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Posts published in August 2006

Things are looking up for the Houston Texans; Longhorns have shot at defending title

It’s been a long six months since the last football game of meaning was played in Detroit where the Pittsburgh Steelers finally got “one for the thumb” when they defeated Seattle in the Super Bowl to join the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers as the only three franchises in the NFL to win five Lombardi Trophies.
As the season approaches (the college season begins Thursday, Aug. 31, while the NFL season begin Thursday, Sept. 7), it’s time to take a look at the upcoming season before the picks column returns on Tuesday, Sept. 5.
As in the past, we’ll predict the outcome of high school, college and pro games from now until December.
But before the picking begins, let’s take a look at how the season might play out this year, starting at the local level.
The landscape at both the pro and collegiate level have seen drastic changes, and two of the biggest moves came right here in the Lone Star state as University of Texas fans sadly said good-bye to superman Vince Young, who led UT to its first national title in 36 years with his spectacular performance in the Horns’ 41-38 victory over USC in the Rose Bowl. Here in Houston, Texans fans gladly bid farewell to head coach Dom Capers, who fell out of favor with fans and team owner Bob McNair after a 2-14 debacle in 2005 in what was to be the Texans’ coming out season after showing progress for three straight seasons.
NFL
McNair called on former Texas A&M star Gary Kubiak to ride in and save the day for the five-year-old franchise and if the preseason is any indication, it appears McNair made the right move in hiring one of the up-and-coming coaches in the NFL.
But let’s remember, this is preseason. While the Texans do look like a much-improved team, it would be premature for Texans fans to think this team is on the brink of being a playoff contender.
One thing is for sure, the 2006 Texans have no where to go but up and it is safe to say the Texans will improve on their two win total from a year ago.
The key to this team will be the emergence of quarterback David Carr and the ability of the offensive line to protect the much-sacked signal caller. The line has show vast improvement during training camp and the preseason. Let’s hope that improved play carries over into the regular season.
Houston also needs to figure out what to do at the running back slot. Last year’s starter, Dominick Davis, missed all of training camp with a knee injury, but second-year man Vernand Morency and rookie Wallie Lundy have filled in capability and have grasped Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme.
The defense must also show improvement over last year and the addition of 6-7, 290-pound defensive end Mario Williams should improve the pass rush, which will take pressure off a beleaguered and banged up secondary.
Kubiak will be given a pass this first year and don’t be surprised if the Texans are one of the most improved teams in the league. I’ll go out on a limb and predict a 7-9 finish for them this year.
As for the rest of the AFC, look for Indianapolis Colts to win another AFC South title. Even though the team lost All-Pro running back Edgrin James, quarterback Peyton Manning is still around, along with a pair of 1,000-yard wide receivers in Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.
Look for Jacksonville to be the Colts’ chief rival this year.
In the AFC North, the Steelers look like a solid pick to unseat Cincinnati and take the division title. Bill Cowher’s team returns the majority of the team that won the Super Bowl as a Wild Card team and quarterback Ben Rothlesberger appears fully recovered from a near fatal motorcycle accident in June. The Bengals must hope quarterback Carson Palmer, who led the NFL with 32 touchdown passes a year ago, is able to bounce back from a serious knee injury he sustained in the playoff loss to the Steelers. If Palmer can’t go early, there is still enough talent on hand to keep the Bengals on the winning track. This should be a three-team race as an improved Baltimore team with new quarterback Steve McNair and a healthy defense, led by linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, return to make this one of the league’s toughest divisions.
In the AFC West look for Denver to once again rule the roost. Something tells me Oakland might be the most improved team in this division; while the Chiefs and new head coach Herm Edwards take a step back.
The AFC East race should be an interesting one to watch as defending division champ New England gets a real challenge from the up-and-coming Miami Dolphins. Second-year head coach Nick Saban’s team won their final six games last year and have added a lot of talent in the off-season, most notably quarterback Daunte Cullpepper. The Pats lost a lot of firepower, but they still have the league’s best head coach and one of the top quarterbacks in Tom Brady.
In the NFC North, look for Chicago and its ball hawking defense to be the team to beat. The offense should be much improved as former UT star Cedric Benson gets the nod at running back. Look for him to spark a so-so offense. Minnesota and a much-improved Detroit team should give the Bears a run for their money, while Brett Favre and the Packers struggle through another losing campaign.
In the NFC West, defending NFC champ Seattle should sleepwalk its way to another division crown. Arizona and St. Louis should be improved, but they have a ways to go before they challenge the Seahawks for the division crown.
The NFC South should be another competitive division to watch. Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta will once again all be in the hunt, while the Saints will be on the outside looking in, although they should be a fun team to watch with all the offensive weapons they’ve accumulated in quarterback Drew Brees, rookie sensation Reggie Bush, tailback Deuce McAllister and a talented group of receivers. But New Orleans does not have the defense, unlike Carolina, TB and Atlanta. Look for the Panthers to come out on top at the day.
Which brings us to perhaps the best division in football, the NFC East.
All four teams are capable of winning this division, which means every game will have meaning when they line up during the season. Dallas improved itself immensely in the off-season with the acquisition of wide receiver Terrell Owens and kicker Mike Vanderjagt. If Owens buys into head coach Bill Parcell’s program (and he’d be foolish not to), the Cowboys should be the team to beat. Their offense is improved even without TO and the defense is young and talented. The Giants and Redskins also improved themselves in the off-season, and don’t count out the Eagles. They will rebound after a disappointing 2005 campaign. The key for the Eagles will be how well they are able to run the football.
So, who will be in the playoffs in 2006? Here are my picks and my picks for who will meet in the Super Bowl in Miami on Feb. 4.
AFC South – Indianapolis
AFC East – Miami
AFC North – Pittsburgh
AFC West – Denver
AFC Wild Cards – New England and Baltimore
AFC title game – Indianapolis over Pittsburgh
NFC South – Carolina
NFC East – Dallas
NFC North – Chicago
NFC West – Seattle
NFC Wild Cards – Tampa Bay and New York
NFC title game – Dallas over Seattle

COLLEGES
Last year, Texas and USC entered the season head and shoulders above the rest of the competition, but that’s not the case entering the 2006 college football season. There is no clear cut favorite, but a host of solid teams that will contend for a spot in the BCK title game set for Tempe, AZ in early January.
Texas fans should be in store for another quality season. There’s not doubt losing Young was a huge blow to the team, but remember, 16 starters and a host of players return from last year’s 13-0 team (Texas will enter the season with a 20-game winning streak, the best in the nation). The defense could be even better than last year’s salty group and the offense will be led by running back Jamal Charles, a superstar in the making.
Texas’ hopes of defending its national title hinge on the play of young quarterbacks Colt McCoy, a red shirt freshman, and true freshman Jevan Sneed. Both are talented, but both are young and will make mistakes. If Texas beats Ohio State on Sept. 9, another trip to the BCS title game could be in the offing.
Look for UT to win the Big 12 South and the conference title considering Oklahoma dismissed starting quarterback Rhett Bomar due to his violating NCAA regulations. The Sooners will still be good behind the sturdy legs of running back Adrian Peterson. Look for Texas Tech and its prolific offense to push OU for the runner up slot in the Big 12. Nebraska looks like the team to beat in the Big 12 North, but in the end, it will be Texas over Nebraska for the Big 12 title.
SEC – Look for Auburn to win the West Division over a talented LSU squad.
I’d pick LSU, but they have a brutal SEC road schedule with trips to Auburn, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas. In the East, I’ll go with Florida with Auburn beating Florida for the overall SEC title.
Pac 10 – USC lost a ton of talent to graduation and the NFL, but head coach Pete Carroll has an ample amount of talent waiting in the wings.
Look for UCLA and Arizona State to give the Trojans a run for their money.
Big 10 – Ohio State gets the nod here due to an offense that is loaded with talent. Quarterback Troy Smith could be this year’s Vince Young, and in wide receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn Jr., the Buckeyes have one of the most electrifying players in the country who can score from anywhere on the field. The defense returns only two starters, but the new starters are talented and gained valuable experience as reserve in 2005. Look for Penn State and Michigan to also contend for the title.
ACC – This could be a down year for the ACC. There is no clear-cut favorite as all of the contenders have question marks. Look for Florida State to come out on top at the end of the year.
Big East – West Virginia and its explosive offense will contend with Louisville for the title. The two will meet Nov. 2 in Louisville, and the winner of that game should have a clear-cut path to the title.
Independents – Notre Dame is the class of the heap as record-setting quarterback Brady Quinn returns with his sites set on a national title and the Heisman Trophy. The Irish play a brutal schedule as they take on seven bowl teams from a year ago. Their offense should be explosive and if the defense improves, this bunch could be playing on Jan. 4 for the national title.
So, who does meet up in Tempe on Jan. 4? Notre Dame and Texas, and the winner is….Notre Dame!
Enjoy the season. It should be a fun one to watch.