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2007 Football Forecast

Another season of NFL action is here and Cigar Aficionado's gridiron guru gets down and dirty to make his predictions
Danny Sheridan
From the Print Edition:
Richard Branson, Sept/Oct 2007

With the National Football League turning into the National Felony League, commissioner Roger Goodell has been forced to become a modern-day Wyatt Earp. In the last year, there have been more than 50 player arrests in a disturbing crime wave that has given the league a black eye.

Fortunately, the new sheriff in town means business. He has a new personal conduct policy in place and to make his point loud and clear, Goodell dealt a regular-season suspension to Tennessee's troubled Adam "Pacman" Jones and eight games each to Cincinnati's Chris Henry and former Chicago Bears lineman Tank Johnson."It's a privilege to represent the league, not a right," proclaimed Goodell, and his firm hand was applauded by the owners.

"I hope this sends a message to people in our league for how to conduct themselves," said esteemed New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Goodell's code of conduct also extends to the playing field. Spiking a ball after a touchdown will incur a five-yard penalty. Despite all the negative press generated by player indiscretions, the NFL still managed to set an attendance record last year (22,199,712), which was 400,000 more than the 2005 mark. This prompted the league's power brokers to look to Europe for additional fandom. For the first time ever, a regular-season game will be played overseas. The October 28 matchup between the Giants and the Dolphins at London's Wembley Stadium was well received by Britons, who snatched up 40,000 tickets at the 90,000-seat stadium in an hour and a half.

Such enthusiasm could portend one overseas game per team as part of a 17-game regular season being studied by the NFL, perhaps as early as 2009. Looking ahead to 2011, the owners awarded the Super Bowl to the Cowboys' newly constructed 100,000-seat-capacity stadium, where the price of a ticket is projected to be at least $900. Big D means Big Dollars. In these pages last September I picked the Colts to win the Super Bowl. This season I like the Patriots to capture their fourth championship in seven years (over the Panthers). I know this much: I'm making this year's AFC representative a seven-point favorite, no matter who shows up from the NFC.

AFC EAST

1 New England Patriots
The Patriots are primed for another Lombardi Trophy after a dynamic off-season shopping spree netted several lethal receivers for QB Tom Brady. Wide receiver Randy Moss, acquired from the Raiders for a fourth-round draft pick, is looking to recapture the success he had with the Vikings and should send shivers down opponents' spines. Other additions to the receiving corps are Danté Stallworth, who averaged 19 yards per catch last season with the Eagles, Wes Welker and Kelley Washington. New England also bolstered a defense that yielded the second fewest points, signing free-agent OLB Adalius Thomas. The Patriots' muskets are loaded and you'll see Brady and his girlfriend, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, in Arizona on February 3.

2 New York Jets
Long-suffering Jets fans haven't seen a championship since Super Bowl III (and like to think Joe Namath sold his soul to the devil for that one), but under Eric Mangini there is hope. In his first season, Mangini inherited a 4-12 team and confounded the experts with a 10-6 finish. One of the reasons was QB Chad Pennington, who completed a season without injury for the first time, throwing for a career-best 3,352 yards and completing 64.5 percent of his passes. A brilliant trade for RB Thomas Jones, who led the Bears with 1,210 rushing yards, gives the Jets a legitimate replacement for RB Curtis Martin and will make life easier for receivers Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. Look for rookie CB Darrelle Revis to help the secondary match up with the Patriots.

3 Miami Dolphins
Miami fans are upset that management passed on Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn, the big fish that could have solved the Dolphins' post—Dan Marino quarterback problem. Instead, they drafted lightning-fast receiver and return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. from Ohio State and acquired veteran QB Trent Green from the Chiefs for a fifth-round pick in the 2008 draft. To mollify fans, coach Cam Cameron, Nick Saban's replacement, announced that the Dolphins are "drafting the whole Ginn family." Huh? In the free-agent waters, the biggest splash the Dolphins made was signing Steelers OLB Joey Porter, who immediately made his own splash with an altercation in Las Vegas. Defensive Player of the Year Jason Taylor (13.5 sacks) leads a strong defense, but don't look for a championship celebration at Shula's Steak House anytime soon.

4 Buffalo Bills
The Bills were $30 million under the salary cap, but spent little in the free-agent market to improve on a 7-9 record. What's more, coach Dick Jauron took a big hit on defense with the departures of LB London Fletcher-Baker, LB Takeo Spikes and CB Nate Clements. J. P. Losman has finally settled in as the starting quarterback and is teamed with deep threat WR Lee Evans, who caught a career-high 82 passes for 1,292 yards. The Bills had a quality draft, landing LB Paul Posluszny from Penn State and RB Marshawn Lynch from the University of California to replace Willis McGahee. There's no way the Bill's will get a chance to lose a fifth straight Super Bowl.

AFC NORTH


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