Patrick Thompson’s Prediction: Patriots define dynasty

Michael Vick’s dogfighting trail won’t be the main topic when the 2007-2008 NFL season is reviewed in the history books 20 years from now. The great on-the-field play just might overshadow the horrific story that is unfolding before our eyes. This year’s solid draft class and major free agent transactions have teams that were left for dead at the end of last season fighting for respect as the preseason winds down.

The AFC is once again strong, anchored by the perennial Super Bowl favorite New England Patriots. The Patriots have had one of the best off-seasons in the NFL, with key additions like Randy Moss and Donte’ Stallworth on offense. Linebacker Adalius Thomas makes the already dangerous Patriots a near lock for the AFC Championship game come January, unlike the defending Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts, who did very little improving this off-season.

The Colts’ chances of a repeat are looking slim after the loss of 10 veteran players this off-season, including four starters on defense. The most interesting battle to watch will be the fight for the AFC Division Championship.

The San Diego Chargers will be the favorite, but the Denver Broncos won’t be far behind. The Broncos had no significant losses during the off-season and solidified an already dangerous defense with the additions of Dre’ Bly and Alvin McKinley.

The two other teams to watch in the AFC are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward will be tough to beat. The Ravens will have a tougher task with the off-season loses of key starters Adalius Thomas and Jamal Anderson. However, the addition of Willis McGahee may be exactly what the Ravens offense needs to put the defensive powerhouse back in the AFC Championship race.

AFC Predictions
Division Winners: Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos.
Wildcard: San Diego Chargers, Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC Champs: New England Patriots.

The Vickless NFC is a whole different soap opera. With no clear-cut favorite, pretty much every team has a chance, with the exception of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who should feel lucky if they win six games this season. The Cowboys, Saints and Bears will be in the forefront of this second-class conference.

Don’t expect the Bears to be much of a challenge to the Cowboys and Saints, as they made no significant additions in the off-season. One thing that is certain: The NFC West will be the most entertaining division in the NFL, with the resurgence of the San Francisco 49ers and the St Louis Rams. The Seattle Seahawks better come to play week-in and week-out.

With a healthy Donavan McNabb, the fans in Philly won’t have much to be angry about this season. The unexpected release of veteran leader Jeremiah Trotter might cause them some problems on the defensive side of the ball.

The NFC sleeper team to watch will be the Carolina Panthers. If Jake Delhomme can remember how to play quarterback, look out for Steve Smith to have a big season and look for Dwayne Jarret to do more than just be a decoy in his rookie season.

NFC Predictions
Division Winners: Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers.
Wildcard: Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers.
NFC Champs: New Orleans Saints.

Super Bowl XXXXII: New Orleans Saints 17, New England Patriots 31.