Each week, Dan Rubenstein, Ty Hildenbrandt and Jacob Osterhout will jump on e-mail and riff about various subjects in the news offered up by SI.com's Jimmy Traina.
Traina: The NFL season kicks off Thursday. Give me your Super Bowl prediction and regular-season MVP.
Rubenstein: As much as it pains me to say so, I can't go against Sage Rosenfels here; he has all the tools. OK, fine, if not Rosenfels, I'll go with an allegedly healthy Tom Brady to have another MVP year if his knee and shoulder are up to the task. If for no other reason than the Patriots have adopted a spread offense in a league that sees every team running the same offense, thereby rendering the Patriots sneaky (original). He simply has more opportunities to put up ridiculous numbers, and most likely, wins. The Super Bowl pick is tougher. I'll go Patriots-Packers here, but I'm nowhere near confident in any NFC being balanced enough to make the Super Bowl. Each supposed contender has a glaring flaw, but the Packers seem about as balanced offensively as anyone, so I'll begrudgingly say Patriots 27, Packers 21. And I'll also say how excited I am for all of the Favre stories that we'll be subjected to during those two weeks.
Hildenbrandt: Wow, Traina, going with the hard-hitting questions right off the bat. I like your moves. As far as the ridiculously loaded AFC goes, and at the risk of being terribly cliche, I'll go with the Patriots. Now that the Brady-to-Moss machine is functional, I think the Pats probably have the best shot. The NFC is anyone's guess. The Eagles seem to be a trendy pick, but having lived in the Philly area my entire life, I've learned not to fall into the trap of picking them to make the Super Bowl. The Vikings are another sexy pick with the addition of Brett Favre, but the thought of that storyline being cycled and recycled for the entire postseason is enough to make me queasy. To be honest, I have no idea who to pick, but I'll go out on a limb and take the Packers. Official Super Bowl prediction: Patriots 31, Packers 27. (By the way, Tom Brady is always my MVP pick. Always.)
Rubenstein: Well, Ty, this is uncomfortable. Now people or going to think we're sitting here giggling and coordinating our Super Bowl picks. This just got weird.
Hildenbrandt: Very skeevy, indeed. It's not like we're sitting around in our underwear, whispering sweet nothings about Tom Brady. No, nothing like that at all ...
Osterhout: Ahh, yes, the NFL season in back. Thank God. I was getting tired of watching the Yankees win. I will not go with the popular pick of the Pats and the Eagles. Tom Brady is as fragile as a china doll, and while it might always be sunny in Philadelphia, the Eagles don't win Super Bowls, no matter how talented the team may be. No, I'm going with the Steelers vs. Vikings. Every season, I get duped by Ben Roethlisberger's offseason drama and underestimate the Steelers. I won't make that mistake again this year. And I think that Favre will be get injured in Week 3 and Sage Rosenfels will lead the Vikes to a Super Bowl victory. The MVP with be Adrian Peterson. I really wanted to say the Redskins would make the Super Bowl for the NFC, but I just didn't think anyone would take me seriously, and that's depressing.
Rubenstein: I knew it ... Rosenfels GETS IT DONE!! I do the same thing with Roethlisberger, too, and yet, I can't take the Steelers this year. I have no rational reason other than a crippling fear of picking against Brady/Moss/Belichick when they're hitting on all cylinders. Can't go Vikings even though most of the pieces appear to be there. Favre simply gets in too much of the way for me.
Hildenbrandt: In a year where it seems the "Wildcat" seems all the rage, I think it's at least worth noting that the Vikings could go anti-Wildcat and line up both Favre and Rosenfels in the same backfield to create the ultimate slow, white, aging quarterback tandem. They could call it the Llama -- it'd go against all conventional wisdom and blow people's minds like the "Bizarro Jerry" episode of Seinfeld.
Hildenbrandt: By the way, that "it's always sunny in Philadelphia" bit ... totally untrue. According to the National Climatic Data Center, Philly receives only 56-percent of possible sunshine. So, there's that. The Jason Campbell Experiment is easily in my top five of Current Quarterback Experiments With Possibly Unsettling Results. Rounding out the top five, in no particular order, are Matt Stafford, JaMarcus Russell, Kyle Orton and a super-secret Browns quarterback to be named later.
Rubenstein: Isn't this the solution in Cleveland? Why pick one when you can put both average QBs on the field at the same time? You'd never know whose pass Braylon Edwards will drop next. Washington's fun on a number of levels. Just not the football one. I do like, though, that Dan Snyder has a monopoly on D.C. sports radio stations, That's right, Redskin fans, you can be tortured by the play-by-play and nonstop depressing analysis of your team on any number of Snyder-owned frequencies! It's the small things.
Traina: Dan Snyder's bad-guy-ness is so underrated. Anyway, let's move on. Notre Dame-Michigan and USC-Ohio State this week. Who wins these games?
Osterhout: OSU looked lethargic against Navy last week, so I've got to go with USC. The Trojans also looked sluggish at the beginning of their game against San Jose State, but they turned it around before USC fans even had a chance to worry. And I think that Notre Dame will squeak by Michigan, if for no other reason than the Irish have a starting quarterback with some experience and confidence.
Rubenstein: It's tough, but I'll go against everything I believe and take Notre Dame, even on the road. Somehow, Jimmy Clausen isn't the greenest QB in the game and Notre Dame looks capable enough defensively to slow down a promising, yet still developing Michigan offense. And yes, I hate myself for picking Notre Dame. The next game is easier, I learned long ago not to pick against the Trojans when they play a Big Ten team, or for that matter anyone else they may play non-conference. Ohio State looked ordinary and USC looked shockingly comfortable with a true freshman QB running things. I'll go with the overwhelming historical trend in Columbus.
Hildenbrandt: My super-duper, stone-cold, iron-clad lock of the millennium is Notre Dame (-5) over the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. The only reason this line is five points is because Vegas doesn't know enough about either team, and both looked extremely impressive last Saturday. But it bodes well for the Irish that they completely neutralized Colin Kaepernick andNevada's Pistol-ized version of the spread offense. I like Notre Dame by two touchdowns. The USC-Ohio State game has me torn. Obviously, Ohio State's showing against Navy didn't do much for my confidence in the Buckeyes, and then there was this postgame interview with Terrelle Pryor that still has me confused. But you also need to consider the fact that it'll be Matt Barkley's first start in a hostile environment. So, which way do you go? I expect the atmosphere at the Horshshoe to be completely different Saturday. And if I'm a betting man, I'm taking Ohio State (+7); however, I'm expecting the Trojans to win this game outright. I do expect it to be tight, though.
Rubenstein: USC went from "sloppy" to "unstoppable running machine" so quickly in the opener, its fans barely had enough time to search for the names of the starters on their Blackberries before they were pulled in the second half. It's tough when you have so much texting to catch up on in the first half.
Osterhout: Is it even possible for Ohio State to beat USC, or is that like gravity suddenly changing directions or Shawne Merriman being an upstanding citizen? I mean, the Buckeyes have lost the last six meetings, including last year's spanking. None of this inspires Buckeyes confidence.
Rubenstein: All Matt Barkley will have to do is hand the ball off to any number of blue-chip RBs and occasionally roll out and throw and 8-yard play-action pass. Also, I don't think Pryor's Madden-like decision to run around the backfield waiting for a receiver to get open will work quite as well against the USC defense as it did against Navy's. Remember, this is a team that scored precisely zero touchdowns last season in this game. Have they improved so dramatically with the same coaching staff and fewer experienced offensive playmakers that they can now win outright? I say no.
Rubenstein: The Buckeyes have as good a chance against USC as Musburger has of not mispronouncing "Dane Sanzenbacher" all night.
Hildenbrandt: Contrary to popular opinion, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Ohio State took down USC. Actually, before last week's games, I was fully ready to pick the Buckeyes here. The game against Navy was definitely more of a nail-biter than it should've been, but I feel like it was a big-time look-ahead game and that it'll be an entirely different team that takes the field against the Trojans. Don't write off Ohio State. That said, Pryor's "Madden-like" tendencies that Dan mentioned are rather curious and unnerving.
Osterhout: Speaking of Madden-like tendencies, how about Greg Paulus leading the Orange to overtime against Minnesota and then blowing the whole game with one throw? Poor guy. Should have just run out of bounds. On the plus side, it sure makes getting dunked on look fun.
Rubenstein: I love everything about the Greg Paulus situation -- from the comedy of his deciding on a whim to play football in his last NCAA-eligible year to his actual impressive performance. I've said it before: If Syracuse football is on, I'm watching. I can't imagine why any non-alumnus on the West Coast would ever have a reason to utter those words in 2009. Congratulations, Greg Paulus, I'm hooked.
Hildenbrandt: I'm hooked as well. If you think I'm not having my cousin (a Syracuse grad student) send me a No. 2 "The Devil Wears Orange" T-shirt, you're absolutely wrong.
Hildenbrandt: I thought Paulus was impressive in his debut. He looked completely in control out there. At the very least, he's making Syracuse football semi-relevant, which is already an upgrade. I'm curious to see what happens this weekend when he goes to Beaver Stadium and plays against Penn State. In fact, I think I'm going to go to this game just to see the creative brand of signage that Penn State's student section can conjure up. (No, seriously.) These kids ... they grow up so fast.
Traina: The Pittsburgh Pirates just clinched their 17th straight losing season. I don't even have a question. I just wanted to throw this fact out there.
Osterhout: I think we've all seen Major League and we understand that sometimes when a team loses, the owners win. I would like to see a remake of Major League featuring the Pirates, except this time, they trade Willie Mays Hays (Nyjer Morgan) and Pedro Cerrano (Adam LaRoche) midseason for a keg of beer and two mascot outfits.
Rubenstein: I have no in-depth insight as to how the Pirates can build a winning team, but if Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, the two Indian cricket players Pittsburgh signed last year, can make it to the bigs, I'll upgrade my Pirates fandom from "non-existent" to "curious." It's something.
Hildenbrandt: I have several friends who are lifelong Pirates fans. About a month ago, we got into a lengthy e-mail conversation about whether they were allowed to pick a new team. As a neutral third party, I voted yes. It's one thing if you're a Cubs fan and your team hasn't won a world championship in forever; it's another if your team hasn't finished above .500 in 17 consecutive seasons. It's outrageous. This organization has a gorgeous stadium and a surprisingly loyal base -- clearly, the plot of Jacob's Major League remake would be central to a fan-organized coup attempt on management.
Osterhout: I went to a Mets game the other day in my Washington Nationals jersey and some Mets fan was making fun of me. I was like, "Dude, we make you look good." And then I was thinking, Well, who makes us look good? And then it hit me, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Got to love them, they make the Nationals look good.
Hildenbrandt: I find it amazing that they very quietly traded away their entire team in the wake of that Nate McLouth move earlier this year. I understand the whole "rebuilding mode" mentality, but it seems like the Pirates do this every year. How is that even possible? I feel like you could probably swap Pittsburgh's major league team with its Triple-A squad without noticing any real difference.
Rubenstein: I think the Pirates are just looked at as every team's second Triple-A team: "Well, time to call up Nate McLouth to the Braves. He's been able to do it when it hasn't counted in Pittsburgh, so let's give him a chance to hit when it matters." Rinse. Repeat.
Traina: Last question: The new TV schedule is about to begin. What shows are you most looking forward to?
Osterhout: It's hard not to get excited for the new season of 30 Rock and The Office -- two proven, quality shows. I'm also vaguely excited for Community because Chevy Chase still has a special place in my heart even if he's done bupkis for two decades and is playing second fiddle to the host of Talk Soup. For a female perspective, my girlfriend and sister can't stop talking about Glee, so I've got a feeling I'll be watching that as well.
Rubenstein: Well, it starts and ends with The Ghost Whisperer for me, thanks for asking. But if pressed to be serious, I'm excited about NBC's Thursday comedies (Office/Weekend Update/Community/30 Rock/Parks and Recreation) and whenever it is that DirecTV airs NBC's Friday Night Lights. The Big Bang Theory is underrated, Curb Your Enthusiasm should be great, and I can't wait for It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, despite Ty's claims over the accuracy of its title. Lost isn't back until next year, but I'm excited to see if this is the season that I can finally follow along with the impromptu rules of time travel. Most of all, though, I'm excited to be able to sit back and watch Oregon football this fall. For some reason, the Ducks didn't play last week, so I'm ready to get the season started already.
Hildenbrandt: Now that Fox has finally done us all a public service by pulling the plug on Prison Break, I'm kind of at a loss. Even though I started hating that show after its first full season, I couldn't pry myself away from it. Now, I don't have anything. I guess I'm most looking forward to the Seinfeld reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm. So much potential there. Also, Criminal Minds has won TiVo season pass privileges for being the most watchable CBS crime show, in part because it doesn't involve the crazy mathematical formulas of Numb3rs, but mainly because it doesn't feature David Caruso. I'm also looking forward to Big Bang Theory (definitely underrated) and NBC's Thursday night lineup.
Rubenstein: Shocking, nobody is itching to see Jay Leno drive around in go-karts with his guests at 10 p.m. every night.
Osterhout: I couldn't care less about Leno moving to prime time, but I did see a preview for his show before District 9 last weekend. What's that all about? Since when do TV shows get a movie theater preview? That's a lot of hype.
Rubenstein: If advertising can be sold, it will be sold. There are ads for doctors and hospitals before movies out here in L.A. Not just a print ad projected, but a fully produced infomercial before a feature-length film. If at some point I'm not sure where to go if I get bronchitis, I'll just think back to who advertised before I watched Brüno and all will be well.
Dan Rubenstein hosts and produces the SI Tour Guy video series for SI.com and co-hosts The Solid Verbal podcast. He can be reached at email@example.com. Ty Hildenbrandt writes for SI.com and co-hosts The Solid Verbal podcast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. Jacob E. Osterhout is a features reporter for the New York Daily News and a former writer for Sports Illustrated On Campus. His work can also be found at the College Sports Examiner.
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