It's time for the 91st NFL season to begin, but it wouldn't be a real NFL season without some really bad predictions from me. I'm the one who picked the Browns to make the Super Bowl in 1995 (they had fans throwing dog bones at them by the end of the year, as they tucked their tails between their legs and slinked off to Baltimore), told you to take Danny Wuerffel as your fantasy quarterback in 2002 (he lasted all of 92 passes), and, well, the last time I picked the Super Bowl winner was, I think, when Lombardi prowled the Tundra.
But we all have bosses, and mine have asked for my 10 predictions for this NFL season. I'll start with my reiteration of a pick most of you seem to think quite daft:
1. I think the Steelers are going to win the Super Bowl, and I expect Dennis Dixon to hand Ben Roethlisberger, at worst, a 2-2 team when he returns from suspension. The locker room likes Dixon and thinks he should have had more of a chance to beat out Byron Leftwich this summer before Leftwich's knee injury handed Dixon the job. He'll be a handful for Atlanta, Tennessee (away), Tampa Bay (away) and Baltimore to prepare for.
2. I think Carolina's my surprise team of the year and will play in January ... because I love that running game and like Matt Moore to morph into a top 15 quarterback.
3. I think the pass-rusher who emerges this year, thanks to a little help from his friends, will be Anthony Spencer of Dallas. Great potential, great defense for an outside linebacker.
4. I think these five below-the-first-round rookies will shine: Arizona QB Max Hall (free agent), Carolina wideout Brandon LaFell (third), Baltimore tight end Ed Dickson (third), Kansas City cornerback Javier Arenas (second), St. Louis tight end Michael Hoomanawanui.
5. I think the best three free agents on the coaching market after the season will be: Carolina coach John Fox (who likely won't re-sign after the final year of his contract), defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier of the Vikings and Boise State coach Chris Petersen.
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6. I think Peyton Manning will be re-signed to his last NFL contract by midseason.
7. I think Carson Palmer returns with a vengeance to shut up people like me. After a lackluster 60.5-percent-accuracy, 3,094-yard season, Palmer, I believe, completes 64 percent and throws for 3,800 this year.
8. I think Mark Brunell will have to provide emergency relief for Mark Sanchez at least twice this season. I didn't like what I saw out of Sanchez this summer, and he's got the weight of Broadway on his shoulders.
9. I think Alex Smith starts 16 games, saves his job, and earns a new contract in San Francisco.
10. I think the Cardinals will miss Kurt Warner more than any team misses any single retired or departed player in 2010.
Now for your e-mail:
• INTERESTING QUESTION ABOUT THE TRADING DEADLINE. "Hello Peter. This might be rather early to be talking about this, but the trade deadline in the NFL (in October) is usually so lame compared to that in other sports. However, without the salary cap punishment that always accompanied trades, do you see this year's NFL trade deadline to be the busiest ever? I can see that contending teams that suffer a key season-ending injury, or a contender not living up to expectations, approaching the teams that aren't off to a good start, to try to replenish their roster. These bottom feeder teams could be motivated to sell-off expiring contracts, as who knows what the new CBA will look like in terms of free agency. Do you believe that this will be the case?''--Jeff, Mississauga, Ontario
Good question, Jeff, and there might be an extra move or two, but the inherent problem with the trading deadline is that it occurs too early in the season to give any general managers the incentive to make trades. This year the deadline in Oct. 19. On that morning, 20 teams will have played their sixth game; 12 teams will have played five. Buffalo and Tampa Bay, for instance, might know deep down that they're playing for 2011 and beyond, but both teams will have 11 games left at the deadline. Pretty tough to tell your fans, "Come to the last five home games so you can see your 2011 team.''
• THE PRESEASON GAMES DIDN'T HAVE A LOT TO DO WITH IT. "Would Matt Leinart still be an Arizona Cardinal if the league were playing only two preseason games? Won't the move to 18 regular season games and a shorter preseason have a significant impact on how teams finalize their rosters? It seems like a lot of players need those four practice games to show the coaches what they can do. Or in Leinart's case, what he can't do.''--Tim McDonald, Charlottesville, Va.
NFL teams are whining about not being able to figure out how to pick the best players for their rosters with the shortened preseason, but I don't buy it. Aside from the two preseason games, teams will have scrimmages and practice sessions against other teams. Even a guy who has never liked doing that much, Bill Belichick, had co-training sessions with New Orleans and Atlanta this year and seems to be preparing for the day (coming in 2012, most likely) when the two-preseason-game plan will go into effect.
Regarding Leinart, this was a cumulative thing with the coaching staff. It wouldn't have mattered this year if the Cards played 12 preseason games. The combination of dissatisfaction with Leinart and discovering a diamond in the rough (Max Hall) made that decision.
• LEE THINKS TOM BRADY IS OVERRATED. "Peter, I love your column and read it religiously. But it really aggravates me that you continue to rank Tom Brady as one of the most important players to their respective team -- especially when a virtual unknown with zero starting experience can step in and win 11 games with that same Patriots team. And Matt Cassel has shown us that he is nothing special or elite as a QB. Tom Brady is probably the most easily "replaceable" most valuable player to a team. He has proved to be a product of his system, and just one big cog in a very talent-laden offense. I hope you respond to this.''--Lee Goldman, Dix Hills, N.Y.
Fair point, Lee, about Cassel's year. Rankings are always a tricky thing, as are judgments of players on very good teams versus bad teams. When I ranked the 100 best players in football, first of all, I'm not saying they're the most valuable or the most important, necessarily. I'm saying the best. Tom Brady is the quarterback of the best team of the past 10 years, the only active quarterback to have piloted three Super Bowl championship teams, and the holder of one of the significant records in the game -- most touchdown passes (50) in a season.
How much of that is the system? Cassel's strong year would suggest that it would have a lot to do with it. But did the system drive the Patriots downfield against the Rams to the winning field goal when all logic suggested New England should play for overtime nine years ago? Did the system win all of those 14 playoff games over the past decade? Should Otto Graham be considered a great quarterback or a beneficiary of the system because Paul Brown won without him? Joe Montana too? I understand your point, but I've seen Brady play too great too often to think it's only the symphony of the New England offensive scheme that makes him good.
• WE'LL ALL SEE IF THE BRONCOS ARE ON THE RIGHT PATH. "For what its worth, I think it's fair to point out that while Denver 'missed' on Jarvis Green, they offset him with 20 other Josh McDaniels era free agents on the roster. Of those, at least 10 figure to be or have been impact players (Buckhalter, Goodman, Dawkins, Hill, Paxton, J. Williams, Bannan, Gaffney, Fields, Willis). Additionally, while A. Smith was clearly a mistake in hindsight, Denver opens the 2010 season with 13 McD draft choices on the roster. Of those, 10 (Ayers, Moreno, Walton, McBath, Bruton, Cox, Beadles, Decker, Quinn and, knock on wood, D. Thomas) figure to either start or play prominent sub package roles for the team. In most circles, 33 trumps two pretty much every day. Yet in the strange world of Josh McD, batting anything under 100 percent invites a rush to criticism. I don't get it.''--Drew T., Enid, Okla.
Hey, I've been a supporter of McDaniels as well, but this was a very bad weekend for him. You don't sign a player and give him $3 million guaranteed if he never plays a regular season game for you. And to trade a player who last year you gave up a first-round pick to acquire -- for an unaccomplished 2009 seventh-rounder? Those are the kinds of mistakes you just can't make when trying to take a team from the middle of the NFL pack to the top.
• CHARLIE BATCH IS A GOOD MAN. "Not really a question, just a thank you for your column on Charlie Batch. It was uplifting to read about someone who is taking their time and money, investing it in those less fortunate and making a difference. I am an Eagles fan but I'll be pulling for the Steelers and Charlie Batch this year.''--Brian, Levittown, Pa.
Thanks a lot. It's inspiring to talk to people like Batch, who understand how lucky they are to be in the position they're in. One story I forgot to tell: A few years ago, a local high school team won the state basketball championship but the school board didn't have the money to buy the rings. Batch stepped in and gave the school the $3,000 needed for the rings. Just one of the many things he's done, under the radar, that make him different.
• GOOD QUESTION. "Peter, when Brad Childress and the Vikings players went to visit Brett Favre to talk him into coming back, the press took a lot of shots at the Vikings. But it seems OK for Rex Ryan and Woody Johnson to fly to Florida to do the same for Darrelle Revis. Why the difference?''--Adam, Chatham, Ill.
As I see it, three reasons: Childress involved three players who missed a night of meetings at training camp and a day of practice. Childress has gone to Mississippi, by my count, four times in two years to talk Favre into playing. And the Jets did their mission on a players' day off. I see your point, but there are some major differences there.