Tuesday, September 2, 2014

2014 NFL Preview: Birth of the Road Tripstravaganzapalooza Spectacular

Surely, you all noticed last week when I expressed my excitement over the start of Northwestern's 2014 season with the notable caveat that the team would likely break my heart at some point during the next four months. Well, if you read the funny pages on Sunday, you probably saw this year's rendition of the Wildcat Shakedown wasted no time in, well, shaking itself down. In perhaps the most colossal screw up I've seen since I first started following NU (Note: the loss to UNH in 2006 is not as bad given it was one of the best programs in Division I-AA and boasted all-time great receiver David Ball, though the Cats were a noticeably more talented and well-trained outfit), the Cats decided to be generous and spotted California-Berkeley a handsome 31-7 lead before finally realizing there was a football game going on and closing it to within 31-24 in the fourth quarter.

Of course, you don't get wins for trying super duper hard when you realize you've got to try super duper hard super duper late, so despite opening the season at home as 11.5-point favorites against a team that failed to beat any Division I opponents last season, Northwestern is 0-1 in 2014. This was frustrating on multiple levels, not the least of which was that it ruined an opportunity for that ultra-rare alignment of stars known as the Football Hat Trick Day, a term I had the foresight to make up on Saturday morning, after I noticed three different teams I follow across three different codes of football all had games in a 12-hour span. The Geelong Cats took care of business against Brisbane despite it being a relatively meaningless home-and-away-season finale and now have an opening-round Finals match against big-time rivals Hawthorn Friday morning (naturally you're all counting down to this), and just a few hours later Southampton picked up its first Premier League victory in which it trailed on the road in 20 years when the Saints scored three times after falling behind 1-nil at West Ham. The two most difficult hurdles in the race out of the way, heavy-favorite Northwestern (words I never thought I'd see in that order) seemed a safe bet to complete the circuit.

It's a good thing the bar had beer.

Fortunately for me, rather than wallow in the tears of that unfortunate misstep, I get another distraction this weekend when the NFL, at long last, gets underway. Sure, the New York Giants don't exactly look poised to dominate the NFL, compete for a Super Bowl title or, if they continue to struggle with the offense, even earn a playoff berth. But, ever the optimist, I have faith Eli Manning will get a handle on the new scheme and somehow the Giants will eke out nine wins in their 2014 schedule. As we've seen in the past, sometimes nine wins is all you need.

That doesn't really mean I actually think the Giants will go 9-7, manage a wild card berth and then somehow become just the second team to roll to an unlikely Super Bowl win with single-digit victories, but hey, it's the NFL. No one really has a clue as to what's going to happen. All I know is when the Giants kick off this nebulous, unpredictable campaign on Monday night at Ford Field in Detroit, I will be right there in the seventh row on the field level. That is because to celebrate the opening of the 2014 NFL season I am going on my most ambitious sports-centric trek to date:

"The 2014 Kerny and Kalan Sports Road Tripstravaganzapalooza Spectacular."

Suggestions for a more concise trip name that is potentially alliterative and ideally hashtag-able are more than welcome. Please send them along. Either way, my friend Dan and I will be setting out for the wild bourbon fields of Kentucky on Thursday night to kick off a trek that will take us through two countries, seven states, eight cities, three Major League Baseball games, two NFL games, potentially three sports Halls of Fame, at least one Culver's, one Skyline Chili, one Super Nintendo gaming system, one baseball bat factory and an untold number of bourbon distilleries. In short, it should be a wild ride and I am eagerly looking forward to every minute of it, and apparently, I'm not the only one.

It feels like I'm this close to fame with those kinds of mentions. I will explain the itinerary, which has been planned out roughly to the minute, in more detail on Thursday but the major highlights that pertain to this blogspace are:

Saturday: Mets vs. Reds in Cincinnati
Sunday: Browns vs. Steelers in Pittsburgh
Monday: Royals vs. Tigers and Giants vs. Lions in Detroit
Tuesday: Cubs vs. Blue Jays in Toronto

It's ok if you're jealous. It's going to be a blast. Furthermore, it will also knock four new teams off the list while finishing off the cities of Detroit and Cincinnati, pushing me over the vaunted (because I said so) half-way mark of all the teams of the four major sports leagues of North America as my total will reach 63 of 122.

The only thing I may not get from this trip is any certainty of what to expect from the New York Giants this fall, or the rest of the NFL for that matter, but that's ok, because I'm about to tell you all what the outcome of this season is going to be anyway. I won't be wrong. Never am. Nope.

Here we go:

AFC East
1. New England - Mediocrity doesn't look so mediocre when the rest of your division is mediocre. 12-4.
2. NY Jets - Sure, why not? 9-7.
3. Buffalo - There's always the chance E.J. Manuel starts to figure it out and C.J. Spiller stays healthy. Throw in a young Sammy Watkins and maybe they're finally making strides. 7-9.
4. Miami - Name five players on this team. I dare you. 5-11.

AFC North
1. Cincinnati - Did you know Marvin Lewis is the second longest-tenured coach in the NFL? Weird, right? 11-5.
2. Baltimore - I'm not sure what we'll hear more about this year, the Ravens' playoff prospects or off-color jokes about Ray Rice. 10-6.
3. Pittsburgh - The Steelers probably won't make the playoffs, but they will get a visit from me, which is just as good, right? 7-9.
4. Cleveland - Oh yeah, Josh Gordon's year-long suspension for smoking pot is totally sensible. 4-12.

AFC South
1. Indianapolis - If the Colts don't win this division, Chuck Pagano will have pulled off the worst coaching performance of all time. 13-3.
2. Jacksonville - I mean, come on. The Jags in second place after one of the worst seasons in NFL history last year? How fun would that be? 8-8.
3. Houston - Last year was about as surprisingly terrible of a season I've seen in a long time. At least this season it won't be a surprise. 6-10.
4. Tennessee - Did you know Jake Locker is still the Titans' starting quarterback? Really! It's true! 5-11.

AFC West
1. Denver - I mean, who else is it going to be, really? You? I don't think so. 12-4.
2. Kansas City - There's no way the Chiefs will come to regret that oversized extension they just gave Alex Smith. No way at all. 10-6.
3. San Diego - Remember when everything thought Ryan Matthews was ready to fill LaDainian Tomlinson's shoes at running back? That was pretty fun. 7-9.
4. Oakland - The tradition continues! 4-12.

NFC East
1. Philadelphia - I would love pretty much everything there is to love about Chip Kelly if he was coaching just about any other team. Really. Any of them. 11-5.
2. NY Giants - You really think Washington or Dallas is demonstrably better than this team? I honestly can't see how. 9-7.
3. Washington - RGIII's knee now has had an extra year to heal, but I still have a hard time seeing him return to form. Kirk Cousins on the other hand... 6-10.
4. Dallas - SI.com says the Cowboys' defense could be the "worst in NFL history". That could be a stretch... but I hope not. 3-13.

NFC North
1. Green Bay - So this Aaron Rodgers-Olivia Munn coupling is a real thing, huh? Good for him. 13-3.
2. Chicago - The Bears should be pretty good, which basically means the city of Chicago will assume it's 1985 again by week 3. 11-5.
3. Detroit - If only Calvin Johnson could be 11 places at once. 8-8.
4. Minnesota - Ever get the feeling Adrian Peterson is going to wind up being the next Barry Sanders? 5-11.

NFC South
1. New Orleans - This team might be even more fun to watch than Dallas, albeit for completely different reasons. 10-6.
2. Atlanta - I mean, it can't get as bad as got last year, can it? 8-8
3. Carolina - Letting all of your quarterbacks top weapons leave after a breakout season is probably not a great strategy. 7-9.
4. Tampa Bay - Apparently the Buccaneers are a sleeper pick for a lot of pundits. I'd really love to know why. 5-11.

NFC West
1. Seattle - The gang is almost entirely still here, and they're young enough to pick up right where they left off. 12-4.
2. San Francisco - And that's pretty much true of these guys, too. 10-6.
3. Arizona - These guys might be taking a bit of a step back, though. If only Larry Fitzgerald had been born three years younger. 7-9.
4. St. Louis - The Rams might have one of the best defenses in the conference, but being in its toughest division and losing your quarterback for the year doesn't exactly help. 6-10.

AFC Playoffs
Wild Card round
(3) New England over (6) Kansas City
(5) Baltimore over (4) Cincinnati

Divisional Round
(1) Indianapolis over (5) Baltimore
(2) Denver over (3) New England

AFC Championship
(2) Denver over (1) Indianapolis

NFC Playoffs
Wild Card Round
(6) San Francisco over (3) Philadelphia
(4) New Orleans over (5) Chicago

Divisional Round
(1) Green Bay over (6) San Francisco
(2) Seattle over (4) New Orleans

NFC Championship
(2) Seattle over (1) Green Bay

Super Bowl XLIX
(2) Denver over (2) Seattle

A Super Bowl rematch with a different outcome? Sure, why not. As I've made it clear before, I'm never wrong. Take that one to the bank. Or don't. Take your pick.

Whatever you do, send in suggestions for road trip names. Seriously, we're desperate. If you've got some restaurant recommendations for Louisville, Kentucky, that would be good, too.

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