From a lull to a roar! As summer fades into the sunset, the best time in sports is approaching.
Yes, the excitement builds. Locally, junior hockey begins this month. The Prince George Spruce Kings begin their regular season in eight days while the P.G. Cougars play for “real” in just three weeks.
On the professional scene, NHL training camps start in a couple of weeks with the Vancouver Canucks in Penticton. Major League Baseball is in the “seventh inning stretch” with playoff drives in full swing. The NBA, with rejuvenated interest thanks to the Miami Heat dream team, will start next month.
Arguably the best of the bunch, the NFL kicks off next week as the Minnesota Vikings visit the New Orleans Saints September 9 in a rematch of last season’s thrilling NFC final.
Whether you are a football fan or not, no one can argue the NFL is the number one league in North America, by a considerable margin. However, the league may be facing a major obstacle in 2011, with a potential labour dispute looming.
Nevertheless, it is time to enjoy the upcoming season, and let the chips fall accordingly.
A high-profile NFL team which may face intense scrutiny is the Minnesota Vikings, especially since Brett “The Diva” Favre will play a 20th season.
The Vikes are a legitimate Super Bowl contender, but I doubt they will match last year’s run. Minnesota is solid but I am not sure they are even the best in the NFC Central (hello Green Bay), let alone the conference and the league. The Vikings should return to the playoffs but 10-6 is more realistic than last year’s 12-4 mark (which included 8-0 at home).
Minnesota’s schedule is much more difficult this year. For example, the Vikings first four road games are at New Orleans, at the New York Jets, at Green Bay and at New England. The Vikes have one great receiver, Sidney Rice, injured for half a year (hip surgery) and another, Percy Harvin, who suffers from migraine headaches.
Favre will find it close to impossible to accomplish last year’s whopping 33 TD passes and paltry seven interceptions. With his body about to turn 41, and his ankle wobbly, it will not surprise me if his ironman streak ends.
Here is a brief analysis on each NFL team. I will try to indicate whether they will improve, remain constant, or go backwards. ( ) indicates their 2009 record:
New Orleans (13-3). Down. Still good enough for the playoffs.
Minnesota (12-4). Down. Wildcard is realistic.
Dallas (11-5). Same. Will deal with more injuries this year.
Green Bay (11-5). Up. Packers to get revenge on Vikings.
Philadelphia (11-5). Down. Too many question marks with QB Kevin Kolb.
Arizona (10-6). Down. Will beg Kurt Warner to renounce retirement.
Atlanta (9-7). Up. QB Matt Ryan to return to form of rookie year.
Carolina (8-8). Down. Will rely too much on the run.
San Francisco (8-8). Up. Breakthrough year on shoulders of QB Alex Smith.
NY Giants (8-8). Same. Sleepers of the conference.
Chicago (7-9). Up. No more excuses for QB Jay Cutler.
Seattle (5-11). Up. New coach Pete Carroll renews enthusiasm.
Washington (4-12). Up. New culture with Mike Shanahan in charge.
Tampa Bay (3-13). Down. No reason for optimism
Detroit (2-14). Up. These Lions are better than the B.C. Lions?
St.Louis (1-15) Up. Rookie QB Sam Bradford gives this team hope.
Indianapolis (14-2) Down. Still good enough to win division.
San Diego (13-3) Down. Best of bad division.
New England (10-6). Same. They will not be 8-0 at home again.
Cincinnati (10-6). Down. More sizzle (T.O. & Ochocinco) than steak.
NY Jets (9-7). Same. Overhyped & overrated.
Baltimore (9-7). Up. Could be the Saints of last season.
Houston (9-7). Up. Finally a playoff team.
Pittsburgh (9-7). Same. The team nobody will want to play.
Tennessee (8-8). Up. Great running game.
Denver (8-8). Down. Could be a long year for Broncos fans.
Miami (7-9). Up. Receiver Brandon Marshall is a huge addition.
Jacksonville (7-9). Down. Does anybody care about the Jags?
Buffalo (6-10). Down. The least of the AFC East.
Oakland (5-11). Up. With Jamarcus gone, .500 is not a stretch.
Cleveland (5-11). Down. Coach Eric Mangini will be on the hot seat.
Kansas City (4-12). Same. Still too young to be a factor.
The Saints went from 8-8 in 2008 to Super Bowl champions a season later. With this example in their collective minds, all teams start out with hope, except the Bucs, of course.
Hartley Miller is the sports director for radio stations 94X and the Wolf@97fm. He also writes for Opinion 250. Send along a quote, note or anecdote to firstname.lastname@example.org.