What, another Warren Sapp rant?
No, my Super Bowl prediction: New England 30, Dallas 20.
No one cares about the preseason. I base nothing on it. I haven't changed my mind about any major thing this summer, except maybe I'm a little more bullish on Carolina and Seattle than I was two months ago. I still think Cleveland will win the AFC North despite looking like Montana State in August. I still think Miami will win seven games. I still think Jacksonville will be the second-best team in the AFC and will finally supplant Indianapolis atop the AFC South.
What I think I think entering the season:
• NFC Championship: "Keep talking about Dallas,'' Justin Tuck of the Giants told me in camp. "We love it.'' OK. Dallas has danger signs all over the place, with a rich quarterback and his richer, more famous girlfriend, and volcanic T.O., and whatever Adam Jones is now. Could they crash and burn? Of course. Any team can. But my feeling is they'll put up enough points to make up for a just-OK pass rush, and Jones will be a top five corner by the end of the season. I like the Vikings a lot, I think, because I view Tarvaris Jackson as more of an asset than liability. NFC title game: Dallas 23, Minnesota 17.
• AFC Championship: Tom Brady's going to be Tom Brady. Don't fret. Randy Moss' numbers won't be as good, quite possibly, but he'll once again be the most dangerous receiver in football. Brady has to get rid of the ball half a tick faster this year because defenses will be throwing the kitchen sink at him the way the Giants did in the Super Bowl. "Don't forget what we did last year,'' Brady told me this summer. "I sure haven't.'' Good advice. I pick the Jags to challenge them most seriously. Quentin Groves and, later in the year, Derrick Harvey, will give the Jags defensive energy they lacked last year. AFC title game: New England 30, Jacksonville 27.
• MVP: 1. QB Tom Brady, New England. 2. QB David Garrard, Jacksonville. 3. DE Jared Allen, Minnesota. The best quarterback for the best team should almost invariably win this award.
• Offensive Player of the Year: 1. RB Adrian Peterson, Minnesota. 2. QB Tom Brady, New England. 3. QB Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle. I had Garrard higher in the MVP voting here by virtue of the Jags surpassing Indianapolis. Hasselbeck will have a 4,300-yard passing season.
• Defensive POY: 1. DE Jared Allen, Minnesota. 2. DE Mario Williams, Houston. 3. OLB Lamar Woodley, Pittsburgh. Allen has never had a defensive support system like the one he inherits in Minnesota. I expect 20 sacks out of him.
• Coach of the Year: 1. Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville. 2. John Fox, Carolina. 3. Tony Sparano, Miami.
• Offensive Rookie of the Year: 1. RB Chris Johnson, Tennessee. 2. OT Ryan Clady, Denver. 3. TE John Carlson, Seattle. But look out for Felix Jones.
• Defensive Rookie of the Year: 1. S Kenny Phillips, New York Giants. 2. Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo. 3. DE Quentin Groves, Jacksonville.
• Comeback Player of the Year: DT Shaun Rogers, Cleveland. His mind is right. He's healthy. He could be this year's Albert Haynesworth.
Now, onto your mail:
• JAY, YOU ARE BRILLIANT. From Jay Demmler, of Pittsburgh: "An interesting fix to the expensive, worthless preseason. Why doesn't the NFL designate one preseason game per team to a nearby site to give fans who can't afford tickets a chance to see a pseudo NFL game. For example, the Steelers could play a game at Happy Valley or the Vikings could play at Nebraska. They could charge, say 10 bucks, and it would be a great marketing and PR move.''
I have been proposing this for years. I think each team should play two preseason games and then a couple of what I would call intrasquad scrimmages, taking the bottom 40 guys on the roster to a neutral site and playing another team's bottom 40. Let's say the Lions and the Browns meet at the University of Toledo one weekend, and then the Lions and Bengals meet at the University of Dayton the next week.
This is something Steve Mariucci always thought would work because you'd be seeing your lesser players in eight quarters of real football, in addition to seeing them in a few quarters of football against the veteran players. This would also give owners the chance to get nine real paydays plus two minimal paydays -- plus minimizing the anger from your local fans who hate paying regular-season prices for meaningless scrimmages.
• GOOD POINT. From Tom Hirliman, of Chesapeake, Va.: "In regards to your Randy Moss statement, what were the Raiders suppose to do? Moss wasn't playing while he was on the field and was a malcontent. This situation reminds of a similar situation in hockey a few years ago. Dominik Hasek held a gun to the Sabres saying either trade me to Detroit or I retire. What is the team suppose to do?''
I wasn't saying the Raiders shouldn't have traded him. I was simply pointing out they got nothing for him.
• GOOD LOGIC. From Justin Ong, of Austin, Texas: "Seems a bit hypocritical for you to give passes to the Red Sox and the Lions for giving up on talented players who had gone stale in their current locations, and in the same article take a jab at the Raiders for dumping Moss.''
• GOOD JAB. From Kay Eauno, of Dallas: "Don't criticize the media for not calling Denver's stadium by its proper and legal name, if you're not going to refer to Cincinnati's WR by his (now) legal and proper name.''
Touché, Kay. I suppose at some point I am going to have to do it. But I will do with gritted teeth. It is so ridiculously preposterous.
• GOOD SUPPORT SYSTEM. From Nathan, of Chicago: "Why'd the Saints choose Indy? Did Peyton Manning pull any strings for his hometown?''
Nah. He had nothing to do with it. Bill Polian and his staff -- including Craig Kelley, the PR maven of the Colts, who is a Louisianan and cares deeply about the future of the Saints -- rolled out the red carpet in a place that was perfect for the Saints. They could stay downtown, be just a couple of blocks from where they'd practice, and they could do it in relative privacy. It was a no-lose situation.
• GOOD OPENING-WEEK FACTOR. From Harsha Pakhal, of Houston: "I am surprised at how little attention the injuries to Colts offensive linemen Jeff Saturday and Ryan Lilja is getting. With two relatively inexperienced linemen starting for these two veterans, not to mention the loss of Saturday's at-the-line-of-scrimmage adjustments, Manning will not have the good protection he usually gets. Add to that the fact that he just recovered from his knee injury. He will be facing four really good defenses in September (Bears, Vikings, Jags and Texans). I have a feeling the Colts would end up going 1-3 or 2-2 in September.''
Careful, Harsha. The Colts have started the last three years a combined 28-0 (7-0 last year, 9-0 in 2006, 12-0 in 2005). I don't think the loss of two offensive linemen, while serious, means the Colts are going to be mediocre in September.
• GOOD POINT TO DISAGREE ON. From Geoff, of Miami: "I don't understand why every reporter fails to address two major stories: First, that the Patriots, who came within two minutes of an undefeated season could follow that by entirely missing the playoffs this year with a mediocre pass rush and maybe the worst cornerbacks in the league. And second, with their success with Randy Moss, why they didn't even try to acquire Adam Jones at relatively a cheap cost?''
You're putting too much emphasis on the preseason. Yes, New England will have trouble in the secondary. But while they will struggle back there, let's not forget the Patriots have the exact same cast back from the offense that scored more points than any other team in NFL history last season. They're capable of winning some 35-27 games if they have to.
Re Pacman: He's a totally different story from Moss. Moss wasn't getting arrested every 10 minutes; he just wasn't playing hard, and it turns out there was a reason for it. I don't know how you could trust Jones to be the player he had the potential to be without an extensive support system like Dallas (Jerry Jones, Deion Sanders, Mike Irvin) has provided for him. Bill Belichick and the Patriots are not going to do that for any player.