So with that here goes, well … better than nothing — I hope.
1st: Cherries — Jon Brams has put together what appear to be solid offensive, defensive, and special teams. If Brett Favre’s penchant for durability holds up and he can manufacture 20 points or more per game, the Cherries should skate to 10-plus wins. I should add the 10-plus figure is also dependent on Dante Hall winning a game — or even two — by taking a kickoff return or punt return all the way.
2nd: Philadelphia Lakers
3rd: New York Empires
Philadelphia and New York are very well-matched on the offensive side. Both offenses should control the ball well, the Lakers primarily ground-based with the outstanding Jamal Lewis and third down specialist Moe Williams and the Empires with Stephen Davis running and Jake Delhomme throwing to all-world tight end Tony Gonzales. I give the edge to Philadelphia because of their defense. They have Edgerton Hartwell and Tedy Bruschi at linebacker. Their New York counterparts, Chris Claiborne and Brandon Short aren’t slouches; they just don’t play at the same level.
4th: Atlantic City Seagulls — The Gulls will be competitive. I like the deal they made to get Duce Staley to alternate with Tiki Barber at running back. Their pass defense will be torched, though, and I’ve never been a big Vinny Testaverde fan. One guy to watch is tight end Antonio Gates. I expect his star to blossom — next season if not 2004.
1st: Connecticut Comets — The Comets started their team with quarterback Tom Brady, but it’s on the defensive side where they will really shine. Like the Cherries, Connecticut has strong linebackers. Takeo Spikes and LaVar Arrington are big-hearted players who make big plays. Brady doesn’t have that much to work with on offense, but he’s a proven winner who will generally be able to scratch out just enough points.
2nd: Providence Steam Roller
3rd: Albany Racers
As in the Central Division, the two mid-tier teams, Providence and the Cherries’ opening night opponent, Albany, are awfully close in terms of raw talent. The Steam Roller will put up a lot of points. Running back Priest Holmes and wide receiver Torry Holt may each average a touchdown per game. Albany doesn’t have as much firepower, but the Racers’ quarterback Trent Green is a better all around field general than the Steam Roller’s Marc Bulger. The defenses are pretty even. Give second to Providence for translating their advantage in point differential into one or two more wins.
4th: Syracuse Crush — This is the easiest pick on the board. Syracuse compounded the handicap of having the 11th choice in each round of the draft by picking wide receiver Laveranues Coles first and waiting until the 12th round to grab a quarterback, settling for Patrick Ramsey. No disrespect to Coles, but what were they thinking? Five wins max.
1st: Washington Capitols — In the same way their powerhouse teams of the 1960s relied on their quarterback, Don Miller, today’s Caps will rely on their offensive signal caller, Daunte Culpepper. He’ll spearhead a pass-heavy attack with Hines Ward and Troy Brown as his primary targets. Washington’s pass rush with Michael Strahan and Adrian Dingle may be the league’s most potent.
2nd: Richmond Rebels — Quarterback Donovan McNabb can eat up large chunks of yardage throwing to Steve Smith, Amani Toomer, and Muhsin Muhammad, or running himself. Running back Marshall Faulk is still dangerous. The pass rush is formidable with end Shaun Ellis and tackles Jason Ferguson and Kenny Holmes. Safeties Corey Chavous and Aeneas Williams are both tigers. Too bad Richmond and Washington don’t play each other after October 9.
3rd: Pittsburgh Ironmen — The rushers and receivers on the Ironmen — Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport, Wayne Chrebet, Donald Driver, and Antwaan Randle-El — are a good match for the type of ball control offense favored by quarterback Chad Pennington. Protecting the injury-prone Pennington are Mark Tauscher and Marco Rivera. The pass defense could be stellar especially if Ed Reed can adapt to the free safety role.
4th: Baltimore Bolts — Picking the team choosing last in the draft for last place is the safe selection. Fact is the Bolts management did a good job trying to overcome that obstacle. Right tackle Kris Jenkins and linebacker Peter Boulware lead the defense, but they will have their hands full compensating for an obviously weak secondary. On offense, with Curtis Martin running behind Orlando Pace and Kerry Collins throwing to Randy Moss, there is more reason for optimism.That’s how I see the regular season playing out. The playoffs you ask? Ha! Mama didn’t raise no fool! You’ll get my playoff predictions when we see which teams qualify. Back me to the wall, though, and I might tell you I see as wild-card a team representing a city beginning with the letter “P.”