2008 NFL Preview

Six of the NFL’s 32 franchises have never been to the Super Bowl since it began in 1967. Nine more have played in the big game but never won it. That’s right, almost half the league has never been atop the NFL mountain. But the start of a new season means fresh dreams for all 32 teams and their fans that this could be their year. There are enough NFL previews out their breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of each fan, so in this year’s NFL preview I’m breaking down the fans of all 32 franchises.

(Predicted record in parentheses)
* Wild card

NFC East

New York Giants (11-5)
They just won a Super Bowl as a major underdog in one of the most exciting and improbable finishes in NFL history. The Giants fans have no reason to complain this year. Instead of greedily obsessing over a repeat, Giants fans should just watch tapes of Eli to Tyree over and over again.

*Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
America’s Team has fans all over the country. They’re one of the most popular teams in sports, but their fans (like team owner Jerry Jones) have a sense of entitlement because they’ve played in so many Super Bowls already.

Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
Few fans have been tortured like Philly fans. Good teams kept falling short earlier this decade. Then, Donovan McNabb’s health went south. The team still hasn’t recovered from the brief Terrell Owens era, and the fans are starving for a first Super Bowl victory.

Washington Redskins (9-7)
Fans of the Redskins know success, as long as they’ve been fans for more than 15 years. Washington was a powerhouse through the 80s and won another title in 1992. Since then, it’s been a little tougher being a Redskins fan as owner Daniel Snyder has spent big with little to show for it.

NFC North

Minnesota Vikings (12-4)
They watched Fran Tarkenton come up short. They traded for Herschel Walker only to see the Cowboys reap the benefits and win Super Bowls with the pieces they acquired. They watched the rise and fall of Randy Moss and Daunte Culpeper. Vikings fans are cautiously optimistic about the Adrian Peterson era, but you can understand why they might be skeptical of any Super Bowl talk for this team that finished out of the playoffs last year.

Green Bay Packers (9-7)
No one had their fanhood tested more this offseason than Packers fans during the whole Brett Favre saga. With their favorite son now dawning the green of another team, Packers fans are left to embrace the untested arm of Aaron Rodgers, knowing he now leads a team that played at Lambeau in the NFC Championship last year.

Detroit Lions (7-9)
They haven’t played in the postseason since 1999. They haven’t won a playoff game since ’91. Lions fans definitely have waited a long time for a breakthrough season, so at least they’ll be well practiced at waiting another year.

Chicago Bears (4-12)
Bears fans have a common gripe: quarterback. The Bears really haven’t had a quality QB since their Super Bowl championship with Jim McMahon in the mid-80s. That won’t change with Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman back again this year.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints (11-5)
Saints fans were treated to a rare winning season two years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It made last seasons regression all the more frustrating. But hopes are high again in New Orleans. If they stay healthy, the Saints may march into the playoffs and give their fans something to cheer about once again.

*Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)
Bucs fans are reaching the point where that Super Bowl Championship is no longer enough to give Jon Gruden a free pass. They’ve been up and down the past couple of years, but with an aging Jeff Garcia at quarterback, the Bucs fans are clamoring for a title run now.

Carolina Panthers (5-11)
With questions about the stability and ability of their quarterback and their star receiver suspended for the first two games of the season, Panthers fans have to be a little worried about this season already. They’ve made three conference title game appearances since entering the league in 1996, but haven’t been the same since their Super Bowl loss to the Patriots in 2004.

Atlanta Falcons (2-14)
Falcons fans cheered one of the most electrifying players in the NFL until last season when Michael Vick’s career came to a screeching halt. The new face of the franchise is that of Matt Ryan, a rookie. He doesn’t run like Vick, but Falcons fans can only hope he brings back his winning ways.

NFC West

St. Louis Rams (9-7)
The Rams have been a formidable franchise for the past decade, but the team struggled last year after being decimated by injuries. If healthy, the team should give their fans a pleasant surprise by challenging for the division title.

Seattle Seahawks (9-7)
After cutting loose Shaun Alexander, the Seahawks have their fans wondering about their running game. Who will carry the load for Seattle? And can the team finally get over the hump in Mike Holmgren’s final season as head coach.

Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
Now that their quarterback of the future has been benched in favor of the ageless Kurt Warner, Cardinals fans…well, let’s be honest. There aren’t many Cardinals fans. This is a franchise that has never enjoyed much success in the NFL and it shows in their fan support.

San Francisco 49ers (3-13)
After being spoiled in the 80s and early 90s, the 49ers fans have had some rough times. They are one of several fan bases wondering where they can find good quarterback play. J.T. O’Sullivan? Alex Smith? Bueller? Bueller?

AFC East

New England Patriots (13-3)
Pardon the rest of the league’s fans for not taking pity on the Patriots. New Englanders are hurting after their Pats’ bid for a perfect season fell one game short with a shocking Super Bowl loss. It will be hard for them to shake that loss, but they’ll have plenty to cheer for again this year with Brady, Moss, Welker and company running the same high-powered offense that shattered records last year.

*New York Jets (11-5)
After a playoff run in 2006, the Jets laid an egg last year that left their fans clamoring for the days of Broadway Joe Namath. Instead, the Jets landed an even more famous QB, the legendary Brett Favre. Expectation were immediately raised for Jets fans, who now expect a team capable of competing with the mighty Patriots in the AFC East.

Buffalo Bills (6-10)
They’re still waiting for that first Super Bowl title. Don’t even mention the words “wide right.” The Buffalo Bills dominated the 90s, but they have only four AFC Championship trophies to show for it. Zero Lombardi trophies. This young Bills team showed some improvement last year, but fans will have to stay patient with quarterback Trent Edwards.

Miami Dolphins (3-13)
Fans are wondering how much the Big Tuna can help the woeful Dolphins. Number one pick Jake Long should help solidify the line, but the Phins fans should expect another losing season as Bill Parcells tries to rebuild this team as he’s done in previous stops with the Giants, Patriots, Jets and Cowboys.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Recently ranked as the best fans in the NFL by a panel of experts at ESPN, Steelers fans are ready for a big year from Big Ben. He put up staggering passing numbers for the black and gold last year, especially for a team traditionally known for its defense and running game. With the Steelers’ exciting offense leading the way, Steelers fans should have a lot to cheer in 2008.

Cleveland Browns (8-8)
The Browns’ surprise 10-win season a year ago was a delight to Browns fans. Now, of course, they’re expecting it—plus a playoff berth. Anything short of that will be disappointing to Cleveland, but it won’t be easy to replicate the success of a year ago. Teams will be ready for the Browns and questions surround quarterback Derek Anderson’s ability to repeat his career year of 2007.

Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)
If Chad Johnson really did change his name to Chad Ocho Cinco, this may be another wild year for the Bengals. Fans in Cincinnati have come to expect disappointment year after year with this team that seemed to be on the cusp of greatness just a few years ago. Injuries, arrests and losses continue to pile up, and so do the non-winning seasons for Cincinnati.

Baltimore Ravens (2-14)
Fans in Baltimore are used to a team led by a strong defense that features Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. This year, that defense may have to score the points, too. Rookie signal-caller Joe Flacco will start the season opener. The other options include injured veteran Kyle Boller and injured second-year man Troy Smith. QB trouble spells trouble for the Ravens this season.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts (13-3)
Now a full year removed from their Super Bowl title, the Colts and their fans are in an interesting spot. Peyton Manning enters the season banged up, and he’s not getting any younger. The same can be said for defensive standouts Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders. If the Colts can stave off the injury bug, though, their fans will be treated to another deep playoff run.

*Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7)
The Jags fans are happy that Jack Del Rio trusted his gut with David Garrard over Byron Leftwich last season. The move paid dividends as Garrard helped Jacksonville to the divisional round of the playoffs while Leftwich flailed out as a Falcons quarterback and has since signed on in a backup role with the Steelers. The Jacksonville faithful is hopeful Del Rio, Garrard and company can take this team even deeper in the playoffs this season.

Tennessee Titans (9-7)
The Titans fans know their team rides on the throwing arm and legs of quarterback Vince Young. After a promising rookie campaign, Young’s progress slowed last season. Still, the team made a wild card berth in the playoffs. The first round exit didn’t erase the memory of Kevin Dyson falling one yard short in the Titans’ lone Super Bowl appearance, but an improved Young might be just the cure Titans fans need.

Houston Texans (8-8)
It’s not easy being the new guy on the block, especially when you’re in a division that sent 75 percent of its teams to the postseason last year. The Texans’ fans saw promise from Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson last year, but injuries played a major role in their downfall. A healthy Texans team could very well compete with the big boys in the division.

AFC West

San Diego Chargers (12-4)
They played in the AFC Championship game last year, but a banged up Philip Rivers combined with an early-game injury to LaDainian Tomlinson kept the Chargers from reaching the Super Bowl. That’s the mindset of their fans anyway. They’re confident a healthy Chargers team is as good as any in the league. Problem is their defensive terror Shawne Merriman is already injured (and risking more injury) but daring to play out the year anyway. If he does further damage, Chargers fans will be left to wonder what if?

Denver Broncos (7-9)
Is this the year Jay Cutler has a breakout season? The reduction of Brandon Marshall’s suspension from three games to one certainly helps Cutler. Fans can only hope this is the year that Cutler emerges from Elway’s shadow and leads the Broncos back to the playoffs. Otherwise, they may start searching for the next Denver QB.

Oakland Raiders (6-10)
The Raiders made a monetary commitment to excellence in the offseason, bringing in several high price free agents plus top draft choice Darren McFadden. Raiders fans may not agree with all the moves, but they were at least satisfied to see the front office working to restore this team to prominence after several years among the league’s worst. Improvement is expected this year. If the Raiders can’t win at least six or seven games, it will be very scary in the Black Hole—and not for the right reasons.

Kansas City Chiefs (3-13)
The Brodie Croyle era has raised more questions than answers for Kansas City fans (not including “How do you spell Brodie Croyle?”) If Larry Johnson can stay healthy, he’ll help lessen the burden on Croyle, but few are expecting the Chiefs to be a top team in the league this year.

Playoff predictions

NFC Wild Card Round
New York Giants over Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Dallas Cowboys over St. Louis Rams

AFC Wild Card Round
Pittsburgh Steelers over Jacksonville Jaguars
New York Jets over San Diego Chargers

NFC Divisional Round
Dallas Cowboys over Minnesota Vikings
New Orleans Saints over New York Giants

AFC Divisional Round
Indianapolis Colts over Pittsburgh Steelers
New England Patriots over New York Jets

NFC Championship
Dallas Cowboys over New Orleans Saints

AFC Championship
New England Patriots over Indianapolis Colts

Super Bowl XLIII
New England Patriots over Dallas Cowboys

There you have it. The Patriots avenge last season’s loss with a Super Bowl win over the Dallas Cowboys. Brady vs. Romo, Moss vs. T.O. This would be a dream matchup for the NFL. As for the fans of the league, well, the Pats and Cowboys are two of the most hated teams in the NFL. And a lot of that has to do with their success, which should continue this year. So let the hating begin. It’s time for NFL 2008.

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.

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