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NFL Guru

November 1, 2009 2:42 PM

Divisional Match Ups Abound

The combination of Halloween in hte Big Apple and the end of Daylight's Savings Time got me all messed up last night and this morning so this truly a last-minute posting. With that being said, and having gone 10-3 again last week (56-28 overall so far) I am just going to make my picks without any comments this time:

Houston at Buffalo

Texans 28, Bills 13

Cleveland at Chicago

Bears 31, Browns 17

Seattle at Dallas

Cowboys 27, Seahawks 10

St. Louis at Detroit

Lions 23, Rams 16

Denver at Baltimore

Ravens 24, Broncos 21

San Francisco at Indianapolis

Colts 28, 49ers 21

Miami at New York Jets

No prediction due to my affiliation with the team

New York Giants at Philadelphia

Eagles 17, Giants 14

Jacksonville at Tennessee

Jaguars 19, Titans 17

Oakland at San Diego

Chargers 34, Raiders 20

Carolina at Arizona

Cardinals 28, Panthers 6

Minnesota at Green Bay

Packers 24, Vikings 23

Atlanta at New Orleans

Falcons 38, Saints 35

Until next time, stay thirsty my friends

AK

October 25, 2009 3:33 AM

Separation Anxiety

Here we are in Week 7 and it is becoming more and more clear which teams are legitimate Super Bowl contenders and which ones are out and out pretenders.

So, let's see who is going to make a statement this time around and who's going to take a step backwards in the wrong direction, with a quick reminder that the Guru is now 46-25 after going 9-5 last week:

Green Bay at Cleveland -- This one should be an easy one to pick as the Browns can't seem to get out of their own way. So why do I get a strange feeling that we could be looking at a repeat of last week's Eagles-Raiders upset? Nah. Aaron Rogers is coming into his own and with Ahman Green back in a Packers jersey to give Ryan Grant some help, Green Bay will keep pace in the NFC playoff race, although it will be closer than it should be.

Packers 23, Browns 21

San Diego at Kansas City -- The Chargers' shot at the division took a major hit with last week's loss to the unbeaten Broncos, but there is no way they're going to slip up against the Chiefs, as long as Norv Turner doesn't have another brain cramp and pull LT on a third-and-goal situation.

Chargers 41, Chiefs 14

Indianapolis at St. Louis -- There is no stopping Peyton Manning right now, especially a Rams team that should have pulled out its first win at Jacksonville last Sunday. The Colts are aching for a return trip to the Super Bowl, especially since it's in the same stadium where they won it all three years ago and this won't even be a speed bump in the road.

Colts 35, Rams 6

Minnesota at Pittsburgh -- The Vikings are going to be involved in one of the games of the week until they finally lose -- which could very well be today. No. 4 has to be running out of magic tricks at the end of the game, and Heinz Field is one of the toughest places to win in the NFL. Pittsburgh is a proud team looking to remind everybody that the title of defending Super Bowl champs still belongs to the Steel City.

Steelers 27, Vikings 24

New England at Tampa Bay -- Okay, so London, England is nowhere near Tampa Bay, and it is kind of funny that the Patriots are named after the band of revolutionaries that defeated the Brits in the American Revolution. Bottom line after watching Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker and New England's defense absolutely destroy Tennessee last week in the snow is that the Bucs are playing worst than the Titans. Not really the type of game you want to showcase across the pond.

Patriots 42, Bucs 10

San Francisco at Houston -- The Niners are coming off a much-needed bye as running back Frank Gore had time to heal and he is ready to bust out again like he did earlier in the season when he broke the 200-yard barrier. Meanwhile, the Texans are hard to figure out as they knocked off an excellent Cincinnati team last week but lost to the Jaguars two weeks earlier. Andre Johnson is the best receiver in the game right now and could be the difference in this one.

Texans 28, 49ers 21

Buffalo at Carolina -- Jake Delhomme got lucky that his pick six against the Bucs didn't cost Carolina another loss. The Bills were spiraling downward before they somehow managed to shock the Jets in overtime, but Dick Jauron is on very thin ice and with Trent Edwards out with a concussion, his job will very much be in jeopardy after this game.

Panthers 17, Bills 14

New York Jets at Oakland -- And now we have come across one of those other hard-to-figure out games as the Raiders looked like anything but the Keystone Cops last week against the Eagles while the Jets have dropped three straight. I've got a feeling Mark Sanchez will make believers out of Jets fans again with lots of help from Braylon Edwards and Thomas Jones.

Jets 30, Raiders 14

Atlanta at Dallas -- If the Cowboys want anyone to take them seriously again this season they need to win this one at home against a top-flight team like Atlanta. Miles Austin more than earned his starting spot with his 250-yard effort two weeks ago against Kansas City, but the Falcons can't afford to pick up their second loss a week before meeting the New Orleans Saints in a showdown for superiority in the NFC South. Jerry Jones will be frowning again at the end of this game.

Falcons 24, Cowboys 20

Chicago at Cincinnati -- You don't think Bengals running back Cedric Benson won't be jacked up for his chance at revenge against his former employer? Add to it the fact that Cincinnati is trying to rid itself of the stink of last week's loss to Houston and this has big win written all over it. for the Bengals.

Bengals 21, Bears 10

New Orleans at Miami -- As much as I'd love to make this my upset special of the week, I have to go back to my policy of not picking Miami's games because of my affiliation with the team. But this one should be intriguing as the Dolphins' smash mouth, run-it-down-your-throat style of offense meets the Saints' high-scoring offense.

Saints at Dolphins -- No prediction

Arizona at New York Giants -- Eli Manning began his career as Kurt Warner's backup with the Giants and now student goes up against teacher in this pivotal game for both teams. New York was humiliated in New Orleans and Arizona can't afford to fall any further behind San Francisco in the NFC West. Home field is the difference for the Giants.

Giants 34, Cardinals 28

Philadelphia at Washington -- One team is coming off of an inexplicable loss to an inferior team and the other just saw its head coach stripped of his ability to call plays in favor of a guy who was calling bingo two weeks ago. It was only a matter of time before ESPN and Monday Night Football got saddled with a stinker and this one is it. But Donovan McNabb will prevail with relative ease and make life in D.C. even stranger than it already is.

Eagles 27, Redskins 6

Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

AK

October 16, 2009 4:10 AM

Much More Compelling Games In Week 6

With the Dolphins on their bye week, the Guru gets to pick every game for the second straight week as I made an exception last week due to the gravity of that Monday Night game between the Jets and Dolphins.

[Quick interlude: Talk about an instant classic! Five lead changes in the fourth quarter? Three touchdowns in that quarter by Miami matching the total given up by the Jets defense in the previous four games? A 130.4 passer rating for second-year Dolphins QB Chad Henne in just his second NFL start? The Wildcat waltzing up and down the field on a Rex Ryan defense? All I can say is it was one of those memorable games those of us in the media will be talking about for years to come.]

Now back to your regularly scheduled program:

Okay, I was WAY off on the Falcons-Niners and Jags-Seahawks games last week, but still managed to finish 9-5 on the week. That makes my overall record 37-20, again having not made any picks in Week 1 because that was my season preview.

Let's get to it, starting with the marquee match up between two of the remaining unbeaten teams in the league:

New York Giants at New Orleans Saints -- These are clearly two of the elite teams in the NFL this year and the story lines are scrumptious. Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey gets to take on the team that drafted him and then dumped him. Drew Brees and Eli Manning wrestle for the mantle of the second best quarterback in the league behind Eli's older brother, Peyton. In the end, this Saints team will make a loud statement with a character building win similar to the ones the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals had last week.

Saints 24, Giants 21

Baltimore at Minnesota -- Like the Saints above, the Vikings will use the indoor home field to their advantage and hand the Ravens their third straight defeat. Jared Allen is playing at a different level than any other defensive lineman in the league right now and will get to Joe Flacco the same way he got to Aaron Rogers two weeks ago. Adrian Peterson has been held under 100 yards in back-to-back games, and after watching Cedric Benson last week break that three-year streak by Baltimore's defense of not allowing a 100-yard rusher, AP is primed to make it two in a row.

Vikings 30, Ravens 20

Chicago at Atlanta -- No, I did not plan on breaking down three indoor football games in a row to start this round, it just so happens that these are the best three games of the week. As a matter of fact, New Orleans, Minnesota and Atlanta are a combined 13-1 on the season. Yes, the Bears were starting to show something before their bye by knocking off the Steelers, but Jay cutler is still too combustible and Matt Ryan has too many weapons at his disposal. I don't know why I picked against the Falcons last week but I will not make the same mistake twice.

Falcons 34, Bears 21

Denver at San Diego -- Whenever these two teams meet something memorable always happens, and ESPN and the Monday Night Football or praying their run of quality games continues. Denver has rallied around its rookie head coach, Josh McDaniels, while Chargers QB Philip Rivers has usurped LaDainian Tomlinson as the leader of that offense. I sense the Broncos falling from the ranks of the unbeaten this week in a key division battle.

Chargers 28, Broncos 24

Arizona at Seattle -- This is a must-win for both teams as they try to keep pace with San Francisco in the NFC West. Matt Hasselback's return inspired the Seahawks in a 41-0 rout of Jacksonville while the Cardinals narrowly escaped home with a win over Houston. Seattle wants to reclaim its spot on top of the division and Arizona wants to remind everyone it was in the Super Bowl and had a lead in the final minute on Pittsburgh. Cardinals pull out a victory.

Cardinals 27, Seahawks 14

Houston at Cincinnati -- The Texans own the edge at wide receiver with that beast named Andre Johnson but the Bengals have the edge at quarterback (Carson Palmer), running back (Cedric Benson) and defense and are no pretenders this year, especially at home.

Bengals 31, Texans 20

Detroit at Green Bay -- The Lions put a scare into the Steelers last week behind Daunte Culpepper, and with Matthew Stafford likely to miss another start it will be interesting to see if Culpepper can rekindle some of the magic from his Minnesota days against the Packers. I think not, although it will be close until the final minutes.

Packers 23, Lions 17

Cleveland at Pittsburgh -- There is no way Roethlisberger and company put the Heinz Field faithful through another blood pressure test like they did two weeks ago against San Diego, especially with the Browns still in disarray and Troy Polamalu expected back.

Steelers 35, Browns 7

Carolina at Tampa Bay -- This used to be the battle for division supremacy in the NFC South, but the Falcons and Saints are the cream of the crop now in that race. As bad as the Bucs have looked this year, I have to think Jon Gruden is getting a bit of a chuckle right about now, and the Bucs will not be laughing after this game either.

Panthers 21, Bucs 17

Kansas City at Washington -- Jim Zorn has now drawn the wrath of one of the most popular Redskins of all time, John Riggins, and even though reports out of D.C. are that the players are rallying around him, a loss to the Chiefs could seal his fate. Todd Haley has some rope being a rookie head coach and knows his troops had that Dallas game in their grasp. They won't let it slip away this time and will cause a shakeup on the Redskins' coaching staff in the process.

Chiefs 19, Redskins 9

St. Louis at Jacksonville -- Whatever happened to The Greatest Show On Turf? The Jaguars will quickly rid themselves of the stink from last week's shellacking out in Seattle and crush the Rams at home.

Jaguars 38, Rams 3

Philadelphia at Oakland -- Eagles head coach Andy Reid somehow managed to keep a straight face during one of his press conferences this week when he said the Raiders are just an inch away from making something happen. If he meant they are an inch away from sinking to the bottom of the sea, then he might be on to something. The only thing venturing into the Black Hole on this day will be Oakland's pride.

Eagles 42, Raiders 7

Tennessee at New England -- I cannot figure out how the Titans can go from king of the AFC last year to winless despite having one of the league's leading rushers in Chris Johnson . Having to travel to New England to face an angry Patriots team looking to make amends for last week's overtime loss at Denver is not the ideal scenario for Jeff Fisher to try and right this ship. Junior Seau gets a win on Senior Citizen Day.

Patriots 24, Titans 14

Buffalo at New York Jets -- Dick Jauron still has a job after that debacle at home against Cleveland last week? I doubt he will still be employed on Monday after Rex Ryan's Jets take out their frustrations from that Monday Night collapse on Trent Edwards and Buffalo. T.O. will be demanding a trade and Toronto will start backing off its pursuit of the Bills.

Jets 28, Bills 10

Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

AK

October 11, 2009 1:45 PM

Quick Strike Offense

The Guru is going to try something different today, and the main reason is because we are less than three hours away from kickoff of the 1 p.m. games. So this is my version of the no-huddle offense, and I'm even going to break protocol this one time when it comes to the Dolphins.

Without any further delay, let's get the ball rolling:

Cleveland at Buffalo -- Ugh. Two teams headed in the same direction -- DOWN. Playing at home gives the Bills the edge in this never-to-be-seen-in-prime time match up.

Bills 16, Browns 13

Dallas at Kansas City -- Back-to-back losses to two AFC West non-juggernauts? Not in the cards for the Cowboys. Romo will snap out of it and DeMarcus Ware will make Matt Cassel wish he never left New England.

Cowboys 31, Chiefs 7

Minnesota at St. Louis -- Trap game? I think not. This one could get REAL ugly.

Vikings 45, Rams 14

Oakland at New York Giants -- The only thing preventing this game from being the clunker of the week is the fact that the Vikings get to play the Rams. Tom Coughlin would be wise to rest Eli Manning once the lead is comfortable enough and insert David Carr.

Giants 34, Raiders 10

Tampa Bay at Philadelphia -- Hmmm. I'm seeing a trend here in these Week 5 match ups so far. McNabb picked the perfect game to make his return and the Bucs will need a M*A*S*H unit to take care of them on their way out of Philly.

Eagles 38, Bucs 6

Pittsburgh at Detroit -- When is this going to stop? Sure the Lions had nowhere to go but up after going 0-16 last year and Matthew Stafford is embracing the role of savior. But the defending champs are angry after their 1-2 start and near epic collapse against the Chargers last week and will take out their frustrations on Detroit.

Steelers 28, Lions 7

Washington at Carolina -- Another battle between two struggling franchises this year. The Panthers have the more talented team and still have a nice home field advantage, and I have to believe Jake Delhomme has gotten the interception bug out of his system.

Panthers 24, Redskins 20

Cincinnati at Baltimore -- Okay. The Bengals are a lot better than we thought they were when the season began, but the Ravens have had their number and are still hurting from how close they came to remaining unbeaten last week at New England. Cincy won't roll over, but Baltimore is still the king of the AFC North right now.

Ravens 30, Bengals 24

Atlanta at San Francisco -- This could be one of the more compelling games today as the Niners definitely are for real and the Falcons are coming off a bye eager to erase the memory of their poor performance against the Patriots. If Frank Gore is indeed 100 percent then San Francisco will emerge from this game with a 4-1 record.

49ers 23, Falcons 21

Jacksonville at Seattle -- The Jaguars are always going to be dangerous as long as they have Maurice Jones-Drew and even though they are traveling across the country they should be able to handle the moribund Seahawks.

Jaguars 17, Seahwawks 9

Houston at Arizona -- Both of those teams are searching for an identity as the Cardinals find themselves looking up at the Niners in the NFC West and the Texans were hoping this would be the year they'd reach the playoffs. Kurt Warner's experience and weapons at wide receiver will win out in this one.

Cardinals 28, Texans 21

New England at Denver -- I'm as shocked as everybody else out there to see the Broncos at 4-0 and thoroughly expected them to wake up and lose to the Cowboys last week, but Tom Brady isn't Tony Romo, which is a good thing for New England. The Patriots are going to miss Fred Taylor but will still have enough to pull out a victory.

Patriots 24, Broncos 13

Indianapolis at Tennessee -- Before the season this game was looked at as the one that would decide the winner of the AFC South. Nobody saw this being the 4-0 Colts facing the 0-4 Titans, and as badly as Tennessee needs this one, Peyton Manning is clearly on a mission right now. This game officially slams the door on the Titans.

Colts 31, Titans 14

New York Jets at Miami -- Usually I refrain from making a pick on any game involving the Dolphins because of my affiliation with the team as their Internet writer, but seeing as this is without a doubt the biggest game of the year for them, I feel compelled to weigh in. Miami leads the league in rushing with an average of 183.5 yards per game and is second on defense against the run allowing only 61.3 yards per game. The Dolphins also found a pass rush and an opportunistic secondary last week against Buffalo and if Joey Porter plays -- it'll take a team of wild horses to prevent him from taking the field -- Jets QB Mark Sanchez is in for a long night. Miami prevails in a close, physical Monday Night classic.

Dolphins 20, Jets 17

Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

AK

October 8, 2009 1:55 AM

Sensory Overload

What an incredibly busy two weeks these have been, with cross-country flights, short weeks coming off and leading up to Monday Night Football games and a season-ending injury to the 2008 runner-up for NFL MVP.

So with that being said, this mid-week post will be a lot shorter than my usual posts, and I will start out by sharing the results of my Week 4 picks. I went 10-3 on the week, missing the Denver upset of Dallas, the Jacksonville win over Tennessee and the Patriots holding off the Ravens at home. For the season the NFL Guru is 28-15 for winning percentage of .651, and that is without any picks in Week 1 as I simply previewed each team, division and conference.

Now for a few more quick observations and comments:

* -- The Jets are not making any secret about their desire for 2009 to be the year they make a serious run at a championship, first by trading up to the No. 5 pick in April's NFL Draft to take USC quarterback Mark Sanchez and then today by completing the trade for Cleveland Browns troubled wide receiver Braylon Edwards. Did they mortgage the future for one big shot? Only time will tell, beginning Monday night in Miami.

* -- Completing of 24-of-31 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns is cause for ol' No. 4 to get his name mentioned in this space one time. As annoying as his 'will-I-or-won't-I-retire?' saga was the last two years, Brett Favre still has a very live arm. And his enthusiasm on the field is contagious. He is on the right track with Adrian Peterson to hand the ball to and a great pass rush from his defense to drive opposing QBs nuts.

* -- Here's a little more proof to back up my contention that it is unwise to make too much out of a team's schedule before the season. The Dolphins are still in the midst of what many considered to be their roughest stretch, having opened up against pass-happy offenses in Atlanta, Indianapolis and San Diego. But now all of a sudden their late season games with Carolina, Buffalo and Tennessee don't look all that daunting.

* -- Finally, of the five remaining undefeated teams -- New York Giants, New Orleans, Minnesota, Indianapolis and Denver -- the Giants and the Colts to me are clearly playing at a higher level than the rest of the league. Peyton Manning is on pace to tie Favre for the most NFL MVPs at three while the Giants are looking like the team that won the Super Bowl two years ago. Eli Manning's health is a concern, but if he is okay I see a possible showdown with Favre and the Vikings in the NFC Championship.

Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

AK

October 4, 2009 3:33 AM

Nearing The End Of The First Quarter

So much can be learned about your NFL team by the end of Week 4 because that means there are only three quarters of the season remaining.



When I was a beat writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the early part of the Jon Gruden Era, I can remember Coach Gruden using that quarters analogy quite often in order to keep his team on an even plane. Even if they were winless at the end of the first month, he would say something like, "The first quarter is behind us. If we can turn things around in the second quarter then there's still the second half of the season left for us to salvage something."



Back in 2004, the Bucs lost their first four games but bounced back to win five of their next eight in the second and third quarters. They sat at 5-7 with four games remaining and still were alive for a playoff berth, but in that all-important fourth quarter they went 0-4 to finish 5-11.



In the last two years we saw the opposite thing happen to the Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions. Last year Denver started out 3-1 only to go 5-7 the rest of the way and miss out on the playoffs on the last day of the season. The Lions were 6-2 at the midway point of the 2007 season but somehow managed to win only one of their final eight games to finish 7-9 and begin a disastrous run that saw them go 1-25 before knocking off Washington last week.



Now that I have taken way too long to get into my breakdown of this week's games around the league, let me get to my point -- and also toot my own horn for going 10-5 last week to find myself sitting at 18-12 overall (I did not make any picks in Week 1):



TODAY IS CRITICAL FOR AT LEAST HALF OF THE NFL'S 32 TEAMS.



Detroit at Chicago -- No. 1 overall draft pick Matthew Stafford would like nothing more than to drop the Bears to .500 on the season and further behind the Vikings and Packers in the NFC North while at the same giving Detroit its first winning streak of any kind since their three-game streak from Oct. 21-Nov. 4, 2007. But Chicago gained lots of confidence from its upset of the Steelers two weeks ago and is an incredible last-second TD pass from Minnesota's No. 4 to Greg Lewis against San Francisco away from being tied for first in the division. The field conditions at Soldier Field already have Lions kicker Chris Hanson concerned, but this one will not come down to the kickers.



Bears 21, Lions 10



Cincinnati at Cleveland -- The Bengals are for real and one blown coverage away from being tied with the Baltimore Ravens at 3-0 on top of the AFC North. Cincinnati's two wins are over a strong Green Bay Packers team and the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Meanwhile, the Browns are in complete disarray as Brady Quinn has been benched in favor of Derek Anderson in an attempt to provide a spark to the division cellar dwellers. Look for the Bengals behind Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco to keep the heat on Baltimore with an important win by the lake.



Bengals 27, Browns 7



Seattle at Indianapolis -- Peyton Manning is -- well -- Peyton Manning and has found his groove again (as if he ever really lost it). The loss of Dwight Freeney for a few weeks on defense might hurt the Colts down the road, but not today against a Seattle team lucky to be 1-2.



Colts 38, Seahawks 17



New York Giants at Kansas City -- The Chiefs were trounced by another NFC East power last week, the Philadelphia Eagles, and could be in for a more thorough drubbing this afternoon. If the notoriously loud crowd at Arrowhead Stadium can stay in the game then maybe the Chiefs can muster a little energy to hang with the Giants. But Matt Cassel is quickly finding out he's not in Kansas ... err ... Foxborough anymore.



Giants 35, Chiefs 3



Baltimore at New England -- Ah, finally we get to the marquee match up of the week, with all due respect to the battle of the unbeatens taking place in New Orleans between the Saints and the Jets. The Patriots regained some of their swagger by handing the Falcons their first loss in humiliating fashion last week in Atlanta behind the hard running of Fred Taylor, but Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense are loving the fact that they have a potent offense to compliment them. This one should come down to the wire, with Baltimore's Joe Flacco doing his best Tom Brady impression on Brady's home field and pulling out the win late in the fourth quarter.



Ravens 21, Patriots 17



Tampa Bay at Washington -- Oh how the mighty have fallen. Well, maybe they haven't been mighty in a while but the Buccaneers could very well be the worst team in the NFL, going scoreless in a loss to the Giants last week -- at home nonetheless. Washington suffered the cruel fate of being Detroit's first victim and head coach Jim Zorn's job is in serious jeopardy. If he can't pull out a win today at FedEx Field against hapless Tampa Bay he better start updating his resume fast.



Redskins 17, Bucs 9



Tennessee at Jacksonville -- Remember that whole quarters analogy I beat you over the head with at the top of this blog? Well, the Titans are in more of a must-win situation than any other team this week with the Colts almost guaranteed to stay unbeaten at 4-0. Jacksonville showed it isn't about to lie down for anybody by knocking off Houston last week behind three rushing touchdowns from Maurice Jones-Drew and always plays Tennessee tough at home. But Jeff Fisher will have his players ready to play today and they will reward him with the first win of the season, a division one to boot in the NFC South.



Titans 20, Jaguars 14



Oakland at Houston -- The best thing for the Raiders is for this season to continue to go into the crapper so that owner Al Davis finally realizes the game has passed him by and he needs to bring in somebody more capable of putting together a competitive roster. Houston needs a win to save Gary Kubiak's job and will get one today to reach the .500 mark.



Texans 30, Raiders 13



New York Jets at New Orleans Saints -- Could this be the week Jets QB Mark Sanchez comes back down to Earth? Not if Rex Ryan's defense keeps playing like the monster he built in Baltimore before taking over as New York's head coach. That defense will get perhaps its stiffest test of the season facing Drew Brees and the high-scoring Saints offense, and Brees rarely puts together back-to-back mediocre games (he was 16-of-29 for just 172 yards and no TDs in last week's 27-7 win at Buffalo). One team will be 4-0 when the final gun sounds and the other will be 3-1, but both will still be in the driver's seat in their respective divisions. Brees and the Saints will give the Superdome crowd something to cheer about in the end of a thriller.



Saints 31, Jets 28



*Buffalo at Miami -- Chad Henne gets his first NFL start a little bit sooner than the Dolphins would have liked after 10-year veteran QB Chad Pennington was lost for the season to a shoulder injury. Fortunately, Henne has the league's third-ranked rushing attack behind him and won't be asked to sling Miami to victory, and he is facing a decimated Bills secondary. But Buffalo gets running back Marshawn Lynch back and he and Fred Jackson can try to match Miami's Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams on the ground. The Dolphins desperately want to avoid falling to 0-4 and 0-1 in the AFC East, while the Bills want to keep pace with the Pats and Jets. Plenty of fun story lines to follow in this one.



*Bills vs. Dolphins (No prediction because of my affiliation with the Miami Dolphins organization)



St. Louis at San Francisco -- The Niners let one slip away last week against Minnesota and good ol' No. 4 or else they could be among the unbeatens. San Francisco is looking to stretch its lead in the NFC West and the Rams should be the perfect opponent for head coach Mike Singletary to watch his team get back in the win column. Running back Frank Gore is out but that won't make a difference for a struggling St. Louis team.



49ers 26, Rams 7



Dallas at Denver -- Kyle Orton and the Broncos have reached 3-0 with a fair share of lucky bounces and what at times looks like smoke and mirrors, while Dallas cannot afford to fall further behind the Giants in the NFC East. If Marion Barber can play that will make Tony Romo's play-action more effective and he will be able to hit tight end Jason Witten and his dangerous receivers for a number of big plays. The Cowboys will be the ones feeling Mile High after this game is over.



Cowboys 29, Broncos 21



San Diego at Pittsburgh -- Yes, the Steelers can go back into their own archives to find proof that they can recover from a slow start and still be right there come January. That's how they won Super Bowl XL. But the Ravens weren't as good as they are now and neither were the Bengals. San Diego has the deepest receiving corps in the league, and LaDainian Tomlinson can get healthy fast against the NFL's worst run defense. Pittsburgh pride will be the difference in this one as the 12th man at Heinz Field will help pull the Steelers through.



Steelers 27, Chargers 20



Green Bay at Minnesota -- The long-awaited showdown between the team No. 4 spent his first 16 seasons with and his current team has arrived on the grand stage of Monday Night Football, and no matter how he tries to downplay it as just another game, nobody believes him. Of course his track record when it comes to being truthful speaks for itself, but somehow he has managed to win over his Vikings teammates. Zipping a 32-yard TD pass with two seconds left on a rope while absorbing a hit can do wonders for gaining trust, but this is still Adrian Peterson's team and he will deliver as usual.



Vikings 28, Packers 24



Until next time -- stay thirsty my friends.



AK

September 26, 2009 7:12 PM

Never Too Early For Must-Wins

Here we are in Week 3 of the NFL season and already there are a handful of teams in precarious situations. Some of them were expected to be where they are while others are not at all where they wanted to be.

And while the tired cliche "Every game is a must-win," has been repeated around the league, it actually holds true in more than one case -- including the game I will be at tomorrow out here in beautiful San Diego between the Chargers and the Miami Dolphins.

So let's go down the list, shall we? Last week was the first time I have tried my hand at picking games and I have to say going 8-7 was a pleasant surprise. Remember, because of my affiliation with the Dolphins I cannot weigh in with a prediction on their game.

Tennessee at New York Jets -- The Titans most certainly did not expect to find themselves at 0-2 heading into the Meadowlands, even though they opened with the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. With the Colts at 2-0 and their disappointing loss to the Houston Texans last week, a division loss at that, puts the Titans in a must-win situation today. If Chris Johnson can continue run with authority and Tennessee's defense can get to Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez more than New England did last week, Jeff Fisher will avoid dropping to 0-3. New York's defense is the real deal and Sanchez is getting that Matt Ryan/Joe Flacco swagger going, but here's where all those years of head coaching experience for Fisher will pay off against a rookie head coach in Rex Ryan.

Titans 20, Jets 14

Carolina at Dallas -- It could be argued that this is a must-win for both teams as the Cowboys can't afford to lose their perceived home field advantage at the mammoth new $1.1 billion Cowboys Stadium and deal with the wrath of owner Jerry Jones. They also can't afford to fall further behind the NFC East-leading New York Giants. Meanwhile, if Carolina wants to challenge the Atlanta Falcons and defend its NFC South crown, quarterback Jake Delhomme has to get over the yips and climb out of this turnover funk he's in. The running back tandem of Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart has yet to really get untracked and Dallas did a decent job against the Giants' two big backs last Sunday. Marion Barber;s health and availability will be a key to how effective Tony Romo can be, but I just don't see Dallas dropping another one at home.

Cowboys 28, Panthers 17

Atlanta at New England -- Tom Brady and company know they could easily be 0-2 right now and way behind the 8-ball in the AFC East, and after getting victimized by a confident rookie quarterback in Mark Sanchez last week things only get tougher this week against the Falcons. Matt Ryan looks even more comfortable than he did last year while winning NFL offensive Rookie of the Year honors and running back Michael Turner is just warming up. The addition of tight end Tony Gonzalez has opened up all sorts of possibilities for that Atlanta offense and the defense is playing at a high level. It used to be tough to win at Gillette Stadium, but New England's defense looks very suspect and the Falcons are definitely for real, so I see them taking a stranglehold on the NFC South by improving to 3-0 with this win.

Falcons 31, Patriots 27

New York Giants at Tampa Bay -- Last Sunday night the entire nation saw the Eli Manning of two years ago who confidently led his Giants offense on a game-clinching drive in the closing minutes to win the Super Bowl and end New England's bid for a perfect season. The Bucs' defense is struggling to find an identity and with Cadillac Williams banged up again they don't have many options on offense. New York will stay unbeaten while the Bucs will remain winless and start looking ahead to 2010.

Giants 27, Bucs 10

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati -- The Steelers have not looked good in either of their first two games, despite Ben Roethlisberger's big passing performance in an overtime win over Tennessee in the opener and clearly miss safety Troy Polamalu on defense. The Bengals sense a chance to shake things up in the AFC North at home and have always played Pittsburgh tough, but knowing how important it is not to fall too far behind division-leading Baltimore, especially within the division, the defending champs will get things fixed today and avoid falling below .500.

Steelers 23, Bengals 14

Chicago at Seattle -- Last week's upset of Pittsburgh was just the confidence boost the Bears and new quarterback Jay Cutler needed, especially after dealing with the loss of linebacker Brian Urlacher for the season to a wrist injury. It is a long trip to the Pacific Northwest, but the Seahawks are a team without direction right now as Matt Hasselback is injured, and if Chicago can take the loud Qwest Field crowd out of the game early a win is in the cards.

Bears 21, Seahawks 6

Kansas City at Philadelphia -- All eyes will be on Lincoln Financial Field to see if Michael Vick will make an impact in the first game he is eligible to play in since being reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The Eagles imploded last week at home against the New Orleans Saints after stifling Drew Brees in the first half, turnovers and blown coverages hurt them in the end and head coach Andy Reid will have then fired up and ready today against a not-so-good Chiefs squad.

Eagles 34, Chiefs 13

New Orleans at Buffalo -- The Saints offense is challenging the high-scoring records of the 2007 New England Patriots and Drew Brees, one year removed from becoming just the second quarterback to pass for more than 5,000 yards, is on pace to shatter Tom Brady's single-season record of 50 touchdown passes. But the Bills have a potent offense of their own behind Trent Edwards at quarterback and Terrell Owens, Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish at wide receiver. I see this as the upset special of the weeks at Buffalo keeps pace with the Jets in the AFC East.

Bills 30, Saints 28

Jacksonville at Houston -- Not too much to say about this one. The Jaguars are struggling and the Texans looked like solid playoff contender last week behind Matt Schaub's four touchdown passes in a win over Tennessee. Add in the fact the game is being played at Reliant Stadium and Houston will be 2-1 after this game.

Texans 31, Jaguars 17

Cleveland at Baltimore -- The Ravens can create some space between themselves and the rest of the AFC North with a victory over the Browns in this heated rivalry between the team that moved away from Cleveland and its successors. Ray Lewis and the rest of Baltimore's defense will be a nightmare for Brady Quinn on the road and Joe Flacco will continue to air it out as head coach and John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron grow increasingly more confident their young quarterback.

Ravens 24, Browns 7

San Francisco at Minnesota -- In a battle of unbeatens, the Vikings look to bounce back from a shaky performance against Detroit last week and improve to 3-0, while the Niners hope to move a step closer to grabbing control of the NFC West. Adrian Peterson is simply in that same zone other great running backs in the past have been in like LaDainian Tomlinson, Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders and I don't see him slowing down today. With Frank Gore on the other side coming off of a 200-yard rushing effort last week, Peterson will want to one up him, and No. 4 will do enough again to compliment his great back, while the Viking top-ranked run defense will try to slow down Gore.

Vikings 28, 49ers 21

Denver at Oakland -- Another classic AFC West rivalry that his lost its luster in recent years. The Raiders are 1-1 and could easily be 2-0 but JaMarcus Russell did not have a great statistical day last week against Kansas City. Denver will move to 3-0 behind a productive day from quarterback Kyle Orton and company.

Broncos 17, Raiders 6

Washington at Detroit -- Maybe the Redskins can do better away from FedEx Field and the boos they heard from their home fans against an up-and-coming Lions team -- 0r maybe they are ripe for an upset. Detroit's rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford has taken a backseat to Mark Sanchez so far this season but I see this as his breakout game as the Lions end their 19-game losing streak and avoid staying alive in its unenviable quest to match Tampa Bay's record 26-game losing streak.

Lions 21, Redskins 20

Green Bay at St. Louis -- The Packers lost a tough one to Cincinnati last week and Aaron Rogers would like nothing better than to feast on a very suspect Rams secondary. Looking to keep pace with Minnesota and Chicago in the NFC North, Green Bay will improve to 2-1 with ease.

Packers 35, Rams 10

Indianapolis at Arizona -- Two of the most accurate quarterbacks in the history of the NFL will got toe-to-toe in the desert, and on paper Arizona's Kurt Warner has the slight edge with all three of his primary receivers -- Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston -- healthy. But Peyton Manning proved last Monday night in Miami that it doesn't matter who his receivers are, he is just as deadly from anywhere on the field and at any time. The odds of the Colts only holding the ball for less than 15 minutes again the entire game are slim to none, and if Manning and company could put up 27 points in that short amount of time, imagine what they can do with a normal time of possession. Look for the Colts to stay undefeated with a close victory.

Colts 31, Cardinals 28

Miami at San Diego -- The Dolphins have been in this same predicament each of the last four years after the first two weeks of the season, and they can look back at how they responded last year as evidence that there is no need to panic. San Diego is more banged up than just about any team in the league, with its starting center, nose tackle and running back all out for this game. Look for a lots of "Wildcat," maybe even some from San Diego, by the bay.

Dolphins vs. Chargers (No prediction. Explanation above)

Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

AK

September 23, 2009 1:12 PM

Early Separation Evident In Some Divisions

Two weeks into the 2009 NFL season there already are a handful of teams beginning to separate from the pack inside their division and conference -- and it's not the usual suspects in every case. I'll break down both conferences over the next two days, beginning with the AFC.

Let's start in the AFC East, where everybody's preseason favorites to represent the conference in Super Bowl XLIV, the New England Patriots, are one poor Leodis McKelvin decision away from joining the Miami Dolphins in the basement at 0-2. The New York Jets are the ones in control at the top after back-to-back gutsy performances by rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. Their impressive upset of the Pats at the Meadowlands was reminiscent of what Miami did a year ago up in New England en route to dethroning New England as AFC East champs. This week's home game against a very good Tennessee Titans team will go a long way in determining whether or not these Jets are true contenders or pretenders.

Over in the AFC North, the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, like New England, are very close to being 0-2 as they pulled out an overtime win over the Titans on the leg of kicker Jeff Reed and then lost a tough one at Soldier Field to the Chicago Bears because of two missed field goals by Reed. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens have shown that they have a dangerous offense to go along with their legendary defense as second-year QB Joe Flacco is a lot more comfortable out there. They have a one-game lead over Pittsburgh and saw 14-year veteran middle linebacker Ray Lewis seal the win over San Diego with the type of stop he made look routine in his younger days. With Cleveland coming to town Sunday, they could very well be 3-0 after three games.

Even though the Indianapolis Colts are in their familiar spot on top of the AFC East at 2-0, they could just as easily be 0-2 and at the bottom, having narrowly escaped in Week 1 with a 14-12 win over Jacksonville and then getting lots of help from the Dolphins on Monday night in a 27-23 win in which they held the ball for just 14:53. Of course they do have the reigning NFL MVP under center in Peyton Manning and he is trusting his young wideouts like Pierre Garcon to deliver so that he doesn't have to lock onto Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark every play. But the Titans will push hard to defend their division title and look more balanced, while the Houston Texans pulled out a big win last Sunday, so this division could come down to the wire.

And in the AFC West, it appears to be a two-team race yet again between the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers. Philip Rivers is willing and ready to put the Chargers on his back with LaDainian Tomlinson's health breaking down, but San Diego struggled to beat the Oakland Raiders in Week 1 and fell short at home against Baltimore, while the Broncos are excelling under first-year head coach Josh McDaniels. Another shaky outing or two by the Chargers and the Broncos could run away with this division.

Tomorrow we will look at the four divisions in the NFC and see who's hot and who's not.

Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

AK

September 20, 2009 2:02 PM

Week 2 Could Be a Snoozer

With less than two hours to go before kickoff of the 1 p.m. games and this being a rare Sunday when the NFL Guru actually can kick back and watch all of the games since the Dolphins play tomorrow night, let's dive right into some bonus analysis.

One quick glance at the schedule reveals six potential blowouts, four nondescript games and five games that on paper should be compelling. That is definitely not music to the ears of television networks, although ESPN and NBC have two of the games I believe will be entertaining.

Unfortunately, for those of us who enjoy a full day of football that keeps our eyes glued to the television if we're not actually at the stadium, seven of the nine games kicking off at 1 are likely to be snoozers. So if you haven't played golf in a while or gotten to the beach on a Sunday, this might be the day to do it, and then make sure you are back for the 4 p.m. games and the Sunday night showdown in Dallas between the Cowboys and the Giants.

Carolina at Atlanta: The Falcons' defense quieted all the critics last week in their opening day win over the Miami Dolphins by sacking Chad Pennington four times and forcing four turnovers. Linebacker Mike Peterson played like a 23-year-old energizer bunny at the age of 33, crunching Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano to jar the ball loose and making a nifty interception and 39-yard return to set up a TD. That confident defense inside a loud Georgia Dome going against a shaky Jake Delhomme (9 INTs in his last two games), combined with a volatile Atlanta offense that was bottled up last week but is eager to break out, spells rout on the Guru's score sheet.

Falcons 35, Panthers 7

Minnesota at Detroit: Do I really need to spend a lot of time on this one? No, the Lions are not the worst team in the NFL (I'm giving that honor to the Kansas City Chiefs right now) as I do believe Matthew Stafford will help speed up the rebuilding process. But Adrian Peterson is other worldly right now, which means No. 4 doesn't have to try to force the issue and feel like he has to win games by himself, and the Vikings don't just want to reach the playoffs this year, they want to make it all the way to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV.

Vikings 41, Lions 14

Cincinnati at Green Bay: The Bungles were supposed to be a lot better this year with Chad Ochocinco no longer a distraction and being a model teammate and Carson Palmer completely healthy, but they still found a way to be inept in a loss to Denver last week in the closing seconds. Meanwhile, Aaron Rogers is the unquestioned leader of that Packers offense and is focused on having his team playing at a high level before the first meeting with Minnesota.

Packers 28, Bengals 13

Arizona at Jacksonville: This game rates low on the thriller scale, even though the Jaguars came within two points of beating the Colts last week because they always play close games with Indy. The Cardinals are still hurting from their opening day loss to San Francisco but they still have Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin and are eager to show that they can win on the East Coast and are the team to beat in the NFC West.

Cardinals 24, Jaguars 17

Oakland at Kansas City: Hard to believe this used to be the marquee match up every year and produced some of the most memorable games in NFL history. Raiders-Chiefs still is an intense rivalry, but now they are fighting each other to avoid being the doormat of the AFC West and the Raiders look a lot closer to reaching respectability than the Chiefs, especially after last Monday's performance against a very good San Diego Chargers team.

Raiders 17, Chiefs 14

New England at New York Jets: Finally, we have a game that should keep fans riveted to their television sets, and the trash talk all week certainly didn't hurt. Kerry Rhodes should know better than to anger a sleeping bear like the Patriots, especially since he has to face Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Tom Brady. Sure, the Pats should be 0-1, and Leodis McKelvin's front lawn will attest to that. And sure, Mark Sanchez looked poised in his NFL debut while the Rex Ryan-coached defense is as good as advertised, which would have led me to pick the Jets in this one had it not been for Rhodes' comments. New England always responds to slights like that and will bring the Jets fans back down to earth in another last-second thriller.

[UPDATE]: The Guru was not aware that Welker is inactive for this game, putting more pressure on Joey Galloway to deliver, but I am sticking with my prediction.

Patriots 28, Jets 27

New Orleans at Philadelphia: Drew Brees picked up right where he left off with six touchdown passes last week against the hapless Detroit Lions, but a little research courtesy of ESPN's Hank Goldberg reveals that Brees fattened up on lowly competition last year en route to a 5,000-yard season through the air. He is not nearly so superhuman on the road or against playoff-caliber teams and the Eagles right now look to be the team to beat in the NFC East, even with a banged up Donovan McNabb.

Eagles 24, Saints 20

Houston at Tennessee: The Texans have been flirting with the playoffs each of the last two seasons, only to fall short in the end, while the Titans ruled the NFC South last year and looked very solid against the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers in the opener. Jeff Fisher and Kerry Collins know they let one slip away at Heinz Field and after the way Jevon Kearse and the Titans' defense harassed Ben Roethlisberger, it's safe to say Matt Schaub is in for a long afternoon in Nashville.

Titans 31, Texans 10

St. Louis at Washingon: Okay, maybe the Rams can give the Chiefs a run for their money as the worst team in the NFL, and playing at loud FedEx Field makes for an even more daunting task. The Redskins are struggling to avoid another last-place finish in the NFC East and should be able to use this game as a starting point to achieve that goal behind running back Clinton Portis.

Redskins 20, Rams 7

The five 4 o'clock games aren't much better, although there are a couple of intriguing match ups.

Tampa Bay at Buffalo: Unfortunately for the Bucs, they have to travel up north to face a very angry Bills team primed to make amends for last week's collapse in New England. Trent Edwards no doubt watched plenty of film of Tony Romo carving up the once vaunted Tampa Bay defense in Tampa last week, and Terrell Owens wants nothing more than to show Bills fans the investment in him was worth it, which he will do today.

Bills 31, Bucs 14

Seattle at San Francisco: The Seahawks once ruled the NFC West not long ago and new head coach Jim Mora wants to return his team to the top of the division. But Mike Singletary has let it be known that these aren't the same 49ers that have rolled over in previous years as they are truly taking on his fiery personality. Frank Gore will have a big day on the ground and allow San Francisco to improve to 2-0 and hold onto first place in the division.

49ers 21, Seahawks 13

Pittsburgh at Chicago: Hmmm. Let's see. Jay Cutler was picked off four times last week by the Packers and then pouted like a spoiled 16-year-old after the game -- and that was after learning that his best defensive player, Brian Urlacher, was lost for the season. Meanwhile, the Steelers narrowly escaped Heinz Field with a win last week over Tennessee and Big Ben is champing at the bit to victimize the Bears' secondary with passes to Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward. The loss of Troy Polamalu would be more disconcerting if it wasn't a rattled Cutler on the other side of the ball, Soldier Field or no Soldier Field.

Steelers 27, Bears 6

Cleveland at Denver: The Broncos always play better at Mile High, but the Browns finally look to be on the right track and Brady Quinn would like nothing more than to have his true coming out party in the city where the great John Elway played. Whichever teams can avoid the costly mistake will come out on top in this one and I have a feeling Cleveland is ready to take that next step.

Browns 19, Broncos 14

Baltimore at San Diego: Finally, here's your must-see game of the day as the Ravens showed that defense isn't the only thing they do well in Baltimore. Joe Flacco is being given more control of the offense and more opportunities to use his height and strong arm to victimize opposing defenses and force them to pay attention to the passing game as much as they do the run. The Chargers struggled to beat the Raiders last week and L.T. is banged up yet again, which means Ray Lewis and company can tee off on Phillip Rivers.

Ravens 23, Chargers 21

And that brings us to the two prime time games, beginning with the first regular-season game to be played at the ridiculously expensive and large Cowboys Stadium.

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys: There should be three numbers at play in Las Vegas for this game -- the actual spread, over-under and the over-under on how many punts will strike the mammoth video board hanging over the field. All kidding aside, with an expected crowd of over 100,000 it would be fair to assume that Dallas will enjoy an enormous home field advantage and run away with this heated division rivalry. But the Bucs ran the ball effectively last week against the Cowboys and they didn't have bruising backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. Still, I think Romo, Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Roy Williams along with Marion Barber will be too much for the Giants' defense to handle and Jerry Jones will be all smiles at the end of the night.

Cowboys 28, Giants 21

Week 2 concludes with the first Monday Night Football game to be played in Miami since Christmas Day of 2006, and it should be a fun one to watch.

Indianapolis at Miami: New Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross has been eagerly awaiting this night -- the home opener at Land Shark Stadium under the lights in front of a national television audience. Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and Bob Griese will be entering the stadium via the new Orange Carpet, and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who has looked up to Marino since he was a kid, will try to avoid being star-struck. He will be tested by the dual threat pass rush of Joey Porter and Jason Taylor and is minus Anthony Gonzalez, while Chad Pennington would like nothing better than to restore the magic of last season with a win in prime time at home. Because of my affiliation with the Dolphins as their Senior Internet Writer for MiamiDolphins.com, I have to refrain from making a prediction, other than I do believe it will be just as entertaining as last week's two Monday nighters.

Dolphins vs. Colts (no prediction. Explanation above)

Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

AK

September 13, 2009 3:24 PM

Will AFC Be Superior Again?

Yesterday I broke down the NFC, and now that I am inside the Georgia Dome about 90 minutes from kickoff between the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins, I'll have to be a little faster with my AFC breakdown.

So without any further delay:

The easy path to take with the AFC East is to anoint the New England Patriots as the kings of the division and perhaps even the conference again with Tom Brady back on the saddle. Not so fast my friends. Let's see just how comfortable and mobile Mr. Brady is on that rebuilt knee before we pencil the Pats in for a trip to Miami, especially with the questions on defense now that they got rid of Richard Seymour; people seem to want to forget that the Miami Dolphins are the reigning AFC East champs and return everybody of significance as well as some key additions through the draft, free agency and trades, notably Jason Taylor, Jake Grove, Gibril Wilson, rookie corners Vontae Davis and Sean Smith and rookie receivers Brian Hartline and Patrick Turner; the Buffalo Bills now get to host the Terrell Owens circus and hope the rebirth of the no-huddle offense will rekindle the glory days of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed and the New York Jets usher in the Mark Sanchez era and wave good-bye to the short-lived No. 4 era, with a new and entertaining head coach in Rex Ryan ramping up the defense.

Over in the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers survived their first test in defense of their Super Bowl crown by squealing past Tennessee on Thursday night but the loss of safety Troy Polamalu could be hard to overcome; Baltimore may have lost Ryan as defensive coordinator, but Joe Flacco has a solid year under his belt and still has Ray Lewis leading that defense so they are primed to challenge for Pittsburgh for the division title; Cleveland will find out a lot about Brady Quinn today as he goes toe-to-toe with ol' No. 4 and the Vikings, but there are too many issues with that team to count and the Cincinnati Bengals put their dysfunctional family on display for all of America to see on HBO's Hard Knocks, but it appears Chad Ochocinco is happy again and Carson Palmer is hoping to to surprise people with a potent offense.

In the AFC South Peyton Manning is adjusting to yet another head coach in Jim Caldwell but he is 100 percent healthy this time around and still has Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez as weapons in the passing game and is coming off of an MVP season; the Titans did go 13-3 last year and win the division and Kerry Collins looked very strong Thursday night and defensively they are still strong; this could have been the year Houston passed .500 but Matt Schaub's ankle injury might have derailed their chances and the Jacksonville Jaguars are hoping Maurice Jones-Drew can carry them back to the playoffs.

Finally in the AFC West, San Diego clearly is the team to beat with LaDainian Tomlinson not ready to secede his title as the game's best running back and Philip Rivers coming off an MVP-caliber year; while the Denver Broncos has more drama to deal with this offseason beginning with the hiring of young Josh McDaniels as head coach and then following up with the Jay Cutler dumping and Brandon Marshall. They do have a good rookie running back in Georgia;s Knowshon Moreno but there's not enough other pieces to challenge the Chargers; Kansas City is rebuilding under its new head coach, Todd Haley, but should still be better than the woeful Oakland Raiders, who are a ship without a rudder right now.

And so now we can kick this thing off in earnest. Sit back and enjoy the nachos, wings and beer as the 2009 story lines develop in front of your very eyes.

Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

AK

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