10 Predictions For the 2006 NFL Season
August 15, 2006 by Wailele Sallas • Print Story •
With the first NFL preseason games out of the way, it's official — the NFL is back. Though you can't dissect much from preseason games, the mere fact that the Eagles and Raiders have put one in the books has created a frenzy in sports arenas.
It won't be long before the new-look Dolphins take on the Super Bowl champion Steelers on Thursday, September 7, and until that first kick-off, here is a list of things you can bet on this season, and in that case, don't bet at all, I don't want to be held financially responsible.
1) Terrell Owens will have a monster year. As a Philadelphia Eagles fan, it pains me to say this. But the proof is in the pudding, and T.O. is a selfish star who will want to stick it to every one of his naysayers every game. The fact that he's in the NFC East only makes it that much sweeter — for him.
There's no doubt that he is one of the best wide receivers in the game, if not the best. He has the talent around him to flourish, and a quarterback who can get him the ball. Drew Bledsoe isn't Donovan McNabb, but he's definitely better than Jeff Garcia.
So as long as his hamstring heals, if that's really what's bothering him, expect big numbers from Owens, based solely on the fact that he's selfish (I have no animosity whatsoever).
2) Larry Johnson will not live up to the hype. Yes, it's true that Larry Johnson had an unbelievable year last year. Anyone would be insane not to think so. The fact that he rushed for 1,750 yards, 20 touchdowns, in just nine games, would make even a Raider fan giddy at the chance for 2,000 yards rushing.
There is one underlying factor though, that will eliminate Larry Johnson from the 2,000-yard club, or even the rushing title for that matter. Fullback Tony Richardson is no longer leading the way. Ask Jerome Bettis, who would buy a ticket to Honolulu for his fullback every year he made it to the Pro Bowl. Give LaDanian Tomlinson a call and ask him how much Lorenzo Neal means to him. Or how about Mack Strong's importance to Shaun Alexander?
Unless you're the Denver Broncos, you just don't lead the league in rushing without a stellar fullback in front of you. Which leads me to my next topic.
3) The Denver Broncos will have the most potent running attack ... again. Let's just put it this way, the Broncos produce 1,000-yard rushers like Pharrell produces hits. Whether it is Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Paris Hilton, or anybody else for that matter, they run.
Run, run, run is what they'll do again in 2006, and more productively. The reason, strength in numbers. Before training camp began, all the experts predicted either Tatum Bell or Ron Dayne to take over the Bronco galloping attack. Head coach Mike Shanahan, however, went a different route. Shanahan named undrafted rookie free agent Mike Bell, the go-to-guy. What does this mean for Denver? Trial and Error.
Shanahan said that it took three months for him to trust Terrell Davis, and that the Denver head coach trusted Mike bell after nine days. If he works, Shanahan is a running back god — if he doesn't, Dayne and Bell are waiting in the balance. Either way you look at it, 1,000 yards is in the cards once again.
4) Running backs will rule the rookie class. Yes, it's true that this was a defensive draft, but players that will make the most impact will be on the other side of the ball. Reggie Bush headlines the group that includes Bell, the Colts' Joseph Addai, Jaguars' Maurice Drew, Patriots' Laurence Maroney, Titans' LenDale White, and Panthers' DeAngelo Williams. All seven have a chance to start and make an impact right away, with Reggie Bush running away with Rookie of the Year honors despite sharing time with Deuce McAlister.
"The President" is just too explosive, too dangerous, simply too good, not to make an immediate impact and raise the suicide rate in Houston to epic proportions. Not to be overlooked however, is Addai. He's got the most explosive offense behind him, if he beats out Dominic Rhodes for the number one spot, he has a chance to be even keel with Bush, if not surpass him based on his situation.
5) Alex Smith will have a breakout year. Last year's number one pick has a new offensive line, a new tight end, plus Eric Johnson, a bigger and better wide receiver in Antonio Bryant, and enough confidence to feed a small village. The question is with all of that, can he exorcise the demons that led to 11 interceptions, 11 fumbles, and 1 touchdown in 2005.
As Yogi Berra once said, "baseball is 90 percent mental, the other half is physical." The same can be said for football, where, if you're not right in the head, you become another Ryan Leaf rather than a Tom Brady.
What Smith does have going for him besides the on-field offseason acquisitions is new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. If he can turn all those pieces into a form fitting puzzle, the 49ers have a great chance of being competitive in 2006.
6) Tiger Woods will with the Tiger Slam ... again. I know this has nothing to do with the NFL, but has anyone else been amazed by the focus Tiger Woods has shown since falling apart in the U.S. Open? It's as if he is defending his father's honor one tournament at a time. Case in point, on the 17th hole at the Buick Open, some idiot threw an apple on the green, Tiger didn't even flinch. He didn't move a muscle. He was so zoned in to that putt that a flasher could have ran across the green did jumping jacks and Woods would have stood there still looking at his rolling putt.
The man is on fire, and with the PGA championship coming up, I don't see what can stop him. He is dominating and leaving the field in its wake. It's simply astounding.
7) In the AFC, San Diego, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Miami will win their respected divisions. In the NFC, Seattle, Chicago, Carolina, and Philadelphia. When looking at this list, three teams jump out at me — San Diego, Philadelphia, and Miami. The others seem to be unanimous picks, so allow me to explain myself.
San Diego was one of the hardest divisions to pick. The Denver Broncos, last year's West winners, have a very difficult schedule that has them at St. Louis, New England, and Pittsburgh. Also, at home, they face Seattle, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Indianapolis.
San Diego, on the other hand, faces Cincinnati and Seattle on the road and Pittsburgh at home. They return one of the best running backs in the game, the best tight end in the game, and an improved defense.
The Chargers this year will live and die with Phillip Rivers — if he lives up to what everyone believes he is capable of doing, the Chargers win the West, plain and simple.
Miami in the East finished the year on a tear. They play just two cold-weather games the last half of the year, and have Daunte Culpepper behind center. That, with the tools that are already in place, and the Dolphins have a great chance to unseat the Patriots as East champions. Just as long as Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas restrain from having any divorce squabbles.
Finally, Philadelphia. I'll be honest, I do have some bias on this one because of my allegiance to the midnight green and silver. Allow me, however, to defend my point. First off, the Eagles went to three NFC championships without T.O. During that time, they had no discernable wide receiver anywhere near a number one ranking. Now without T.O. everyone believes that they will lack in the passing game. It's true that people have short memories.
Second, their defense got stronger this year with the signing of Darren Howard.
Third, everyone is healthy. McNabb and Brian Dawkins are the most important. There is something to worry about with Brian Westbrook's latest injury, a sprained foot, but that shouldn't sideline him for too long.
Finally, McNabb is the best quarterback in the East, there is no one who comes close to his skill level. New York's wonder-boy, Eli Manning, has yet to prove himself on the big stage, and it's unknown if he can. Washington has a quarterback past his prime, and Dallas...
Dallas poses the biggest threat. Great defense, great weapons on offense, except for Bledsoe, who has yet to prove what he's made of since becoming this generation's Wally Pipp. In fact, they are so deep and so good that it's hard to not see them winning the East except for Bledsoe. I'm just not sold on him.
8) The Patriots will not make the playoffs. A team that has always been unified has had some shaky beginnings in the preseason. They no longer have a cake walk in the East to provide them with 6 easy wins. With a tough schedule and a tougher AFC, the Pats will be odd man out when the playoffs shake down. AFC's wildcard race will conclude with Baltimore and Denver getting in. The main reason for New England's demise is the loss of two important pieces during the Pats dynasty, Adam Vinatieri and Willie McGinest. This is not the same Patriots team and that will be exposed early and often.
9) The Colts will not make the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning, in his 12 years as a collegiate and professional, has never won a big game. Until he does, he never will make the Super Bowl. Period.
10) Carolina will face Cincinnati in Super Bowl XLI. The reason Carolina lost in last year's championship game, they were worn out. Injuries to their running backs and a one-man passing attack finally caught up to the Panthers in Seattle, to a fresher, better team. But, as the old adage goes, defense wins championships, and with the addition of Maake Kemoeatu to an already-stellar defense, the Panthers have, arguably, the best defense in the league. Add Keyshawn Johnson to assist Steve Smith, and DeAngelo Williams to the running game, it seems like all the pieces are set.
For Cincinnati, it depends on Carson Palmer. If he can get over Kimo von Oelhoffen's knee crushing blow, the improved offense and defense should lead Cincinnati to a Super Bowl Berth. If Palmer pulls a Peyton, look for the Snake to shock everyone and lead the Broncos' stampede.
As for the winner ... stay tuned.