While Yankee fans may not be quite there yet, Met fans have been ready for some football since about, oh, the end of May. Either way, the National Football League gets going with their annual Thursday night party to begin the 2009 regular season.
The saying 'on any given Sunday' took on new meaning when the perennial doormat Arizona Cardinals came with one defensive stop of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. While Cinderella stories do not normally stretch as far as that, teams that finished way out of the money a year ago have no reason to count themselves out of Super Bowl XLIV.
Well, maybe the Detroit Lions can make plans for the beginning of February.
Don't go out to Las Vegas just yet with these predictions, but we'll take a look at them after New Year's Day to see how accurate they were.
AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2008 record: 11-5) After barely missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker with a back-up quarterback the entire season sans the first quarter of the opening game, the Pats are an angry bunch looking for redemption. Tom Brady is back and if he stays healthy, expect this team to dominate again. PREDICTION: 13-3, division winner, Super Bowl champions.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (2008 record: 11-5) Their 10-game improvement was the story of the last regular season but a one-and-done in the playoffs didn't make head honcho Bill Parcells too happy. Chad Pennington is good for another double-digit season in wins but expect the Fish to take a step back, especially with the Wildcat offense not catching anybody off guard this year. PREDICTION: 9-7
NEW YORK JETS (2008 record: 9-7) Good riddance, Brett Favre, hello Mark Sanchez. Gang Green will be going with a rookie quarterback and head coach so there will be some growing pains. Rex Ryan has the right attitude but will need some time to get them back to the playoffs. PREDICTION: 6-10
BUFFALO BILLS (2008 record: 7-9) Anyone want to take a guess how long before Terrell Owens rips apart this locker room? The mercurial wide receiver is not the right fit for this team and will delay the progress of young quarterback Trent Edwards. PREDICTION: 6-10
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (2008 record: 12-4) The defending Super Bowl champions will not repeat but will be a factor, no less. Big Ben is as steady as they come and their defense is always special. PREDICTION: 11-5, division winner.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (2008 record: 11-5) Joey Flacco played extremely well as a rookie and ran the conservative offense well. They lost linebacker Bart Scott in free agency to the Jets but resigned Ray Lewis, who may have one more good run left in him. PREDICTION: 10-6, wild card team.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (2008 record: 4-11-1) Typical Eric Mangini. His secret-squirrel methods seem to have been taken up a notch by the new head coach choosing to keep his starting quarterback's identity a secret nearly until the offense jogs out on the field for their first series. This is not a good football team that has had questionable drafts of late, leaving them void of quality starters and depth. Great fans, though. PREDICTION: 5-11
CINCINNATI BENGALS (2008 record: 4-12) What will it take to pull the plug on Marvin Lewis? The Bungles have been consistently bad on the field, off the field and in the locker room. They are the old Trailblazers of the NFL. At least Chad Johnson (I refuse to call him Ochocinco) will be interesting and have some fun. PREDICTION: 4-12
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (2008 record: 12-4) Peyton Manning has still got that zip on his ball and will carry the Colts on his back. The mainstays are getting a little up there but they should be able to stay healthy enough for a successful campaign. PREDICTION: 11-5, division winner.
TENNESSEE TITANS (2008 record: 13-3) A 10-0 start to the season put the former Houston Oilers on a path to the playoffs. Expect them to go down a notch or two with the likelihood of Kerry Collins coming back down to earth a bit. Also, the free agent defection of Albert Haynesworth will hurt the defense. PREDICTION: 10-6, wild card team.
HOUSTON TEXANS (2008 record: 8-8) Slowly but surely, this franchise is headed in the right direction. They have a talented young defense and seem to be content with Matt Schaub at quarterback. They still are at least a year away from making the postseason. PREDICTION: 8-8
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2008 record: 5-11) The Jags took a big step back last season. Were they as bad as their record showed? Maybe not, but as Bill Parcells always said you are what you are. David Garrard is a player and head coach Jack Del Rio looks good in a suit. PREDICTION: 7-9
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (2008 record: 8-8) The Bolts pulled out a miracle playoff berth last year after a rough start. With Phillip Rivers and LT, they should run away with the weakest division in football. PREDICTION: 12-4, division winner.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (2008 record: 2-14) The rebuilding has begun and Arrowhead Stadium will not be a happy place this winter. We will find out if Matt Cassel is a legitimate starting quarterback in this league or if he was merely a product of a good system in New England. PREDICTION: 6-10
OAKLAND RAIDERS (2008 record: 5-11) This may be JaMarcus Russell's last chance at proving that he is not a complete bust. The former overall number one draft pick has not only played bad but is in terrible condition on top of that. PREDICTION: 5-11
DENVER BRONCOS (2008 record: 8-8) This team will have a huge drop off. No Mike Shanahan and no Jay Cutler make for a long season at Mile High. When you also factor in the Brandon Marshall fiasco, it could get ugly real fast for new head coach Josh McDaniel. PREDICTION: 4-12
NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
NEW YORK GIANTS (2008 record: 12-4) The G-Men's season began spiraling downward once Plaxico Burress went out. They haven't replaced the gun-totting wide receiver and will struggle at times stretching the field. Good for them they have an awesome defense that will welcome back Osi Umenyiora. Signing Chris Canty away from Dallas was also a huge plus. PREDICTION: 11-5, division winner.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (2008 record: 9-6-1) The Birds somehow found their way into the playoffs and knocked out Big Blue on the road, so they are a resilient bunch. Michael Vick will definitely bring a different element to Phlly and his talent will outshine the distraction that he may cause the first few weeks he is in uniform. PREDICTION: 10-6, wild card team.
DALLAS COWBOYS (2008 record: 9-7) They have a gleaming new stadium but the same head coach. Wade Phillips has not been effective and the meddling Jerry Jones is no help. Cutting T.O. is addition by subtraction and maybe Tony Romo will play better without the constant questions surrounding their relationship. PREDICTION: 9-7
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (2008 record: 8-8) Jason Campbell is not the answer at quarterback but may be the 'Skins' best option. Jim Zorn got the most out of his bunch then and he may again. Albert Haynesworth came at a big cost and his health is always an issue. PREDICTION: 7-9
CHICAGO BEARS (2008 record: 9-7) Acquiring the pouting Jay Cutler was a coup for this franchise, who have their best quarterback since Jim McMahon shuffled his way to the Super Bowl. His players go all out for Lovie Smith, who will find a way to win when it counts. PREDICTION: 11-5, division winner, NFC representative in the Super Bowl.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (2008 record: 10-6) The Vikes squeaked into the playoffs last year and now are relying on the soon-to-be 40-year-old Brett Favre to take them further. Adrian Peterson is arguably the best back in the game and their defense is strong. Close but no cigar. PREDICTION: 10-6, wild card team
GREEN BAY PACKERS (2008 record: 6-10) Aaron Rodgers proved that he was the real deal and that the organization made the right decision in not giving in to Favre. They will improve, however slightly. PREDICTION: 8-8
DETROIT LIONS (2008 record: 0-16) They won't be as bad as they were, but going winless shows that the team gave up on itself. Matt Stafford will take his lumps and there will be a party in the Motor City when they win their first game since...PREDICTION: 3-13
ATLANTA FALCONS (2008: 11-5) This is a team that has bounced back in a flash. '08 Rookie of the Year Matt Ryan is a franchise quarterback, Michael Turner is a big-time back and the team added tight end Tony Gonzalez. PREDICTION: 10-6, division winner.
CAROLINA PANTHERS (2008 record: 12-4) After a high caliber regular season, John Fox's team fell apart in the playoffs. How much longer will they be able to ride the Jake Delhomme train? Expect a drop-off here. PREDICTION: 9-7
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (2008 record: 8-8) Drew Brees is one of the top quarterbacks in the league and will once again find himself at the Pro Bowl. Unfortunately his team will miss the playoffs by a game. PREDICTION: 9-7
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2008 record: 9-7) The Bucs are in a rebuilding mode and there will be many growing pains. At some point during the season, they will insert rookie Josh Freeman and see what he can do with the offense. That is not usually a positive sign. PREDICTION: 6-10
ARIZONA CARDINALS (2008 record: 9-7) Their amazing run ended in a crushing defeat on Super Sunday but they have enough talent to become a contender. It is so hard to just make the big game, let alone get back. The Cards will not make it as interesting this season. PREDICTION: 10-6, division winner.
ST. LOUIS RAMS (2008 record: 2-14) Steve Spagnuolo comes in and will bring with him an air of confidence. It will take some time, of course, but the Rams will surprise some folks. PREDICTION: 6-10
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2008 record: 7-9) Mike Singletary was a special player and may one day become a special coach, but he does not have the talent (or patience) to do it with this group. An unsettled quarterback situation is also a problem. PREDICTION: 6-10
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (2008 record: 4-12) Jim Mora, Jr. gets another crack at it and has some players on his roster. They had an awful year in Mike Holmgren's swan song but should look slightly better. PREDICTION: 5-11
WILD CARD ROUND: Pittsburgh over Tennessee, Indianapolis over Baltimore, Arizona over Minnesota, Philadelphia over Atlanta
DIVISIONAL ROUND: New England over Indianapolis, Pittsburgh over San Diego, Chicago over Philadelphia, New York Giants over Arizona
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS: New England over Pittsburgh, Chicago over New York Giants
SUPER BOWL XLIV: New England over Chicago