.
Team Most Likely to go From Dud to Stud
Ever since Mike Singletary took over as interim head coach, the 49ers look different. They play with a purpose. They play to win, no matter what the limited talent on that football team holds. Will they get a playoff berth? Probably not, (although in that division, who knows?) but I could see them finishing at .500, maybe a game higher.
Team Most Likely to go From Stud to Dud
Tie: New York Giants and New York Jets
I remember a point last season after the Jets took down the previously undefeated Tennessee Titans when there was talk of two conference championship games in New York. While the Jets simply lost steam, they still finished a respectable 9-7, and the Giants were ousted one game before the NFC Championship.
The Jets have a young team with less talent than last year in a division where, with the exception of Buffalo, more talent has risen around them.
The Giants lost both of their starting receivers, and I have a feeling that more touches to the football this year in Derrick Ward's absence might be tougher on Brandon Jacobs, seeing how physically he likes to play the game.
I don't think the Giants will dip under .500 by any means, but I do not think they will win the division, and the possibility of falling to third is present.
Their defense is still slammin' however.
Anthony Gonzalez, WR, Indianapolis Colts
With Marvin Harrison out of the mix, Gonzo should have no problem stepping it up to a career best. He was close last year. His time has come.
Visanthe Shiancoe, TE, Minnesota Vikings
Shiank quietly built a rather impressive resume last season, and with Tight End-happy Brett Favre throwing the football, Shiancoe should rise to an elite-level Tight End.
Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans Saints
Deuce McAllister is gone and Reggie Bush has proved time and time again that he can't be relied on for every down, especially with his fragile knees. Thomas scored nine rushing touchdowns and caught three receiving touchdowns in the last weeks of last season on 625 rushing yards. This guy came out of nowhere, and he isn't going anywhere (save the endzone) soon.
AFC Wild Card Games
Houston (6) @ San Diego (3)
Baltimore (5) @ Tennessee (4)
AFC Divisional Games
San Diego (3) @ New England (2)
Baltimore (5) @ Pittsburgh (1)
AFC Championship Game
San Diego (3) @ Pittsburgh (1)
NFC Wild Card Games
New York Giants (6) @ Philadelphia (3)
Green Bay (5) @ San Francisco (4)
NFC Divisional Games
Philadelphia (3) @ Atlanta (2)
Green Bay (5) @ Minnesota (1)
NFC Championship Game
Atlanta (2) @ Minnesota (1)
Super Bowl Profile
Minnesota Vikings vs. San Diego Chargers
The fantasy Super Bowl in my mind is a game borne out of grudges. The NFC Championship game, according to my prediction, features a burly Vikings defense against an explosive Falcons offense.
The grudge? A rematch from the 1998 Vikings/Falcons NFC Championship game during which the heavily favored 15-1 Vikings lost in overtime to the Falcons.
A fierce running game on both sides of the ball featuring Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Atlanta's Michael Turner will be an underlying theme.
The determining factor of the game, however, will be which team can run the ball more effectively. With Minnesota's No. 1 ranked rush defense, and fifth ranked team in sacks, the overwhelming force of Minnesota's defense should carry them through to the Bowl.
The AFC Championship, however, will be a much more recently acquired grudged, heralding from last year's AFC Divisional round bout between the Chargers and Steelers in which the Steelers easily handled San Diego.
This prediction is based more along the lines of desire. True, San Diego's defense looks to be healthier (as well as their star RB, LaDanian Tomlinson) but fundamentally, both teams are nearly identical to last season. The key to success for San Diego is going to be learning to win at Heinz Field. It will be Pennsylvania in the winter time. Cold.
However, it has been a lot longer since San Diego has tasted the Super Bowl than the Steelers, who just won last season. Both teams have the tools to come out on top. Bottom line is, I think San Diego just might have the competitive edge.
So Vikings and Chargers. Who do I predict will win, you ask? Oh come on, the regular season hasn't even started yet! It's a little too early to be making that kind of a bold prediction, don't you think?
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