Posted: Monday September 5, 2005 12:06PM; Updated: Monday September 5, 2005 12:12PM
STICKING BY MY SPRING PICKS
Patriots RB Corey Dillon ran for 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
I'm not switching my spring predictions very much. I'm still picking New England to beat Minnesota in Super Bowl Extra Large (XL, get it?) in February.
There is a science, a slight science, to my picks. Every year, there's a couple of stunners. Look back and see:
2000: Giants and Ravens, a combined 15-17 and playoff-less in 1999, go 24-8 and meet in the Super Bowl.
2001: Pats and Bears come from nowhere to play home playoff games.
2002: Jon Gruden resuscitates Bucs. Bears crash to earth.
2003: Raiders divebomb from 11 wins to four. Carolina, winners of eight games in the previous two years, win 11.
2004: Steelers go from 6-12 to 15-1, Chargers from 4-12 to 12-4. With that in mind, here's how I see the order in every division.
AFC East: New England, Buffalo, New York Jets, Miami. I'm tired of picking against a coach as smart and thorough as Bill Belichick with players as mistake-free as New England's. I like Buffalo's defense. The Jets are the best team in football I pick to not make the playoffs, but I think the Bills' running game and defense will trump them. Miami will struggle horribly on offense.
AFC North: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland. I believe the Steelers' running game will still be good, whatever the fate of Jerome Bettis and DuceStaley. Baltimore's stalwarts are aging; can they be really good for 16 games? I have my doubts. Cleveland is going to have another depressing season.
AFC South: Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Houston. The Jags morph into this era's no-name defense. The Colts are still really good. Tennessee edges Houston because of one reason: a healthy Steve McNair versus DavidCarr.
AFC West: San Diego, Kansas City, Denver, Oakland. The Chargers start to build New England-type depth. Kansas City improves markedly on defense, but not enough to beat the Schottenheimers. Denver tires of JakePlummer's streakiness. Oakland plays a dozen 38-31 games, losing eight.
Wild cards: Buffalo, Indianapolis.
AFC Championship, at Foxboro: New England 30, San Diego 13.