The past NFL off-season has been filled with so much drama that you'd think Mark Sanford's PR people had choreographed it. Tonight, the action shifts from dog fighting and old dogs returning to the actual (gasp!) game of football. How will the off-field drama affect the 2009 season? What else is in store this year? Stat-armored pundits give their forecasts.
- Season of the Comeback, says the Sporting Blog's Dan Shanoff. Citing the return of Tom Brady, Mike Vick and Bret Favre, Shanoff predicts "Favre will be a sideshow, but I think that impacted by Brady and Vick's comebacks, the Patriots and Eagles will meet in the Super Bowl. That's how big their returns to the league will be. "
- Another Fantastic Year, says Michael Tunison from the Sporting Blog, who adds that the off-season drama has no effect on what we'll be seeing on the field. "Even if this offseason were an uneventful one, the 2009 season was never at a loss for plot points. The return of Tom Brady. Whether the Steelers can repeat and challenge New England for team of the decade status. The drama surrounding what will likely be a (possibly disastrous) lame duck season for head coach Wade Phillips in Dallas, set to the opening of a billion dollar stadium with low-hanging video boards. Whether surging teams like Atlanta or Baltimore can take the next step. Whether longtime mediocre teams like Houston and San Francisco can harness their momentum from late last year."
- Season of Shake-Ups, says John at Sports of Boston. Taking into account the returns of the aforementioned players, he gives a top ten list of events/players who may make things interesting. His number one game-changing factor? Tom Brady: "Tommy Boy is back, and this time he’s not being played by Chris Farley. If Brady stays healthy, look out NFL." Shocking choice, considering the source.
- You May Be Watching It Differently, says Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch who points out that the off-season "produced some seismic shifts in the NFL broadcast marketplace...WhenJohn Maddensurprised NBC Sports chairmanDick Ebersol last April." Deitsch goes on to explain the shake-up around the networks of who will be filling in for who, who will be promoted and who was kicked out (ahem, Tony Kornheiser). He also gives a guide to the channels.
- Goodbye to the Parity System?, says Bloomberg's Aaron Kuriloff and Curtis Eichelberger. For the first time in 90 years, the season will open without player labor contracts. They says, "The owners of the NFL’s 32 teams are preparing for the salary cap -- which holds player payroll to a percentage of revenue -- to expire at the end of the season, while negotiating with the players union, Commissioner Roger Goodell said. No cap means teams may bid unchecked against each other for players, driving up salaries and possibly leaving less-wealthy clubs at a disadvantage."
- Hello to More Safety? asks Tony Monkovic at the Fifth Down, noting the toughening of the NFL's rules on hitting. Citing NFL quarterback Carson Palmer, who says, “The truth of the matter is … somebody is going to die here in the NFL. It’s going to happen," Monkovic asks, 'did the NFL do enough?"
As for those predictions, here are the guides from the big guns in the sporting world.
ESPN: Seven of the sports empire's eight NFL pundits will lay out their choice week by week next to accuscore, a computer that analyzes over 10,000 game simulations and chooses based on the best outcome.
The Left Field: Reuters' sports blog features The Lineman, a blogger who offers up his "Pick-of-the-Week plus his top five other games." His analysis of tonight's opener: "It’s a new season but the Steelers and Titans have a familiar look with both teams returning all but two starters. The Steelers may be Super Bowl champs but remember the Titans, not Pittsburgh, had the best record in the NFL (13-3) last season and were 12-4 against the spread. "will offer up his Pick-of-the-Week plus his top five other games."