When I began the "football predictions" thing about six years ago, I saw it as a ministry to my fellow nerds. Still do. Available in this condensed form is enough talking points for people trapped at awkward parties where they have nothing in common with others. I recently read a blog post about a man whose wife tries to get him involved with the husbands of her friends to no avail. The problem? Completely different interests. These are ice-breakers, people. Use 'em!
They are also useful for fellow clergy. After all, our profession is a major turnoff at casual social events. Your congregants don't like to admit it because they think you might be above these things, but sports is a big part of their Burbanian world and they would love to know you have an interest. Be pastoral, then, and show some...
OK, best talking point this week? "I cannot believe the Bills aren't interested in Matt Leinart! I, mean, really...do they have any other plans? Hockey, perhaps?"
To flesh that out we will turn the to loser conference (the NFC) and to their Western Division. More interesting divisions have been archived under "sports pages"
Not too long ago a team called the Arizona Cardinals chose Matt Leinart with their first pick in the draft. Shortly thereafter, he was benched in favor of his back-up, one Kurt Warner, who had won a Super Bowl, played in another and had a backstory like no one else's. Now, after another Super Bowl (a loss), Kurt has retired to wait it out until his first-ballot selection to the Hall of Fame. Problem is, the Cards don't want Matt. They are going with former pro-bowler Derek Anderson (that is someone who went to the Pro Bowl, not a Candlepin Champion). So, the theory goes, why don't the Bills (of Buffalo...that's in New York) take Matt off their hands? The Bills stink. Matt is better than what they have.
OK, that is all you need during anxious labor day BBQ's. Just nod sagely if they seem to agree. If they disagree then fold like a tent in a hurricane 'cause it doesn't really matter. You just showed you cared, after all, and they would love to tell you more about football than you know...and get you another brat and beer.
Here are my predictions for the NFC West from best to worst.
San Francisco 49ers: If they don't win its a shame. They have one of the best coaches in the league--Mike Singletary--who has inspired this team and made even QB Alex Smith impress during brief periods of time. Besides, the rest of the division isn't very good.
St. Louis Rams: Here is a team that has finally found a replacement for Kurt Warner. The rookies Sam Bradford has played like a man of many more years (but not as many as poor Kurt). Will they make the playoffs? No. They probably won't. But with Bradford they can beat the other two teams, because they are worse.
Arizona Cardinals: Here they are. See above. They have, incidentally, a very good coach in Ken Wisenhunt, but the burden of finding a new QB will make it hard this year. Warner made everyone play better. They will return to contention next year.
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks have a new coach who has been in the league before. He has always struck me as a bit wacky and not in a Rex Ryan (that is, good for football) kind of way. Things may stabilize there this year but that is all they can hope for.
Want to do another one? No? Too bad. (incidentally there are those other predictions under "Sports Pages").
Here is the NFC North
Green Bay Packers: Yes, Brett Favre is gone. Yes!! Brett Favre is gone!! Aaron Rodgers will lead this young team to the division title.
Minnesota Vikings Oh...here's Brett Favre. Not his fault, but he is getting old (he is as old as I am, actually). He will be fine, but not fine enough. They will make the playoffs, though.
Detroit Lions: Oh yeah! I am going out on a limb and saying that the Bears will not remain cohesive enough to prevent the saddest feel-good story in sport. They will fall to the Lions. Glass jaw and all that. Most important prediction of the whole year: They will beat the Pats on Thanksgiving Day. This is not a frivolous prediction either. Even if they are their usual bad selves, they have the pieces to put together a fantastic game in the only game that matters for them. Stafford brings hope to the Motor City. Even more importantly, the trauma of the past few years is fading and they are starting to gel. We will be celebrating with Coney Islands on a certain Thursday in November! Of course, I'm still thinking they will be 6-10.
Chicago Bears: Personnel nightmare. Most people think they will at least beat out the Lions, but I just don't think Cutler is for real. I have been a fan of his ever since the combine but now I am not so sure. Furthermore, they don't seem willing to play to his strengths. Of course, that was last year when he was playing in a system set up for Kyle Orton. Maybe things will be different this time...
Still, I cannot but wonder if they are like the Bills of ten years ago, hiring players based on ability rather than on system needs...