Last season: 127-119-10
Last season: 114-132-10
SF: American football – along with scores of television commercials featuring every member of the Manning family, including Cousin Oliver – is back! Welcome to Couch Boys II: Couch Harder, our second season of pigskin pickin’ here at Macleans.ca. Throughout the season, we’ll be posting our NFL selections by mid-morning on Fridays (or Thursdays, when applicable), giving readers plenty of time to crib from our expertise. Come Monday morning, readers will have the opportunity to come to the realization that we don’t actually have any expertise. Or prognostic ability. Or, not that it matters in this context, chest hair.
SR: I know we’re back together to talk about football, but I have to start with politics. That Sarah Palin – she’s no damn good. Sure, her speech was a plucky show-em-all barnburner. Sure, she likes moosesteaks and beaver soup and birchbark pie. Sure, she likes to snowmobile and hunt and, like any of us, she’d kick that poser Joe Biden square in the stones just for sport. And yes, that does clearly qualify her to run the free world when John McCain dies – like all people over the age of 200 eventually must.
But if I were an American, I’d vote against her because of those kids. Not because they aren’t perfect (even if they do get a little bit pregnant at some pretty awkward times). But because of their names. She gave her kids really creepy ridiculous handles. Here’s what Sarah Palin, possible Vice-President of the United States, has chosen to call her kids – apparently without being tricked or blackmailed: Track (boy), Bristol (girl), Willow (girl), Piper (pied) and Trig (boy). Now I ask: do you want to place the nuclear football in the hands of a woman who names her child in honour of a hated form of math?
Me and my best pal Scott “Cherry Blossom” Feschuk sure don’t think so. That’s why we’re urging all our American friends to vote for that guy with the normal sounding name leading the Democrats.
Speaking of nuclear footballs, the NFL is back! And thank God. What an offseason. Arrests. Movie star girlfriends. Circus-like retirements and un-retirements. And I’m just talking about Feschuk. But now we get down to business. Will Brett lead the Jets to new lows? Is Brady’s foot ok? Can the Cincinnati Bengals post bail?
Last year, I began by predicting the St. Louis Rams would win the Super Bowl. That put quite a jinx on them. This year, my money’s on a marginally safer bet: the Patriots. Yup. I’m going out on a creaky limb and predicting that the team with the best record in football for the past three years is going to actually win it all. When did you grow those new brass balls, Mr. Reid? Well, the way I see it – they’re better than everybody else. I don’t think they’ll go undefeated – at least not until the post season. But they’re going to finish first.
In the NFC, I think you gotta go with Seattle – a heartless team with the charisma of a certain Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. But they’re as talented and ready as it gets in that conference. So there you have it: A Seattle-New England Super Bowl with Tom Brady carrying home the Vince Lombardi Trophy once again. Not to mention my heart.
SF: Hang on, let me get a pen. Sea. Hawks. You think the 53 members of the Seattle Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl in some capacity other than “spectators” or “13 consecutive Beatles tribute bands, plus one extra Ringo just in case.” That’s hilarious. Seattle completely choked in the playoffs last year, just as they’ve choked so many times before. They are, for lack of a better word, chokers. It’s not enough to be bold in your Super Bowl pick – you also might want to make some sense. My picks for the Super Bowl: Jacksonville and Dallas. My picks for ultimate last song at a high-school dance: Stairway to Heaven and Purple Rain.
On to this week’s games…
Washington (plus 3.5) at New York Giants
SF: This is the big opening night game, which will air up against John McCain’s acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention. (Speech title: “Huh? Whazzat?? Hey, What Are All You People Doing In My Living Room? Get the Hell Out!”) The Giants faces certain challenges in their quest to repeat as champs: among them, the retirement of Michael Strahan, the season-ending injury to Osi Umenyiora and the fact that David Tyree won’t stop walking around with a football stapled to his helmet, shouting, “Remember my catch? Ball on the head guy? That’s me baby!!” Meantime, under Jim Zorn the Redskins have installed the West Coast offence in what the new coach describes as an effort to give QB Jason Campbell “more options,” such as the option to maybe not suck so much. Pick: Washington.
SR: Jim Zorn. Zorn? I can’t help but be skeptical that a Romulan will lead this team to success. Washington was already strapped with a struggling offence led by a struggling quarterback. A lot of struggle is what I’m trying to say. Throwing in the West Coast offence does not seem like the obvious solution. A cloaking device? Now THAT might come in handy. If nothing else, Campbell could use it to conceal his shameful exit – in the second quarter. That said, I’m officially launching my “I Do Not Forgive You For Ruining the Pats’ Historic Season” hex on the New York Giants. I want them to lose. I want them to look stupid. I want Eli Manning to change his first name to Wo. Pick: Washington.
Tampa Bay (plus 3.5) at New Orleans
SR: How would you like to be Jeff Garcia? All he did last year was instantly restore the Bucs to respectability, play his way into the Pro Bowl, save Jon Gruden’s job and – oh yeah – carry his team back to the playoffs. His reward? The Bucs make a public play for Brett Favre and leave their starter twisting in the wind for two weeks. Thanks. A. Lot. But, that’s all forgotten now. Gruden cut a few of the 35 quarterbacks he brought to camp and Garcia is back under centre. And you know what? Dude will pick up right where he left off. New Orleans seems to be everyone’s It Girl this year. But Brees has to prove he’s back. Bush has to prove he’s back. And Shockey has to prove he can help his team win by doing something other than not playing. Pick: Tampa Bay.
SF: And let’s not forget another of the big pluses that Garcia brings to the table: on account of his senior-citizen discount, the Bucs only need to gain 7.5 yards for a first down. And coffee refills are free! Pick: Tampa.
Detroit (minus 3) at Atlanta
SF: Listen, Matt Millen is trying, OK? He’s trying! But the Lions president is running out of ways to change his team’s fortunes. So yes, on paper, it made sense that he sanctioned the ritual human sacrifice. That said, with the benefit of hindsight and last season’s interception tallies, he should have foreseen the possibility that Jon Kitna would miss the mouth of the volcano with that virgin. The spirits were not happy about that. To be honest, the virgin wasn’t all that pleased, either. Joey Harrington would have made that throw. We all know that. Pick: Detroit.
SR: Poor Joey Harrington. Cut by Atlanta and combating a Woolco addiction, he can’t seem to find anyone who admires his special talents. Like throwing the ball slowly to the wrong spot. This game will feature the debut of Matt Ryan. It will also the feature the debut of Matt Ryan running awkwardly for his life as 300lb missiles called “men” separate him from his spinal column. Have fun, Atlanta. It takes a lot to make Matt Millen look smart and Jon Kitna look talented. (Could you make Feschuk look thin?). Pick: Detroit.
St. Louis (plus 7.5) at Philadelphia
SR: In my universe, the defending Super Bowl champion Rams should make short work of the tired and aging Eagles. Of course, in my universe I’m just climbing out of my Iron Man armour and looking forward to taking a shower with the Landers twins. For some reason, many analysts believe that the Eagles have climbed back to being a contender. SI has them winning the NFC East. But here’s what I see. A quarterback two years past his prime. A pair of starting wideouts who combined for five touchdowns last year. And a talented running back who will be asked to do everything except the Landers twins (way ahead of you, Brian). St Louis may not win the Super Bowl but they’re going to play a lot closer to their potential and this is the year that people say the Eagles are over. Pick: St. Louis.
SF: Landers twins. What an obscure reference. Pick: St. Louis.
K.C. (plus 16.5) at New England
SF: The Chiefs are in tough against a team that is superior on paper – not to mention grass, artificial turf, linoleum, sand, piles of very small pebbles and, one suspects, lighted disco floors. K.C.’s chances aren’t exactly helped by the presence of QB Brodie Croyle, who a) lost all six games he started last year, and b) is actually named “Brodie.” Croyle’s QB rating in 2007? 68.6! Put it this way – for you to do that poorly at your job, you’d need to mistake your boss’s suit pocket for a urinal. Which reminds me: I still need to compensate Paul Martin for that drycleaning. Pick: New England.
SR: I like Brodie! It’s not his fault that stupid Lauren went to Paris. What was he supposed to do? Not nail everyone in sight? The Chiefs have everything that a team in the midst of rebuilding could hope for. Inexperienced players? Check. Running back attempting come back at the age of ancient? Check. Surgical removal of pride? Check. Herm Edwards is looking forward to this game. Usually he leads his team to defeat against unworthy opponents. This year, he gets to lose to the best. He must be stoked! Pick: New England.
Dallas (minus 5.5) at Cleveland
SR: Carrie Underwood says that Tony Romo still text messages and calls her from time to time, even though he’s supposedly dating Jessica Simpson. Tony Romo says, “Sometimes I really hate girls.” Which reminds me: I hate the Cowboys with a passion. I would rather watch the Cowboys lose than my favourite team win. I know that makes me a potential KAOS agent but it’s how I feel. I also know that pre-season experts are drooling about the Browns. And I like them too. But they are not going to come close to my hated Cowboys. They’re going to get licked like an ice cream cone. Pick: Dallas.
SF: Although I like the Cowboys to make it to the Super Bowl, I like the Browns to prove that last season was no fluke. (Just to complete the thought, I also like bacon.) Romo’s going to need time to shake off the cobwebs and hickeys. Pick: Cleveland.
Houston (plus 6.5) at Pittsburgh
SF: The Steelers look tough this season. For the Texans to get off to a good start in 2008, it’s going to come down to Gary Kubiak’s ability to motivate his team, and especially his offence, in his pre-game speech. Suggested talking points: 1. “OK, boys, now before we go out there I’m going to put the names of all you fellas on offence into this here hat.” 2. “Now I’m going to pull one name out of the hat, and put in right here in pocket.” 3. “If we lose, I’m gonna shoot that guy. Most likely in the leg, but we’ll see.” 4. “Am I joking? Who knows? Probably best not have to find out.” Pick: Pittsburgh.
SR: Maybe we could get Gary Kubiak to speak at the Liberal Caucus? Pick: Pittsburgh.
Carolina (plus 9) at San Diego
SR: Jake Delhomme and his gimpy shoulder. Jonathan Stewart and his rookie rookieness. Steve Smith and his beating-the-hell-outta-people. Call me crazy, but I feel this Carolina team is a little unsettled. San Diego on the other hand is firing on all pistons. Even Norv Turner is going to have trouble screwing these guys up. Although, if anyone’s cut out for the job, it’s Norv. Expect the Chargers to rack up some big points fast. Pick: San Diego.
SF: It’s hard to disagree with logic and blatant cheap shots at Norv Turner like that. San Diego got off to such a terrible start last season – they’re going to be primed, psyched and perhaps even pumped to lay a licking on their first opponent of 2008. Pick: San Diego.
Seattle (plus 1) at Buffalo
SF: One of reasons I didn’t do as well last season at this as I would have liked (even though I did far superior to you, my numbnutted amigo) is that I blindly backed my Bills even when logic, common sense and curt phone calls from Marv Levy suggested that I do otherwise. Just for the record, here are the other explanations for my relative ineptitude in 2007:
• Weekly emails to eternal soul of Jimmy the Greek started bouncing back.
• Four words: all that red wine.
• Couldn’t really concentrate after totally getting into Gossip Girl.
• So I’m choking this old gypsy woman and she hisses, “A curse be upon you!”
Mr. Reid, I know you’re picking Seattle to go to the Super Bowl, so that’s all the information I need to make my selection here today. Pick: Buffalo.
SR: They say that Buffalo is much improved. They also say that Mitt Romney had two human parents. Prove it, I say to both. Prove it! I love Buffalo – mainly because, like me, they’re in Toronto against their will for the money. Seattle is, I grant you, about as much fun to watch as reruns of Family Feud when that doofus from Tool Time was the host. But they are better than Buffalo. This is my top pick of the week. Easy money. Take it from one who doesn’t know. Pick: Seattle.
Arizona (minus 2.5) at San Francisco
SR: This time last year the Niners suffered the highest expectations of any team not led by Tom Brady, Tony Romo or Peyton Manning. They were everyone’s bet for Most Improved Team of the year and it all went to threads. Which sucks for me because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Niners fan. It sucked more for Alex Smith though, who starts the season on the bench watching a guy named J.T. (not one of the Simon brothers as far as we know). Who knows what Martz and O’Sullivan will accomplish together. We may still see something out of Smith this year. But don’t be surprised if we’re about to witness the next rags-to-riches NFL quarterback story. O’Sullivan is this year’s Tony Romo. I’m excited. And looking for some surprises out of the Niners – whose defence is only one year from greatness. By the way, don’t believe the cynics. Mike Martz will use Frank Gore in full. He’s going to crush this season. As for Arizona: They are still Arizona. Pick: San Francisco.
SF: Kids, did you just read that pick? Do you see the way that blind loyalty to a sports franchise can warp an observer’s mind to the point that he can convince himself that the arrival of Mike Martz heralds something other than the football apocalypse and approximately 200 interceptions? Don’t let this happen to you, kids. Stay in school, say no to drugs and back away slowly, very slowly, from the naked prognosticator holding the 49ers pennant and writing “J.T.” in marker on his belly. Pick: Arizona.
New York Jets (minus 3) at Miami
SF: Chad Pennington, playing for his new team, takes on Brett Favre, playing for Chad’s old team, in what I at first predicted would – against all odds – be the first NFL game in history that both teams manage to lose. They’re THAT bad. But then I realized: with Favre on the roster, you’ve got to assume the Jets now have in their corner the whole pantheon of football gods. Even Crotchnor, the ancient god of groin pulls and scantily clad cheerleaders, is sure to be working his dark, sexy magic for the Mangenius and his men. Take that, inner thighs of the Miami Dolphins! Pick: Jets.
SR: I followed the Brett Favre saga like it was the third season of Lost. For a bit they had me faked out by the albinos and secret labratories, but in the end I always knew that Brett’s gameplan was to come back for a team that blows, running an offence he doesn’t understand. Sinister smart, Mr. Favre! Chad Pennington gets no respect. Or completions. Or help for that case of vertigo he’s obviously had since he started playing in the NFL. By all accounts, Pennington is a great leader. So was Ghandi. The difference is that Ghandi could throw across his body and put some zip on the ball. Pick: Jets.
Chicago (plus 9.5) at Indianapolis
SR: Peyton Manning hasn’t played a single down this year, has a reconstituted offensive line and has to be wondering if Marvin Harrison has lost what made him Marvin Harrison. But he’s not Kyle Orton. Or Rex Grossman. Or Ace Frehley. (He was in the Bears camp, I think). Chicago drives me bananas. How can they be entering this season with the same half-assed quarterbacks that made them half-assed last season? Their problem is so easy to spot, you could see it from freakin Mars. Get. A. Quarterback. There are only about thirty better ones looking for work. Put an ad in the paper. Go to the beach. Pick the tallest guy in the bar. Anything. This is madness. As for the Colts, many people expect them to be the same elite team they’ve been for eight years. I’m not convinced. I think we’ll see them take a big step backward this year. But they’ve got an easy task this week. Pick: Indianapolis.
SF: Yes, it’s true: Kyle Orton will be starting at quarterback for the Bears after beating out Rex Grossman during the pre-season. Apparently, the clincher was when Orton took out his driver’s license and proved that he wasn’t Rex Grossman. That served as a pretty convincing argument that he should start. What’s deeply shocking is that the Bears offence somehow looks even weaker than it did last year. It could be the lowest scoring group of men ever. And I’m counting both the Trent Dilfer Ravens circa 2000 and New Kids on the Block circa today. Pick: Indy.
Jacksonville (minus 3) at Tennessee
SF: I just don’t know about Vince Young. He threw only nine TD passes last year, and ran for fewer yards than in his rookie season. For a while there he was like Macgyver, somehow making touchdowns out of improbable scrambles and wads of bubble gum, but he really seemed to regress last year. The Jags, on the other hand, found one heck of a keeper at QB in David Garrard. Plus they’ve had 11 players arrested over the past two years, giving them a singular motivation to make it to the Super Bowl: bail money. Pick: Jax.
SR: I love it when people say that a player ‘regressed.’ I always think of William Hurt in Altered States. Or Bette Midler in any movie she ever starred. Vince Young and Jeff Fisher don’t just win ugly. They win Rita MacNeil ugly. They pull out games where the offence doesn’t manage to compile any statistics. But they still win. Jacksonville is one of these teams that’s hard to understand. Like Sudoku. I think they’ll step up this year. Pick: Jacksonville.
Minnesota (plus 2.5) at Green Bay
SR: The hype surrounding Minnesota has to be overstated. After all, Tavaris Jackson remains their signal caller and he has yet to prove anything (although he’s the only starting quarterback whose name rhymes with Stradivarius – which is pretty cool). But Green Bay has been through the kind of offseason that is usually reserved for Arthur Blank. Aaron Rodgers has come through Hurricane Brett with the emotional reserves of Margot Kidder. I would not be surprised if his first throw is an interception, his second throw is an interception and his third throw is a total nervous breakdown. Bad teams often put everything on the shoulders of a single player. Good teams rarely take that risk. But the Packers have. When Minnesota beats them in Week One, Ted Thompson is going to have to dig a hole to hide in. Pick: Minnesota.
SF: Like sands through the hourglass, so were the days of the Packers’ off-season. The whole Favre thing reminded me of a high-school relationship gone sour, right down to the five-hour sessions of “talking” that ended without me even getting to second base. Anyhoo: Welcome to the Aaron Rodgers era! The big question on everybody’s mind: Can Rodgers truly replace Favre? Does he have the talent, skill and sense of timing required to blindly hurl a wounded duck directly into the hands of a defensive back with a playoff game on line? More important, does he have the innate ability to turn John Madden’s knees to jelly? Only time, and Rodgers’ weekly delivery of long-stem roses to the Madden cruiser, will tell. Pick: Green Bay.
Cincinnati (-1.5) at Baltimore
SF: I hear people asking, “How can Marvin Lewis still have his coaching job?” To me, that’s not the question. To me, the question is: “How can Marvin Lewis still have ANY job?” If we were to travel the land in a quest to find someone, anyone, less good at what he does than Marvin Lewis, I think we’d pretty quickly have to narrow the search to either 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. or Cuba Gooding Jr.’s house. So it’s safe to say the Bengals will be entirely dysfunctional, consistently inconsistent and routinely arrested this season. The Ravens, meanwhile, have an unknown coach (John Harbaugh) who’s starting an unknown quarterback (Joe Flacco) to achieve a familiar result (losing). Pick: Cinci.
SR: Before you start ragging on my man Cuba, may I suggest you see the first Snow Dogs. Like a Noel Coward play with a hint of Michael Bay thrown in for good measure. I have trouble coming up with ways to describe the Bengals without using the F-word. Actually, I don’t even want to try to use other words. They’re just horrific. Injuries. Arrests. People about to be arrested. The owner forced the team to take Chris Henry. Baltimore may be led by a rookie quarterback with a rookie coach backed by a defence that is only slightly older than John McCain’s mother. But they’re going to beat those f***ing dolts in Cinci. Pick: Baltimore.
Denver (minus 3) at Oakland
SR: There’s good news and bad news for Oakland. The good news is that they enjoy a very favourable climate. The bad news is that the same can’t be said for their football team. Last year, Lane Kiffin forced real progress and was then publicly undermined by Al Davis – who has recently denied that he is a vampire but noticeably refuses to walk past mirrors. Kiffin will do a good job again. But the team is not ready for prime time. We have no idea how JaMarcus Russell will play. Expect McFadden to be a star by season’s end, but not necessarily by game’s end. Denver will get back on track. Cutler is going to be the comeback player of the year. Shanahan is a great coach and he will find a way to make his team win. It won’t be hard this time out. Pick: Denver.
SF: For Oakland to win this one, they’re going to need to go out there and play with determination. Also, talent. So if they happen to have any bonus talent they’ve been setting aside, now would probably be the right moment to crack it open. Let it breathe a little. Briefly traveling forward in time to steal some jet boots also wouldn’t hurt. Pick: Denver.