Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
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Week 11 of the NFL season provides the sobering opportunity for me to confess the poor quality of my preseason predictions. Allow me a second chance to get it right by first recounting where I went so wrong.
For instance, the Detroit Lions aren't going to win 11 games. Heck, they might not even win one.
Brett Favre's still got it, and the Jets will win more than six games. Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa probably won't include Jacksonville or Philadelphia.
Now that I've got a better grasp on the season, here are your contenders. We have no need for pretenders.
Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets
Tennessee still hasn't lost and boasts the best defense in the league. The Titans run the ball well, are well coached, and have benefited from the solid play of quarterback Kerry Collins. But although the Titans thus far have been the class of the AFC, Collins could be their downfall. How long will it take before teams stack the box and force Collins to beat them?
Pittsburgh has shown us good, and they've shown us bad. The Steelers' running game and defense have been consistently strong. Ben Roethlisberger is sneaky-good, and he has playmakers at wide receiver. But that offensive line is scary. If they continue to play like they have, Roethlisberger might finish the season with one arm, remnants of a leg and two black eyes.
New York has surprised me. I thought Favre was done, but he's once again proved me and others wrong. The Jets are a team that does a little bit of everything. They can run the ball, throw the ball and play a little defense. And that brings us back to Favre. He's a great quarterback, but I just see a blowup game for him come playoff time.
New York Giants, Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals
The Giants haven't skipped a beat since winning last year's Super Bowl. Eli Manning has become a top-five quarterback, and the Giants have three legitimate running backs. The defense is good, and Tom Coughlin is proving he's an upper-echelon coach. My concern is that the Giants play to their competition. They laid an egg on national television against Cleveland, and this is a league where you have to show up every day.
Carolina might be the surprise of the league. Jake Delhomme has been up and down, but the Panthers have shown they can run the ball. Carolina's defense is back to flying around the field. Delhomme is the worry. He can't continue to throw multiple picks a game if the Panthers have any championship hopes.
The Cardinals offense is the best in the league. Kurt Warner looks like, well, Kurt Warner - of 1999. Arizona has the best wide receivers in the league, a decent running game and the ability to score 30-plus points every game. Will the defense be good enough to make the Cardinals a Super Bowl contender? I'm not sure, but you're always in the game when you score 40.
Revised picks for Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa:
Tennessee 27, Arizona 21.