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A little 'dead zone' fun


(May 9)—Soon, the preseason magazines will be coming out. They'll look at last year's standings and tell us what'll happen this year, which, given recent history, makes no sense at all.

These will be the same magazines that last year predicted the Chargers would finish in last place in the AFC West and the Steelers would finish third in the AFC North. These will be the same magazines that alternatingly picked the Titans and Chiefs to go all the way in 2004.

And what will our reaction be to this year's predictions? Outrage, which was our reaction a year ago. Talk shows will bulge and bristle with reaction to the mags' picks.

Oh, how we love this time of the year. Even though this is, by far, the least interesting three-month stretch of the calendar, we love it because we can say anything we want and no one can prove us wrong. It's prediction time. Go ahead! What else do we have to do?

August has training camp and the preseason. September through December is all about the regular season. January is the postseason and February is the scouting combine and preparations for free agency and salary cap moves. March is free agency and April is the draft.

So what's May, June and July?

Not much, that's what. May is about lifting weights and underwear practices. Some team will sign J.J. Stokes in June and there will be an explosion of excitement. July is a countdown to the start of training camp.

It's the "dead zone," but, fortunately for us, we have those mags; those ridiculous rags that leave us angry and bewildered that they don't see the upcoming season exactly as we do.

But they're fun. We love to be wrong. It's true; the anticipation is more exciting than the games themselves.

So here's this writer's ridiculous attempt at a little "dead zone" excitement. I am not, however, a pick-up-last-year's-standings kind of guy. I like a little shock factor and you might recall that last year I picked Tennessee and Kansas City to be the disappointment teams of the year.

Let's start with that. Who will be the disappointment teams of this season?

Shock factor team of the year: New England. The Patriots have lost the heart and soul of their defense, Tedy Bruschi, and a whole lot of other guys who made that team great. All of a sudden, Tom Brady is making the big buck and that'll shine a different light on him and the Pats' salary cap. What's to like about what the Pats have done in the offseason? I sense a high degree of panic. I don't like their draft or much of anything else that has happened to that team this offseason. Both coordinators are gone, too. In my shock factor pick of the year, I say the Pats don't even make the playoffs.

Disappointment team of the year II: Denver. What would cause a team to pick up Cleveland's defensive line rejects? Cleveland was last in the league against the run last year, while the Broncos were fourth. The Broncos traded away their first-round pick and did almost nothing to help themselves in the draft. Jake Plummer isn't the answer at quarterback and it's not likely he'll make it through another season before Mike Shanahan pulls the plug. The Broncos are also coming off another postseason humiliation and that's the kind of thing that eats at the heart of a franchise.

Moderate surprise team of the year: Cincinnati. Carson Palmer is the real thing and he has big-time weapons on offense. The issue in Cincinnati is Marvin Lewis' defense, which collapsed into a barrage of points allowed late last season. Lewis addressed that need on defense in the draft by selecting David Pollack and Odell Thurman. The Steelers and Ravens better watch out for the Bengals. They're about to become a playoff team.

Major surprise team of the year: Minnesota. The Vikings will become a better team without Randy Moss than they could've ever been with him. The cancer has been removed from the Vikings and they will flourish. With Moss gone, Daunte Culpepper will have a chance to make this his team, which it always should've been. Culpepper is a true star. He's the guy who drives the Vikings and it won't hurt that he'll be quarterbacking a team that will be decidedly better on defense. They could go all the way.

Teams on the radar: Bills, Chiefs, Jaguars, Jets and Panthers. Buffalo has a lot of pieces in place but putting those pieces together may be too much to expect of young quarterback J.P. Losman. … All of a sudden, Larry Johnson looks like the second coming of Priest Holmes and if Kansas City got anything done on defense this offseason it's possible the Chiefs could get back to the playoffs. … Making the playoffs is absolutely the expectation in Jacksonville but that will require a full recovery from offseason knee surgery by Fred Taylor. … The Jets took a big step forward last season but does Chad Pennington have a postseason arm? … Carolina showed a lot of grit in its comeback effort last season and the Panthers drafted awfully well last month.

How's that for starters? I'll have more for you later. Hey, it's May. We have time.

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