Exhibition, my behind!

Aug 29, 2006 8:26 AM

This year, perhaps more than ever before, we are seeing NFL preseason games for the sake of corporate dollars. It’s garbage.

Players are too afraid of getting hurt, coaches are locked into ultra conservative game plans and the public is forced to watch three hours of this to improve their fantasy football knowledge.

Thankfully this is the final week of lockjaw and we can get started with games that matter. From what little we’ve seen so far, it appears to me the New England Patriots are focused for a big season and possibly another Super Bowl.

Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers are the defending champions, the pressure really seems to be on Seattle returning to the Super Bowl. The pattern this decade has been for the Super Bowl runnerup to miss the playoffs completely the following year. If that’s the case, expect Seattle coach Mike Holmberg to be back in hot water and maybe out of a job.

The Steelers lost the Bus and nearly Big Ben, but fortunately he survived and healed quickly from major injuries from that motorcycle crash. I don’t think the Steelers will be back in the Super Bowl, but certainly will be in the hunt.

Picking Super Bowl finalists is pure speculation now. It really comes down to which team is hurt less by injuries and avoids the distractions Dallas and Oakland will surely have in dealing each week with spoiled brats T.O. and Randy Moss. They’re not the only bad apples, merely the most recognized of the problem children running in the NFL.

Here’s our take of how each division looks as we head into Week 1 beginning Sept. 7.

AFC East:

New England, Miami, NY Jets, Buffalo:

The Patriots rate the favorites because they have Tom Brady and superior depth. The Dolphins look like a solid No. 2. Coach Nick Saban is an animal. Heck, he turned down the President for lunch at the White House! That’s intense.The Jets and Bills are in major reconstruction. Chad Pennington was once a quality QB. The Bills are nowhere without a legitimate QB and we haven’t seen one.

AFC West

San Diego, Denver, Kansas City, Oakland

We like the Chargers. It all boils down to Philip Rivers, but he’s very capable. The other parts are all in place and the defense is playing with a ferocity and emotion not seen in past years. Denver needs to keep Jake Plummer in line. The rest of the team is solid. Kansas City has to establish consistency on the road and keep Trent Green healthy. Oakland has Aaron Brooks, who fits right into a mistake-prone offense that kills itself with penalties.

AFC North

Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland

Yes, the Ravens. Steve McNair is the QB Baltimore has lacked, even in that Super Bowl season. He’s the Ray Lewis on offense. Great heart. They just need to keep him healthy. Cincy is right there if Carson Palmer is 100 percent. The Steelers need a big year from Willie Parker to keep the defenses honest. Cleveland is stuck in a monster division.

AFC South

Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Houston, Tennessee

The Jaguars have the best QB tandem in football. They have depth both on offense and defense. They won 12 last year and can improve. Indianapolis hits the wall this year without Edgerrin James. Peyton is making too many commercials. Houston and Tennessee are not in the same area code as the top two.

NFC East

Dallas, Philadelphia, NY Giants, Washington

Owens or no Owens, Parcells has the horses. Excellent defense, solid offense, great coaching. The Eagles will surprise me. They are playing with a chip on their shoulder and McNabb looks to be in super form. The Giants and Redskins to me are overrated. Plenty of talent, but problems at QB. Eli is spotty at times. Brunell is an injury waiting to happen and there’s nothing behind him. Same with Portis.

NFC West:

Seattle, Arizona, St. Louis, San Francisco

The Seahawks have to win this division. Arizona may be the most improved team in football, but this is a franchise that must kick a loser’s image. St. Louis is no longer the greatest show on turf. San Francisco is showing signs of life, but still in a rebuilding mode behind Alex Smith.

NFC North:

Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay

We like the Vikings to take the division because nobody wants it. Every team is flawed. The Bears just show me nothing on offense and there’s so much pressure on their great defense to pitch shutouts. Detroit is severely lacking in brain power in its organization. Nobody is on the same page and that’s major trouble. Green Bay has an aging Favre, who needs to step aside for Aaron Rodgers.

NFC South:

Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, New Orleans

Like the Patriots, these Panthers are solid everywhere. Jake Delhomme is a quality QB and Steve Smith is quietly the best receiver in football. The defense is stellar. Atlanta has to find a way to win the big games with Michael Vick. Tampa Bay can easily sneak past Atlanta and is a Wild Card possibility. Reggie Bush adds to an exciting Saints offense, but they have no defense at all.

Now, when Week 2 starts, just forget everything you just read.