By MIKE HERNDON
The answer is: What Le’Veon Bell thinks he’s worth as an “elite offensive weapon,” who Nike chooses as a spokeman, and why Terrell Owens skipped his own Hall of Fame induction.
What are: Things I Couldn’t Care Less About?
What I do care about is that the 2018 NFL season starts in two days. The rest is just noise.
So while a shoe company and our president try to wring another few drops of publicity and outrage out of what should be a dead issue, Owens indulges himself yet again in stewing over one last grudge, and Bell tries to explain why any running back is worth more than $15 million a year, I say: Bring on the games.
And while we’re waiting for the Eagles and Falcons to kick off on Thursday night, some predictions for the 2018 season:
AFC: The Patriots have to come down to earth sometime, right? Not in the hapless AFC East. Look for the Patriots and Steelers to repeat as division champs, but new front-runners could emerge in the South and West. Houston will be tough to handle if the Texans get a full year of health from Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt. San Diego, on paper, appears to be the most complete team in the West, even though the injury bug has already cost them Hunter Henry and Jason Verrett. If the Chargers can avoid further damage, they still appear primed for a bounce-back season.
Don’t count out 2017 division champs Jacksonville and Kansas City, however, as wild-card qualifiers. The Jaguars’ defense is the best in the NFL and the Chiefs should be explosive on offense.
NFC: Philadelphia may still have the best roster in the NFC, particularly with the addition of Michael Bennett and the return of Jason Peters, but every other contender in the conference got better in the offseason, too. Minnesota added Kirk Cousins and gets back a healthy Dalvin Cook. The Rams gorged themselves on big-name free agents like Ndamukong Suh, Aquib Talib and Brandin Cooks. The Packers get a healthy Aaron Rodgers and a new red-zone weapon in Jimmy Graham. And the Saints added a couple more defensive pieces in Demario Davis and Kurt Coleman.
Figure the Eagles, Saints and Rams to clinch their respective divisions, with the Vikings and Packers duking it out in a slugfest for the North. Rodgers puts the Packers over the top, with Minnesota locking up one wild card slot and the surging 49ers earning a surprise berth in the other.
Postseason: While the Jets, Dolphins and Bills won’t do anything to slow down New England in the East, the playoffs may be different story. Give me the Steelers, who have had the best roster in the AFC but could never get past New England (or Jacksonville last year), to finally get over the hump and beatthe Texans in the AFC title game, while the Saints emerge over the Eagles in the NFC.
Super Bowl: In a black-and-gold matchup, I’ll take Pittsburgh to claim a seventh Lombardi Trophy with a tight victory over the Saints. And then Le’Veon Bell can ride off into the sunset of free agency with a fat ring on his overpriced finger.
And if Bell decides to sit out the whole season? Then James Conner will carry the mail.
So there it is. Now go ahead and shoot holes in all of it. Neither the Steelers nor the Saints have good enough defenses to win it all, you say. The Steelers always choke in the playoffs, and Bell will be a distraction all year. Hell already froze over with the Saints’ Super Bowl win in 2009 – they can’t get there again.
You may be right. But I can poke holes in every other contender as well: The Packers and Chiefs also will be deficient on defense. The Vikings’ offensive line is suspect. Are Blake Bortles and Jared Goff really good enough to lead a team to the Super Bowl? How can the Patriots continue to be dominant with a deteriorating roster around a 41-year-old quarterback (even if he is the best of all time)? The 49ers don’t have enough weapons and the Chargers and Texans are just flat unlucky.
And the Eagles? No team has repeated as Super Bowl champs since the Patriots in 2003 and 2004, and we’re still waiting for Carson Wentz to be cleared for contact.
This may be the last best chance for both the Steelers and Saints, whose championship windows are slowly closing as Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees near 40. If they’re going to make it back to the big game, the time is now.
Let’s get it on.