With the NHL hopelessly gridlocked like the downtown Vancouver core at Friday rush hour and solutions being thrown around which are about as useful as the ever-creative, offensively stupid, this- may- have- once –worked- somewhere- in- Europe – Bike Lanes – then suffice it say that we best fasten our seatbelts because this labour strike may carry on long into the bumpy night. While the Lord The Manor Gary Bettman continues to tout the loyalty of the sport’s Fan Base, both sides of this millionaire sand-box squabble understand that the extremely tenuous portion of said Fan Base – that which inhabits the Lower 48 – is already considering the best ways to re-budget the spending of their sports entertainment dollar. Forgiveness is not going to come as easy for the NHL as it did for the NBAers last season and in those Bettman hot-beds of hockey such as Phoenix, Florida, Tampa Bay and Carolina, even the die-hard hockey-heads have been elbows deep in Fantasy Football predictions and wondering when and if The Tim Tebow Show – A Religious Grid-Iron Reality – is coming to town. On that note, this week and next, we’ll preview the upcoming NFL season and pretend that Donald Fehr And Loathing and his nemesis are locked in a honeymoon suite in Las Vegas trying to massage out the particulars of a long-term, somewhat sensible deal.
NFC West: Let’s kick-off close to home and it appears that in Seattle both the Terrell Owens and the Matt Flynn eras have ended before they even got started. While, no-one is shocked that the Mad Magician that is Pete Carroll had no use for TO’s ball dropping in his offense (that role is already taken by Braylon Edwards), declaring Russell Wilson the starter at QB over highly touted free agent acquisition Matt Flynn just went to show that so-called “open competitions” still take place for some primary positions even when the almighty dollar is in play. Don’t expect the Seahawks to challenge the Niners for the division but they will be better assuming Marshawn Lynch has a card for a cab company in his wallet and local 7/11s have ordered enough Skittles.
In the Bay area, 49er Fans are celebrating the advent of the better un-retiree Randy Moss and while he and Mario Manningham add weapons to Coach Harbaugh’s arsenal, RB Frank Gore is another year older and QB Alex Smith is another year more Alex Smith-like but if defense really does win Championships, expect San Francisco to be in a lot of Anchor Steam-fuelled discussions. Meanwhile, in the desert, the Cardinals have a pre-season QB controversy between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton! This is where Let’s Make A Deal Fans, even knowing the likelihood of finding an unwashed pot-bellied pig, opt to look behind Door #3. Skelton, at present, looks like the favorite for the job based solely on his higher position on the Chris Berman Nickname-O-Meter. And then there’s St. Louis… where thankfully there is Steven Jackson and a really nice arch to look at…
NFC South: In a post-BountyGate world, there is a strong possibility that the New Orleans Saints might be able to score enough points behind QB Drew Brees to win games and even win a perennially tough division. If pre-season is any indicator, this new Steve Spagnuolo defense is surprisingly porous and may require at the very least a locker-room penny-ante poker game to motivate the troops…in lieu of the less PC “Kill The Head” speech of course. With Puppet Master Payton operating from well behind the scenes, the Saints have too much talent and pride to let an entire season slip away so expect them to work through the litany of problems.
In Atlanta, there are more people that miss the Thrashers than there are that use the phrase “over-achievers” when it comes to the Falcons. RB Michael Turner may have finally burned out but with WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones and the ageless Tony Gonzalez at TE, QB Matt Ryan has loads off talent around him but while he has been efficient throughout his career, no-one in Atlanta has ever suggested he assume the moniker “Prime Time.” Same might be said for Tampa QB Josh Freeman who has been given the proverbial kingdom keys with the arrival of WR Vincent Jackson and additional RB help with rookie Doug Martin. Nothing says “You Da Man” like having QB Dan Orlovsky behind you on the depth chart. No QB questions need to be answered for the Panthers though as Cam Newton prepares to face the sophomore jinx with an extended committee of RBs and a hopefully healthier defense. Take special note of LB Thomas Davis who is returning from… wait for it… his 3rd ACL surgery on the same knee – that my friends, is a athlete… or a fool… you decide.
NFC North: An off-season with no Super Bowl ring and no Brett Favre rumours is almost considered a break-even for MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. They will continue to fling the ball around the field, flag football style but especially to WRs Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson and then, occasionally, as an after-thought hand the ball off to RB James Starks or goal-line mythical beast FB John Kuhn. If you can find a way to stop them, it either means you are Tom Coughlin or please forward your resume to “General Manager Job, Madden 13.”
Despite the emergence of the Detroit Lions last year, Megatron and QB Matthew Stafford need someone to materialize from the M*A*S*H* unit that is their RB corps and at this point Alan Alda would suffice. Last man standing right now is RB Keiland Williams but the season hasn’t started yet… Hey WR Brandon Marshall is opening his new 1 Man No-Show in Chicago which will have Bears Fans exited about QB Jay Cutler for about 12 healthy seconds again. Cue the George Wendt SNL skits and order the deep dish, even Mike Ditka isn’t picking Da Bears this year. They will however, be better than the Vikings who thankfully have Chris Kluwe…who thankfully is one helluva punter…
NFC East: Another division where QB questions abound. Except for in the Big Apple where once more the New York Giants and Little Eli just go about their business. RB Ahmad Bradshaw now has the job all to himself and WRs Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are as dangerous a combo as there is in the League. The defense is still led by DEs Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck and has back-up depth and outstanding athleticism across the board. As this team continues to show – it isn’t build for the regular season – it’s all about the January/February games.
Yes – before you ask – the Redskins will be competitive. No, they will not win the division behind Robert Griffin III – not as long as Mike Shanahan keeps RB Tim Hightower at the top of his depth chart (I would prefer Lt. Moses Hightower) and oh yeah… as long as Daniel Snyder owns the franchise. The Cowboys will continue to lead the NFL in Cheerleader Reality Shows, terrible Jerry Jones GM decisions (see Felix Jones, no relation, at this point) and Tony Romo hype-disappointments. RB Demarco Murray keeps them relevant but I would honestly rather watch the Ewings sell Southfork. All is also no longer Sunny In Philadelphia where QB Michael Vick is showing signs of wear and tear and although Coach Andy Reid has always given him the freedom to roam outside the pocket and make plays to his dynamic wide-outs and RB LeSean McCoy, keeping him healthy just may require the coaching staff to put him on a…oh, you know it’s coming…slightly shorter leash.
On that note Kelowna…until next week when we tackle the AFC…take good care of yourselves and each other…