Monday, September 04, 2006

Chess is the fad du jour, along with copious quantities of quality running (75 minutes yesterday with 30 minutes of intervals, 125 today and 75 tomorrow), and nothing reminds me more of football. Using my bishop to reinforce a check with my queen or using a pawn to guarantee the safety of a knight from a retaliatory queen is a lot like using the run to set up the pass. Tonight, I unintentionally set up a pocket of pawns around my king. My king, unfortunately, had all the mobility of Drew Bledsoe.

On, then, to the 2006 NFL season, which starts Thursday when the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers take on the reconstituted Miami Dolphins. Before I discuss this any further, let's have a look at last year's predictions. It turns out that I didn't make any in September, but I did refer to the Steelers as "world-beaters" on October 11.

Since football for me is localized in the AFC East, let's begin there. The reconstituted Dolphins with Daunte Culpepper should be good enough to take second behind the Patriots, who remain as good as ever. The Dolphins will mix it up with either the Steelers or Bengals and the Chargers for the wild card.

The AFC South will be won on the strength of Peyton Manning's arm, but I don't see the Colts going as far in the playoffs without Edgerrin James. Dominic Rhodes and rookie Joseph Addai should be serviceable, but I still think that Peyton Manning missed the best chance of his career at a Super Bowl last year.

I don't know which of Ben Roethlisberger or Carson Palmer is more fragile; whoever is less fragile will lead their team to the division title. The Steelers, I think, are the better team but Cincinnati and Carson Palmer have a bigger upside and fewer distractions.

Finally, in the AFC West, Denver can only get better with the addition of Jay Cutler while San Diego is going to falter at least slightly with the inexperienced Philip Rivers. I want to single out the Raiders for their incomprehensible stupidity in assembling the football equivalent of the Titanic's deck chairs. Aaron Brooks, Randy Moss and a recently resurrected Jeff George will be some of the ingredients in this unsavoury hobo stew of a team.

In the NFC East, I want the great-on-paper Dallas Cowboys to win the division. The Eagles will be back this year, however, and Washington also has a great team put together. I think the Redskins, with Mark Brunell as good as he was ten years ago when his upstart Jaguars reduced me to tears, not to mention Clinton Portis, Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El, will win this division. This is easily the most exciting division in the league.

The NFC North, by contrast, is the dullest and I want to say nothing about this division except express my undying love for Brett Favre. I hope the Packers make the playoffs by squeezing 9-10 wins out of what's left of his abilities.

The Panthers are not only the best team in the NFC South, but I think they're the best in this conference. Sorry Bedir. Tampa Bay has a good team in a maturing Chris Simms, good recivers and a good running back. The defense, the best in the league last year, should be at least good this year. Atlanta still sucks because they have a one-dimensional offense led by a quarterback who can't pass.

The Seahawks are as good as they were last year and should avoid the "jinx" of Super Bowl losers, if only because they play in a weak division, but their conference is tougher this year. They will be hard-pressed to advance deep into the playoffs. The Rams, like the Eagles, Chiefs and others, are a team that's still trying to recreate a team from seasons past. Like the others, they will have mixed success.

In the AFC Championship game, the Colts will lose to the Bengals while the Panthers will trump the Redskins. The Panthers will win a Super Bowl by playing very well in all areas of the game, as tends to be the case with Super Bowl champions.

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