Patriots are the team to beat |

Patriots are the team to beat

Joe Ellison
Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist

Hello again sports fans! During the last few days there has been an added excitement and morning chill in the air. The Dog Days of Summer are over, except for Michael Vick of course, as a new season in the National Football League has begun.

With the new season, as always, come preseason predictions. But free agency in this salary cap era has created parity throughout the league that has made prognosticating more difficult. In each of the last 11 years, at least five teams reached the playoffs that failed to do so the previous season, and in the last two postseasons seven were new teams. So, it’s never as easy as it looks to make winning picks this time of year. But, everybody loves predictions, so here are mine:

NFC East – Dallas. New head coach Wade Phillips believes in pressure defense and a relaxed family-type atmosphere, two things the Cowboys lacked under Bill Parcells.

North – Chicago. Playing Devin Hester at wide receiver and drafting tight end Greg Olsen helps quarterback Wrecks Grossman, whose 25 turnovers last year drew the ire of many Bear fans.

South – New Orleans. Opponents will continue to have a tough time stopping the Saints offense, which last season led the league overall and in passing.

West – Seattle. The three-time defending division champion Seahawks took Chicago to overtime in the playoffs.

Wild Card – Philadelphia. Quarterback Donovan McNabb has been injured during three of his last five seasons, and he admits right now he is not 100 percent healthy, but the guess here is that he will play enough to get the Eagles into the playoffs.

Wild Card – Carolina. Behind Chicago, the Panthers own the best defense in the NFC, so it’s up to the offense to come closer to its potential.

AFC East – New England. The Patriots’ biggest weakness last year was at wide receiver, so they promptly signed Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth and Randy Moss.

North – Baltimore. Willis McGahee will improve a running game that ranked last in the league at 3.4 yards a carry.

South – Indianapolis. One-fourth of the Super Bowl winning Colt roster is already gone, including both starting cornerbacks, the leading tackler, and the best offensive lineman, but there’s still plenty left over to win this division.

West Ð Denver. With the addition of cornerback Dre Bly, the Broncos now have the best secondary in the NFL, and Travis Henry will solidify the running game.

Wild Card – Cincinnati. The Bengals have no defense, but they do have plenty of offense, and what appears to be a favorable schedule.

So, there you have it. Yes, there are only three different teams from last season’s playoffs on this list, which would buck the 11-year trend of at least five. But there are always surprise teams. The difficulty is in pinpointing them.

Super Bowl – With Pittsburgh’s Jerome Bettis two years ago and Peyton Manning last season, the NFL gave fans someone to root for to win it all. This year’s prime candidate could be New England linebacker Junior Seau.

In my opinion, the Patriots were already the best team last year, but they got completely hosed by one-sided officiating in the AFC Championship Game. They have since improved their team.

The AFC has won eight of the last ten Super Bowls.

Prediction: New England defeats Dallas.

Note – Futures odds are available in local sports books for the Super Bowl, conference championships, division winners, over and under wins for each team, team vs team win match-ups, whether or not San Francisco will make the playoffs, and the Super Bowl game itself.