Thursday, August 25, 2011

2011 NFL Predictions

Football? We can has football this season??

I'm both relieved and excited that football will be back this year. I really didn't expect the labor negotiations to finish in time, but the season will go forward as scheduled. So once again, here are my predictions for the upcoming season...

1. The Detroit Lions will have a winning record this season. They were the laughing stock of the NFL for nearly a decade. But these are not the 2008 Lions who went 0-16. They have an elite receiver in Calvin Johnson. They have a strong running game. Their defensive line is just downright scary with Vanden Bosch, Suh, and Fairley. Matthew Stafford is the real deal assuming he can stay healthy. This group will win at least 9 games this season. They have a shot at 10 wins and a potential playoff berth if they get a lucky break or two in some swing games, but I think their chances at making the playoffs will be next season after they've had a year playing together.

2. The Houston Texans will win the AFC South. I had picked the Texans to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last year, and they stunk it up down the stretch. Knowing their secondary was their Achilles' heel, they signed a cornerback and safety to beef it up. The rest of their team is complete. Considering how wide open the AFC will be this year, the Texans have a real shot to go deep in the playoffs. Now you may ask, "Wait, what about the Colts?" Well....

3. The Colts will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2003. I had a funny feeling about the Colts' chances to make the playoffs again this year well before the last couple days. The team as a whole is getting old, especially Peyton. Now the odds are he'll miss at least the first couple games of the season with his neck injury, and since he's unable to practice, he'll be rusty after he finally does get to the field. The Colts will dig themselves into a hole early in the season, and could still potentially finish the season on a semi-strong note, but I don't see them finishing better than 8-8 this year.

4. Ray Rice will have an MVP-caliber season. This may sound like a bit of a homer pick, but I have several reasons to back my claim on this one. First, Rice is in a contract year. He's going to want to cash in big come this offseason. Players in skill positions like running back will want a major payday for their services (see: Chris Johnson), so he's going to punch it extra hard this season. Second, he's got Vonta Leach blocking for him at fullback. Leach is one of those great players you never hear about. The reason why Arian Foster led the NFL in rushing last year was because he had Leach blocking for him. All Leach does is block, block, block, and block. He's like a fifth offensive lineman. Lastly - and this is just a gut feeling - every running back has one crazy season in his career. Last year it was Peyton Hillis and Arian Foster. Before that it was Chris Johnson. Further back was the likes of LaDanian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander. This year is Ray Rice's year. He's a fourth-year back with plenty of gas in his tank, and I really see him exploding on the field. The only problem is he won't be the MVP of the league because...

5. Philip Rivers will be the league MVP this season. Rivers is one of those guys who should be a household name, but ask random people on the street who the best QBs in the league are, and you'll get answers like Brady, Manning, Roethlisberger, Brees, and maybe Rodgers. Those five guys all have one thing in common, and that is they've each won at least one Super Bowl. Rivers hasn't, but I think it's more because he plays in San Diego that people tend to forget about him. He's quietly thrown for over 4000 yards in each of the past three seasons, and I really think he should've gotten more consideration for the MVP last year than he did. This year will be his year when he goes over the top. While we're talking quarterbacks here...

6. Sam Bradford will not have a sophomore slump. There have been many rookies who have had stand out rookie seasons, but their second year in the league they take a step back. Bradford will not be that kind of player. The NFC West is a pretty awful division, and the Rams should've won it last year. He's needed more receivers to throw to, and while their wide receivers don't have any one guy to stretch the field, he will lead the team to a division title.

7. The Miami Dolphins will be in line for Andrew Luck next year. This is one of those two-edged sword predictions, if you will. The Dolphins will have a really terrible season this year (I see them finishing with 3 wins), but that will put them in the driver's seat for drafting their first real franchise quarterback since Dan Marino. Head coach Tony Sparano won't likely be around for Luck, but a total regime change will be good for the team as a whole. They'll still be stuck in the division with the Jets and Patriots though.

8. The NFC South will be the best division in football. Every team in this division is better than it was last year. While Carolina won't be in any hunt to win the division or make the playoffs any time soon, it wouldn't surprise me at all if any of the other three teams won the division this year. Most other divisions have one or two really good teams and couple bottomfeeders, but this one has three strong teams and one on the rise. I wouldn't be that surprised if the final winner of the division finished with 10 wins this year.

9. Someone will pick off the Eagles in the playoffs. Oh, the Eagles are my hometown team. I want to see them win. If Vick ever does win a Super Bowl, his detractors will have to shut up about his football skills if nothing else. But that won't happen this year. Their secondary looks ridiculous with Dominic Rodgers-Cromartie, Asante Samuel, and Nnamdi Asomugha running the show. Their receivers are solid, and they have two strong running backs. But their offensive line is showing signs of being a weakness, and you can pretty much pencil Vick in for missing at least 4 games a season due to injury. The Packers, Saints, or Falcons can rattle Vick and cause a couple turnovers, leading to putting points on the board and force the Eagles to fight from behind. And if the Eagles do get bounced in the playoffs....

10. The Green Bay Packers will repeat as Super Bowl champions. Don't look now, but the NFC is back, kids. It's already won three of the past four Super Bowls, and the Packers winning back-to-back titles will make it four of five. Most teams only enjoy a Super Bowl for about five minutes before they realize they have a target on their backs, but this year's Packers team will actually be better than last year's winners. They'll get Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley back. They've got the best young linebacker in the game in Clay Matthews. Aaron Rodgers is already one of the top three quarterbacks in the game, and there's no reason to think he can't be the single best QB overall.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Just Like Old Times

The last two months were mostly spent prepping for my move back to Baltimore. I only allowed myself so much free time, especially over the last couple weeks in order to pack and throw out anything I didn't want to keep. My big move back to Baltimore was scheduled for Saturday, and when I checked the weather reports my heart sank when I saw scattered thunderstorms were expected from Thursday through the rest of the weekend.

Great. Just great.

As if all that wasn't enough, my birthday was Thursday. I'm not going to sit here and make things sound like I can never enjoy my birthday, but this whole scenario mirrored my move from Baltimore to Virginia in the first place. Fortunately, two things made a major difference this time around. First, I had real solid help from my sister and brother-in-law to help me load the U-Haul in Virginia and unload it at my place in Baltimore. Second, my cell phone was blowing up all day on my birthday with happy birthday text messages. I gotta say, I'm flattered and humbled from getting something as simple as a happy birthday text from a friend or family member.

So I'm driving home Thursday from work to Virginia, and I hit an absolute wall of water, complete with hail stones. Hail stones! In August! Since when does this happen during the summer?

Friday was more of the same. By this point I was dreading driving the truck back and forth from Virginia and hauling all my clothing and furniture around. I was praying that somehow the weather holds up for the big move Saturday.

My prayers were answered. Saturday the skies cleared up, and even though it was a fairly hot day, the move went smoothly overall. I got all the furniture and belongings that I had planned on, and my bedroom was assembled by the end of the day. There were some loose ends leftover in my old place, but I had planned on that all along and will clear that up later this week.

Overall, it's great being back in Baltimore. I'm living with my best friend in the city again, and I'm a whole lot closer to the rest of my friends and family in the area. Oh, there's plenty of drama going on among my family, far too much for me to write about here, but the good outweighs the bad. Life can now get back to normal.

Friday, August 12, 2011

This Is What You Call Progressive?

I grew up watching Sesame Street as a kid. One of my mom's favorite stories about me was when I was three years old, we were shopping in a K-Mart one day, and suddenly she noticed while walking around I had disappeared. She flipped into Super Panic Mode and had the customer service desk page me on the loud speakers so she could find me.

As it had turned out, I wandered off to the TV section to watch Sesame Street. I sat down on the floor and turned the channel to PBS and had a grand time minding my own business, not thinking in the slightest about what my mom was going through trying to find me. Life obviously went on, and everything was fine.

Two of my personal favorite characters on the show were Bert and Ernie. They were best friends and played off one another all the time. Sure, they weren't Grover or Oscar the Grouch, but they were still fun to watch. Over the last decade or so a recurring subject has come up involving gay and human rights groups petitioning for Bert and Ernie to become a "couple." The thinking is that having fairly iconic characters like these two would be a positive influence on children to embrace gay couples in the real world. In the last week I've read several articles online discussing the concept and how it's supposedly being pushed harder now than ever for PBS to make the change.

The subject is a sensitive one, so I'm going to do my best to refrain from being political about everything. For starters, I'm not getting into the morality of homosexual relationships at all here. That's not really the issue. What really puzzles me about this is these human rights groups are pushing PBS to suddenly evolve two characters who are Muppets. They've been part of the show for decades, and I suppose the idea is that because they're so popular already, kids would likely not think twice about them being a couple since they already know them so well.

It doesn't matter what any human rights group's logic on the subject is, really. It doesn't change the fact that we're talking about freaking Muppets here! Why are we having this discussion? Furthermore, what exactly does making Bert and Ernie gay add to them as characters? Does it make the two of them more progressive in nature? The whole idea is completely arbitrary - why specifically pick Bert and Ernie? Because they're already friends? Why not Big Bird and Snuffleuppagus? Oh wait, you're right - that'd involve an eight-foot canary and some kind of furry elephant becoming a couple. How silly.

If human rights groups really wanted to petition PBS to include a gay couple on Sesame Street, what's wrong with introducing a couple fresh to the show? Have them meet everyone else already on the show, and let everyone welcome them in with open arms. The same point is made, and would likely be even made more strongly by showing everyone treating the gay couple with respect and friendship right off the bat. Simple questions posed by the other characters on the show could help the kids better understand gay couples and their lifestyles, just as the show has done in the past with regards to subjects like racism.

I've long been on the fence about the subject of gay marriage. It doesn't affect how I conduct my life at all. When plenty of heterosexual couples already do more than enough to destroy the sanctity of marriage through cheating and physical abuse, singling out gay marriage as the nail in the coffin of the concept of family looks pretty absurd and petty. What I don't like is the idea of making an arbitrary change like coupling off Bert and Ernie in the name of educating kids when it's a completely unnecessary change.