Arts & Entertainment

Picking Splinters: Weighing the Odds

The NFL season kicks off Thursday night, making the obvious question of the week “are you ready for some football?”

With all of the media coverage of the NFL, coverage that continues longer than that of any of the other major leagues and ramps up to a frenzy at the start of the summer, it’s hard to believe anyone will enter this week’s games unprepared. Although, with a disproportionate amount of that coverage tilting towards Brett Favre’s unretirement, it’s conceivable folks may have missed out on some interesting story lines. Here are the stories I’ll be monitoring as the season progresses.

The New England Patriots were nearly perfect last season … but that one loss sure stung. Coming into 2008, there’s no reason the Pats can’t be just as good. That does not mean however that there won’t be some challenges. Tom Brady enters the season a little dinged up and his offensive line, which looked as sturdy as balsa wood in the Super Bowl, is another year older. That could prove to be a bad combination. After losing Asante Samuel, the Pats are a little thin at cornerback too. They brought in Deltha O’Neal this week, but the fact that O’Neal was still available a week before the season starts should probably tell you something.

For all the potential problem areas though, is anyone really willing to bet against Bill Belichick with an entire offseason to plot his revenge? Me either.

The Super Bowl champs enter the season facing some adversity as well, losing Osi Umenyiora for the season and Michael Strahan to retirement – the real kind. But early reports are showing that Eli Manning has finally come into his own and, with the confidence given by last year’s Super Bowl win, could have finally reached his lofty potential. He had a good season last year, but also had far too many interceptions (20). If he cuts back on the picks, the Giants could be right back in the playoffs this year.

I’ll also have my eye on the NFL’s bad boys, Pacman … er, excuse me, Adam Jones of the Cowboys, the Bengals’ Chris Henry and … Marvin Harrison? The quiet Harrison seems not to fit here, but this past offseason Philadelphia police questioned the Indianapolis wide receiver regarding a shooting near his North Philly bar. Will the issue bubble up during the season?

There’s been a lot of talk about how Jones has been surrounded by “good influences” like former Cowboys Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders. As someone who watched football in the 1990s, I find that statement a little laughable. Irvin and “Prime Time” both had their run-ins with Johnny Law in their day and neither would have been considered a suitable role model for a player on thin ice with the league. To be fair, Irvin and Sanders may have really cleaned up their act and are simply showing Jones how to do the same. For Jones’s sake however, I hope the advice stops short of the wardrobe department. Their outfits have been known to make even the glamorous Prince look like a monk in comparison.

This year’s trendy dark horse pick for the Super Bowl seems to be the Minnesota Vikings. Yes, the Vikings have a great defense, but they also have Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback. A guy who throws 12 interceptions to just nine touchdowns doesn’t seem like the type that can navigate his team through the playoffs, regardless of how good his defense and running back are. Trent Dilfer at least threw more TDs than picks when he won with the Ravens in 2001.

Will Darren McFadden follow in the footsteps of last year’s stud rookie RB, the Vikes’ Adrian Peterson? Or will he fit the more disappointing mold of Reggie Bush, who has yet to play to his astronomical expectations in New Orleans?

Okay, I’ll be watching to see how Broadway Brett does with his new team. But I won’t like it.

Then there are the Washington Redskins and their phenomenal flameouts to end their preseason schedule. I know preseason games don’t count, but Skins fans have to be discouraged by the monumentally awful showings heading into Thursday night’s game with the Giants. There are a lot of questions about the offense and a lot of doubts that the Skins can make the playoffs in Year One under Jim Zorn.

Quarterback Jason Campbell showed glimpses of his talent last year, and now he has a pair of rookie receivers to give him some taller targets. But there’s still the simple fact that Campbell and the offense have had to learn three different playbooks in the past four years. If you look at the successful teams around the league, they’ve all had consistency among their offensive units. Will the Skins stick with their plans if things go awry? Or will they start tweaking and change things as they’ve done for the last four years? If it’s the latter, I suspect I’ll be writing a similar blurb about the team this time next year.