Behold: the 2006 NFL season is at last here. These are my predictions for the top Superbowl contenders. For information as to why predicted division winners Colts and Bears are not true contenders, see Badcock's other brilliantly-argued columns.
AFC EAST: New England Patriots Strengths: intelligent, flexible coaching staff, poised QB, O-line, D-line & LBs, pass defense. Weaknesses: WR depth, run defense, another brand-new inexperienced D coach. Variables: RBs Dillon vs. Maroney, S Harrison's return from injury
AFC NORTH: Pittsburgh Steelers Strengths: coaching continuity, O-Line, run defense, playmakers at LB & DB extremely talented. Weaknesses: might lack power run game, WR depth. Variables: QB health
AFC CENTRAL: Denver Broncos Strengths: coaching continuity, well-schemed O & D more important than personnel, O-Line, run defense, LBs. Weaknesses: pass rush, red zone D, DBs after Bailey, impatience. Variables: Jake Plummer: charade or facade?, WR health.
NFC EAST: Washington Redskins Strengths: finest head coach & coordinator group in the NFL (Gibbs, Williams, Saunders), running game, man-for-man best skill positions in NFL, aggressive bone-fracturing defense. Weaknesses: new offense, special teams (PK & Punter are atrocious). Variables: QB position, assimilation of new offense
NFC SOUTH: Carolina Panthers Strengths: coaching continuity, vertical & horizontal passing game, D-line talent & depth, CBs. Weaknesses: RB depth, LB stability. Variables: WR Johnson, O-Line
NFC WEST: Seattle Seahawks Strengths: coaching continuity (noticing a theme here?), MVP RB Alexander, 2006 highest-rated QB Hasselbeck, O-Line (including FB Strong), D-Line and LBs gives up yards not points, very easy schedule, best red zone team overrall 2006. Weaknesses: DB depth, difficulty vs. spread offenses Variable: letdown after losing Superbowl?
My final prediction? WASHINGTON REDSKINS beat Pittsburgh Steelers