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My NFL predictions, plus thoughts on everything from Albert to Zack

Well, the NFL season is about to begin. So we kick off this week's column -- an homage to the great Peter King -- with some NFL predictions I think I think.

AFC EAST

Champ: New England. Unless Tom Brady gets hurt. And If Brady does get hurt ... actually I think Patriots will still win.

Potential surprise team: New York. I like the Jets to have a big year, though I can't really give you any logical reason why.

Potential disaster: Buffalo. A coach who wants to run a Pop Warner offense and a receiving corps led by Terrell Owens. Something about that combination doesn't quite work for me.

AFC NORTH

Champ: Pittsburgh. If a Steelers fan went into a coma in 1975 and woke up in 2009, he would say: "Wow, nothing in the world has changed."

Potential surprise team: Cincinnati. For the first time in, well, forever, they seem to be building a real defense in Cincinnati.

Potential disaster: Cleveland. I guess it depends on which quarterback plays. Or ... actually, it doesn't.

AFC SOUTH

Champ: Tennessee. Chris Johnson might be the most fun player to watch in the NFL. Len Dale White might be the most boring. Forget Thunder & Lightning, THIS should be their nickname: Fun & Boring.

Potential surprise team: Houston. This is, what, the 29th year in a row that the Texans are a trendy surprise-team pick? But it could be the Texans' time.

Potential disaster: Indianapolis. Disaster is too strong a word for a team that has won 12 games or more for six straight season. But... New coach, aging offense... it could be a missed playoff year for the Colts.

AFC WEST

Champ: San Diego. By default.

Potential surprise team: Oakland. It's hard to say this with a straight face, but some team has to win some games in this division. And the Raiders do occasionally show a reasonable defense and they have a high draft picks on offense... or maybe not.

Potential disaster: Denver and Kansas City. And Oakland too. One of the fun things to do when covering the NFL is going to AFC West games and listening to the beat writers in various cities argue about which of their teams is worse.

NFC EAST

Champ: New York. This is the toughest division in pro football. Philadelphia and New York might be two of the five best teams in the NFL. The Giants' powerful running game could make a difference.

Potential surprise team: Washington. The Redskins are always the trendy surprise pick (see: Texans, Houston).

Potential disaster: Dallas. But aren't the Cowboys ALWAYS a potential disaster? Watch for ricocheting punts.

NFC NORTH

Champ: Minnesota. Nobody has any idea how the Brett Favre thing is going to work out, but when you have a potentially dominant defense, a great offensive line and the biggest offensive weapon in the game, you should do OK, right?

Potential surprise team: Green Bay. The Packers will score points, but is that defense going to be good enough? I actually think the Bears will have a good year too -- this has suddenly turned into a good division. Has power shifted from AFC to NFC?

Potential disaster: Do we really need to say it?

NFC SOUTH

Champ: Carolina. Atlanta is a trendier pick, but the Panthers have the power running game and tough defense. They're like the Giants South.

Potential surprise team: New Orleans. People say that Drew Brees won't throw for 5,000 yards again. I disagree. I think he might break Dan Marino's record this year.

Potential disaster: Tampa Bay. Offensive coordinator? Who needs an offensive coordinator?

NFC WEST

Champ: Arizona. Surprise teams one year do tend to fall off the next year, so I would like to pick another team. But there doesn't seem to be another team to pick.

Potential surprise team: San Francisco. Hard to believe that Bill Walsh's creation will try to win with old-style Monsters of the Midway defense and something resembling a Woody Hayes offense. But in this division, it could work.

Potential disaster: St. Louis. The Rams actually seem to be making strides, but they're beat up and the schedule is brutal.

Tweet: Hear people saying that QB Matt Stafford isn't ready to lead Detroit. What, they're going to win FEWER than 0 games?

* * *

The National League Cy Young race is starting to look interesting. On the one hand, you have Tim Lincecum, who leads the league in innings, strikeouts, complete games and shutouts. He's 13-5 with a 2.34 ERA and the league hits .207 against him.

On the other, you have Chris Carpenter, who leads the league in ERA and winning percentage and has won his last 11 decisions. He is 16-3 with a 2.16 ERA and the league hits .219 against him and his WHIP (walks plus hits per inning) is even better than Lincecum's (.097 to 1.02).

So where do you go? Carpenter has battled some injuries, which means Lincecum has thrown about 35 more innings, and that's a pretty big difference (though Lincecum is now battling back issues). Carpenter has more victories and fewer losses -- and while I think pitcher wins and losses are about the most overrated statistic in baseball (the Cardinals' offense is much better than San Francisco's), it will sway voters. Carpenter's amazing story -- the guy didn't win a single game in either 2007 or 2008 because of injuries -- will sway more voters.

I think it's so close that they both deserve the award. I tend to think Lincecum is the best pitcher in the league by the slightest of margins. But I think Carpenter will win the Cy Young.

* * *

Tweet: A baseball question: Why do some baseball people desperately want their pitchers to avoid walks while not caring if their hitters draw them?

* * *

Speaking of baseball awards, Albert Pujols is pretty clearly the best player in the National League. But is there an MVP case to be made for, say, Florida's Hanley Ramirez or Philadelphia's Chase Utley?

Ramirez will win the NL batting title (he's hitting .359), he hits with power (21 homers, .571 slugging percentage), he can run (24 stolen bases) and he plays shortstop, the most important and difficult defensive position other than catcher. There is some debate about how well he plays shortstop -- a lot of that carried over from 2007, when he was terrible there. Most scouts I've talked to and most advanced defensive stats suggest that he has become an average and maybe even an above-average shortstop. He's a great player.

More or less everyone agrees that Utley is a terrific defender at second base. He gets on base any way he can (.414 on-base percentage, thanks in no small part to a league-leading 20 hit-by-pitches), hits with power (29 homers) and he has stolen 17 bases without getting caught. He would not be a bad guy to start a team with.

That said... I don't think anyone is close to Pujols. I do wonder if at some point he becomes so good that people start to look for a reason to give someone else the award the way they did back in Michael Jordan's heyday. You know that Jordan won the MVP five times from 1987-88 through 1997-98. But he probably should have won it every year he played... surely he was the most valuable player every year. At some point, though, it was nice to give awards to great players like Charles Barkley and Karl Malone. And so you would think that at some point Utley or Ramirez will get their due.

* * *

Wouldn't it be great if the Top 25 in college football only reflected what happens on the field? No preseason polls. Everyone starts exactly even.

After Week 1, the Top 11 might look something like this:

1. BYU2. Alabama3. Oklahoma State4. Cincinnati5. Boise State6. USC7. Florida8. Texas9. Miami10. Missouri11. California

Wouldn't that be fun? Just turn it all upside down every week based on the season's performance rather than by using all these preseason expectations. That would keep Ohio State from being ranked eighth in the country after getting scared at home by Navy.

* * *

Tweet: If you want 25 seconds of joy in your day, watch this defensive play from the Cubs' Andres Blanco.

* * *

I'm a huge fan of my colleague Peter King, of course. But when I saw that he picked the Kansas City Chiefs to go 8-8, I was wondering if maybe a virus had hijacked his computer. The Chiefs went 2-14 last year, traded away (by far) their best offensive weapon (Tony Gonzalez), paid a lot of money for a quarterback who before last year had not started since high school, had what pretty much everyone called an uninspiring draft and then signed an all-star team from 2002 (WR Bobby Engram, LB Mike Vrabel -- they have since released WR Amani Toomer and LB Zach Thomas). Their offensive line is in shambles. They fired their offensive coordinator during the last week of training camp.

That's not to say they can't go 8-8. This is the NFL, and crazy stuff happens. What I'm saying is that if the Chiefs get within three games of 8-8, I'm buying Peter a nice watch or an espresso maker or something because that would be one heck of a pick.

Got stuck playing in a fantasy football league, and here was something strange: One of my friends in the league couldn't make it for the draft. So the computer actually picked his team. And here was the thing: The computer was a MUCH better drafter than my buddy. No joke, the computer was picking good players my buddy had never heard of as early as the third round. Now my friend may win the league with a computer-picked team.

So is this the future of fantasy sports? You just sit around with buddies eating Doritos on draft day while 10 computers pick the teams? We have become so lazy as a society.

* * *

Look, I'm all for an NFL coach doing whatever he has to do to get through the week. It's a hard job. Football is a complicated game. There are million things that can go wrong at any time. There are land mines around every corner.

That said, I have absolutely no idea how it's going to help Cleveland Browns' coach Eric Mangini to keep his starting quarterback a secret. This seems to be the sort of thing that coaches do when they have run out of ideas... a bad sign for Mangini since this is his first game with the Browns. Does he really think that Minnesota defensive coaches are locked in their offices panicked because they don't know whether Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson will start?

It seems a lot more likely that they are telling Jared Allen: "Whoever happens to be the guy with the football, yeah, sack that guy."

* * *

Tweet: They still play Hells Bells for Trevor Hoffman, which is cool in that nostalgic "Let's go see REO Speedwagon at the state fair" way.

* * *

I never understand stories like these: Apparently Melanie Oudin, the surprise of this year's U.S. Open, was evicted from her Times Square hotel because her reservation had run out. She, of course, had not expected to make it this far in the tournament, which is why she had not scheduled a longer stay.

Here's my question: Is there REALLY a hotel executive stupid enough to throw out the darling of the U.S. Open because her reservation ran out? There are really people out there that tone deaf? I guess there are, but it just seems stunning to me.

* * *

Tweet from New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro: "Gosh it would be terrible if teams started running up the score on the undermanned Sooners now, wouldn't it?"

* * *

Peter King had five thoughts on the trade of Richard Seymour from New England to Oakland for a first-round pick. I only have two:

1. I don't want to say Bill Belichick is unsentimental, but I suspect he was giggling at the end of Brian's Song.

2. Do you think teams around the NFL will call Oakland owner Al Davis and offer to trade him John Riggins and Too Tall Jones and Paul Warfield?

* * *

Tweet: Why is it that big league managers never do that crazy three-infielders-to-one-side shift for right-handed hitters?

* * *

Was talking with ESPN's Keith Law, who saw Pedro Martinez's start the other day and came away impressed. It seems that Pedro, for the first time, seems to have accepted that he can no longer be the ridiculously overpowering Pedro Martinez of 1997-2003. There has never been a pitcher in baseball history -- not Walter Johnson, not Lefty Grove, not Sandy Koufax, not Tom Seaver, not Roger Clemens -- who was more overwhelming than the young Pedro. It was hard for him to let go of that, and who can blame him?

Thing is, now that Martinez seems to have accepted that he can't ever again be THAT dominant pitcher -- he will never just be able to overpower hitters -- I think he could enter another phase of his career and be a very good big league pitcher for a few more years. He always had one of the best changeups in baseball. He can still jump his fastball into the 90s a couple times a game. And now he's attacking hitters from all kinds of different arm angles like a mini El Duque. Top that off with Martinez's natural pitching brilliance -- nobody knows more about getting hitters out -- and you still have a guy who can do some great things on the mound.

* * *

Tweet: Milwaukee used eight pitchers against the Cards on Tuesday. Was manager Ken Macha practicing for managing a future All-Star Game?

* * *

I'm going to give you an amazing statistic about Kansas City Royals pitcher Zack Greinke. He is, unquestionably, the best pitcher in the American League. He leads the league in ERA, complete games, WHIP and home runs per nine innings. He is second in strikeouts, and fifth in walks per game.

No, I haven't given you the amazing statistic yet.

He leads the league in shutouts. He has made 20 starts where he allowed two runs or less, most in the American League. He has made 24 starts where he allowed three runs or less, most in the American League. He has only had two starts all year where he has given up five runs in a game.

No, haven't given you the stat. Not yet.

Greinke's first 10 starts, he had an 0.84 ERA. His last five starts, he has a 1.38 ERA. Greinke himself has a higher slugging percentage (.333) than the right-handed batters who have faced him this year (.318).

And no, that's not the stat either. Here's the stat that will blow your mind.

The Kansas City Royals have a losing record in games that Zack Greinke has started this season.

* * *

Tweet: I don't care what anyone says, I predict that Derek Jeter will break Lou Gehrig's New York Yankees hit record.

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