The NFL season is finally here.
The season officially kicks off on Thursday night when the New Orleans Saints visit Lambeau Field to face the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.
The biggest story going into Week One is Peyton Manning. The future Hall-of-Famer will be sidelined indefinitely as he recovers from off-season neck surgery. Manning's injury ends his streak of 227 consecutive regular-season and postseason starts.
The Colts went into the season as the favorites to win the AFC South, but weren't expected to be serious contenders for the AFC crown.
Four AFC teams appear to be in the race to the Super Bowl: N. Y. Jets, New England, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. A team to watch for might be the Ravens, who are trying to shed their image of playoff under-achievers.
The addition of Plaxico Burress might be an upgrade over Braylon Edwards, but the Jets still have challenges with a young quarterback. The Patriots and Steelers remain focused on winning a Super Bowl, and have improved in the off-season.
On paper, Philadelphia appears to be the best team in the NFL, let alone the AFC. However, the Eagles must still contend with the Super Bowl Champion Packers, who should be in the most competitive division in the NFC. The Falcons surprised people last season, and will likely come out of the South, unless the Saints see their defense step up, which is a definite possibility.
The NFC West continues to be weak, but the Rams and Seahawks are not pushovers.
Basically, this season may not look too much differently from last season.
Here's how the divisions will break down. (Below, the Super Bowl prediction.)
z Green Bay
y New Orleans
z St. Louis
z NY Jets
y New England
z San Diego
- z - Clinched Division
- y - Clinched Wild Card
- * - Clinched Division and Home Field
SUPER BOWL PREDICTION: Eagles over Patriots