Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media

Dante's Inferno8/21/00: Are You Ready for Some Football? Or, Dante's Fearless NFL Predictions, AFC Style

Most folks showed shock and surprise when ER featured NHL picks in its final print edition, as well as on this web site. It seems that many people see us film and media geeks as one-dimensional, obsessed losers who can't see past the big or small screen. Fortunately, yours truly grew up with a movie-loving, tv-loving, sports-loving father who taught me that there were no poor sporting events, only poor sports.

NFL 1999-2000 was a freaky aberration as a couple teams jumped from worst-place finishes the previous year to become serious contenders. In fact, I predicted that the Rams would be competing against the Eagles in Week 17 for their second or third win. I hardly thought they'd be resting their starters (an Arena Bowl QB?!) on the way to a playoff march that culminated in Super Bowl glory. Who knew? Luckily, I wasn't alone in my beliefs. Many a highly-paid sportswriter picked the likes of St. Louis and the Indianapolis Colts at or near the bottom of their respective divisions.

But now we enter a new season that's seen its fair share of off-season stories. Retirees included Steve Young (about time) and Michael Ervin (just in time to concentrate on hanging out with serious drug offenders), while Ray Lewis escaped a murder rap in time to make camp and Reggie White hauled his ministering ass OUT of retirement to join the Carolina Panthers. And in the NFC East, the Cowboys seem to have been bested at their own game as the rival Redskins signed Deion Sanders and Jeff George (not a bad backup QB), along with Bruce Smith and some rookie named LaVar Arington. Lookout Rams.

Anyway, let's start in the AFC, a conference I care much less about since the retirements of Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson. Danny authored a slew of records in his career, but he never had the weapons necessary to repeat the glory of his early days. I don't expect that same fate to befall Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts. With RB Edgerin James and receiver Marvin Harrison, the Colts look to be the class of the AFC East again this season. Hell, I've loved Colts coach Jim Mora since his days with the USFL's Philadelphia Stars, and I always hoped he'd come back to town and lead the Eagles to the Promised Land. Unfortunately, Mora's a lot smarter than even I gave him credit for.

After the Colts there's a significant drop-off in talent in the East. The NY Jets should return to the form of two seasons ago, even with the departures of key elements like receiver Keyshawn Johnson (now a Buccaneer), and coaches Bill Parcells (upstairs) and Bill Belicheck (up north). New head coach Al Groh (that's Groh, not Gore) has the advantage of getting back Vinny Testaverde, but the honeymoon won't last long in New York if they don't round into shape quickly. Still, look for the Jets to be respectable and in the hunt for a Wild Card slot at the end of the season. Despite the Buffalo Bills' most popular player (the diminutive Doug Flutie) sidelined due to injury and the promotion of QB Rob Johnson, yours truly thinks the Bills could still sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card if people aren't looking. Unfortunately, they also said goodbye to Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed. All guys that helped them to four AFC championships in the early 1990s.

I figure the East'll be a battle for the basement between the underachieving New England Patriots and the Marino-less Dolphins, two name teams thrust into the unfortunate position of rebuilding in an era of free agency. In New England, Drew Bledsoe gets new coach Bill Belicheck, but it won't make have much effect after losing starters like Bruce Armstrong and Ben Coates. Damon Huerd and Dave Wandstet were handed the unfortunate jobs of following two guys named Marino and Johnson, but it's not like that combo exactly set the NFL afire. (PREDICTIONS: Indy: 11-5; Jets: 10-6; Buffalo: 9-7; New England: 6-10; Miami: 3-13)

The AFC Central looks like it'll be the most entertaining division in the conference, maybe the whole NFL. The Tennessee Titans, last year's Super Bowl runners-up, are looking to return to the big game, but with a different outcome. Despite what anybody says about their miracle victory in the playoffs last year, they're the team to beat in a tough, tough division. In fact, don't be surprised if three playoff teams emerge from the Central, bruised but battle-tested.

But back to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Many thought they were the best team in the AFC last season, except that the three losses in their 18 games all came at the hands of the Titans. Jacksonville would like to think that if they can solve the Titans they can get to the Super Bowl, but it certainly isn't going to be that simple. They've been hit with a lot of injuries during the pre-season, and their depth is already coming into question. Which leaves the door wide open for the Baltimore Ravens, another tough, talented team looking to gain ground on the Titans. The Ravens have an excellent defense (2nd in the NFL last year) and seriously upgraded their offense with the additions of Shannon Sharpe and and RB Jamal Lewis. Plus, they play in a great stadium and could sneak away with the division if the Titans aren't careful...or healthy.

In the Steel City, the Pittsburgh Steelers might finally bottom out, not unlike the Cowboys (but more on them next week). Which might finally result in the departure of popular coach Bill Cowher. The reason? Kordell Stewart. When I lived in the 'Burgh, "Slash" Stewart was talked about as if the talented receiver and passer were the second coming. It was only a matter of time, local sports pundits opined, before Stewart was shepherding the "Stellers" back to the Bowl and suiting up as a Pro Bowl starter. Ooops. I haven't lived there for two years, but I'd love to hear what dopey 'Burgh sportswriters are saying now. The upshot? The Steelers will be better than the Cincinnati Bengals and (maybe) the Cleveland Browns, but I know of five area flag football teams that can make the same claim. (PREDICTIONS: Titans: 12-4; Ravens: 12-4; Jaguars: 10-6; Steelers: 4-12; Cleveland: 4-12; Bengals: 3-13)

In the West there's only two colors that matter. In other words, the silver and black ARE BACK! People keep talking about the Kansas City Chiefs, but I feel confident that these new Chiefs will be the Chiefs of old. In other words, win 10 games and then choke horribly in the final weeks or an early round of the playoffs. Remember gang, their starting QB is Elvis Grbac, who has played exactly one full season in his seven-year career. The Oakland Raiders, on the other hand, have cagey veterans in Rich Gannon and wide receiver Tim Brown. I'm hoping that coach John Gruden, who has a great head for football, can guide the Raid-Ahs get back to the playoffs for the first time in six years.

The once-mighty Denver Broncos still aren't up to speed, even with the return of Terrell Davis. He might eventually round into 1998 form, but doesn't have John Elway at QB...it's still the very green Brian Griese. Add in the suspension of cornerback Dale Carter and things don't look good. Still, playing in Denver's lofty altitude is one of the league's most significant home-field advantages, so look for them to play .500 ball, all things considered.

Mike Holmgren's Seattle Seahawks looked to be on the verge of something last season, but fell apart as the year progressed. So much for winning the division. In the off-season they lost eight starters, and reports out of Seattle are that Holmgren has soured on QB Jon Kitna and Ricky "Troubled" Watters is already bitching about his snaps. However they'll still be a tad better than the depressing San Diego Chargers, currently saddled with Jim Harbaugh at QB. If memory serves me correct, Harbaugh graduated from high school with my 83-year-old father. (PREDICTIONS: Raiders: 10-6; Kansas City: 10-6; Denver: 8-8; Seattle: 5-11; San Diego: 5-11)

DIVISION WINNERS: Indianapolis, Tennessee, Oakland
WILD CARDS: Jets, Ravens, Jaguars


That's it for this week...stop back next week for more plugs, rants, and shameless self-promotion.

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