King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Football season is finally here, and as Britney Spears lines up for the kickoff, readers and national experts make their predictions.

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Last year at this time I was lamenting the end of the dynasty era in the NFL. You need one or two great teams dominating the league for a while, I wrote, someone you get to know and grow to either love or hate. With the league’s accomplished mission of creating parity, you’re just learning the names of a suddenly good team’s players when — bam — the team runs up against the salary cap and has to disburse its stars to the four winds and start over.

Then the NFL went out and played that corker of a 2002 season, and now that Opening Night 2003 starring Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Aerosmith, 25,000 troops and, incidentally, the Jets and Redskins, is upon us, I think I’ve come around. The league’s famous “any given Sunday” philosophy, which says that any team should always have a good chance of beating any other team, really works. You have to try pretty hard to stay out of contention for an extended period, as Arizona and Cincinnati have valiantly done. And any team that can at least hang around .500, which is almost everyone, has a shot at the playoffs deep into the season. Meaningless games are rare.

I know the NFL doesn’t need my affirmation, but hey, nice job.

I’m still not clear why it is that fans think a baseball team owner who breaks up his team for financial reasons is an evil enemy of Western civilization, while a system that dictates that football team owners do the exact same thing is not, but I’ve decided to live with it.

I also have to live with a few other things I’d rather not. Maybe I can get all of my complaining for 2003 out of the way before the season starts. Nah. But here are my Top Three Things I Wish Would Go Away:

Instant replay: I think I’m in the minority here, but I’d rather let a bad call stand, let the sloppy mess that is human judgment play a part in the outcome of games, than have these interminable interruptions in the action. There’s already enough dead time during a football game. Watching the back of the referee’s head while he peers into a TV monitor apparatus is not fun. Bad calls even out over a season, and usually even in one game. Let the boys play and let the officials officiate, mistakes and all.



Long camera shots on field goals: This drives me crazy. The team sets up for a field goal. The TV director gives us a shot from a camera high up in the end zone stands, so we can follow the flight of the ball after it’s kicked. Now, the only interesting things that can happen on a field goal attempt cannot be seen from that camera angle. We can see if the ball is going through the uprights or wide one way or the other, a dull outcome any number of camera angles, not to mention the officials and the announcers, can tell us. But if the snap is fumbled, or the kick is blocked, or it’s a fake — those would be the only three possible outcomes of a field goal attempt that are interesting to watch — all we see is these little ants tumbling around in the distance. We miss the play. Am I the only person who’s noticed this? I ask this all the time, but: Do TV sports directors ever watch their own product?

Chris Berman: ESPN’s main voice is at his least annoying on football coverage, but really that’s not saying much. His shtick is so tired, so over, so irritating, that even at his least annoying he’s incredibly annoying. At least he doesn’t spend an entire football broadcast quoting lyrics from some horrendous ’70s soft rock hit the way he does during baseball games, but does he have to imitate Howard Cosell on every show? Does he have to do his lame Al Davis impersonation every single time he says the words “the Oakland Raiders”? I’m sure Berman’s a lovely man in person, but good gracious he makes me want to shoot the TV.

His act helped put ESPN on the map two decades ago, and he should be respected for that, but as much as everyone respected Milton Berle for putting television on the map in the early days, nobody put his unfunny ass on the air regularly once the medium had moved on. I vote for Berman to get the same treatment.

There. I’m ready for the season to start now. I’m going to pick winners every weekend. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to pick against the point spread, so for the opener I’ll do both and say the Jets, three-point underdogs, will win outright and thus beat the spread too. A few readers have complained in the past that picking straight winners is too easy, that a real man picks against the spread. I’m not a gambler so I don’t care about the point spread, which — assuming everything’s on the up and up — has no meaning in the actual games. But I’ll defer to your wishes. Winners only, or winners and point-spread winners? Let me know.

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Reader predictions [PERMALINK]

The readers of this column are a far more diverse crew than the national sports media, if this year’s NFL predictions are any indication. While you all turned in at least a wild card vote for every team except the Cincinnati Bengals and gave half of the league’s teams significant support in voting for division championships, the national experts I consulted were damn near unanimous in their opinions about who’s going to make the playoffs this year.

You readers did make some clear choices. The Buccaneers and Eagles easily led the polling in the NFC South and East, and the Titans and Steelers cruised in the AFC South and North. The Seahawks got a lot of support in the NFC West, and so did the 49ers, which surprised me but might have something to do with a heavy Bay Area readership. The Rams were your pick, though. In the North, you love those Vikings or hate those Packers because they ran neck and neck, with the Packers just barely winning.

In the AFC West, the Raiders got a fair amount of support, but it’s pretty clear you think the Chiefs are going to be the champs and the Raiders a wild card team. The Patriots and Dolphins pretty well split the vote in the East, with the Pats eking it out. The Dolphins and Raiders are your wild card picks, with the Colts just missing. In the NFC, the wild cards are the Vikes and Giants, just ahead of the Seahawks.

You should be collectively very worried about your Super Bowl picks because they mirror mine: The Buccaneers in the NFC, the Titans in the AFC. I neglected to mention my pick to win the big game. You think the Titans are going to win. I kind of do too, but just so one of us can make fun of the other if that game comes to pass, I’ll take the Bucs to repeat.

And here are a few of your other more noteworthy predictions:

“By no later than Week 6, it will be revealed that Bill Parcells and Jerry Jones are (and have been for some time) engaged in a slow-burn showdown akin to the Humphrey Bogart-Tim Holt square-off in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” But which one is Curtin and which one will prove to be Fred C. Dobbs? Only time can tell.” — Jed

“This is the year Bill Romanowski goes after a fan. The thing about the stadium where he plays now is that you can get the kind of running start at a fan that you just can’t get in Denver.” — Chris Railey

“AFC East: When in doubt, pick the team whose head coach doesn’t have the porn ‘stache … New England.” — Neate Sager

Handy recap for ease of ridicule

NFC West: Rams
South: Buccaneers
North: Packers
East: Eagles
Wild cards: Vikings, Giants
NFC champion: Buccaneers

AFC West: Chiefs
South: Titans
North: Steelers
East: Patriots
Wild cards: Dolphins, Raiders
AFC champion: Titans

Super Bowl champion: Titans

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Our panel of experts [PERMALINK]

I compiled a crew of 26 national “experts” and totaled up their picks. The criteria for making my list of experts are pretty tough: You have to be a national commentator, you have to make preseason picks, and I have to have found those picks without too much hunting around. For that reason, 16 of my 26 experts are ESPN talking heads whose picks can all be found on this page.

The rest of the panel consists of Don Banks and Dr. Z (Paul Zimmerman) of Sports Illustrated, plus the magazine’s picks; Ralph Wiley of ESPN.com, whose picks were nearly incomprehensible; Gregg Easterbrook of ESPN.com, whose Tuesday Morning Quarterback is the best football column going; “Street & Smith’s Pro Football 2003 Yearbook”; Vinnie Iyer of the Sporting News; Jim Buzinski and Cyd Zeigler Jr. of Outsports; and the embarrassing Fox Sports site Chicks on Football. There are apparently several chicks, but only the one named Becky deigned to pick winners in all the divisions and the playoffs.

The Chicks site is given to pronouncements like this one: “You boys out there may be wondering what chicks know about fantasy football. Well, believe us, we spend a lot more time fantasizing about the NFL hunks than most guys out there do.” OK then. You’ve come a long way, baby.

If there are other national experts who should be on our panel, let me know.

Anyway, while this column’s readers showed an admirable diversity of thought, the experts spoke with one voice, overwhelmingly picking the Rams, Buccaneers, Packers and Eagles to win the NFC divisions, with each of those teams getting at least 20 of the 26 first-place votes. It was a little closer in the AFC, but not much. The Chiefs, Titans, Steelers and Patriots all got more than half of the first-place votes, and no one came close to any of them. The wild card picks were clear, too: the Giants and Seahawks in the NFC, Raiders and Dolphins in the AFC. The Bucs were the clear choice to win the NFC title, while the Titans beat out the Patriots for the AFC crown, the only topic on which the experts were somewhat divided. The Bucs got the nod to repeat as Super Bowl champs.

There was so little variance in opinion that the bold picks are worth mentioning. Len Pasquarelli of ESPN took the Browns to win the AFC North and Ziegler of Outsports picked the Texans to win the AFC South, the only vote for the Houstons. ESPN’s Trey Wingo gave the Jets their only love, with a wild card pick, and Berman was the only expert to predict the Chargers as a wild card and the 49ers as a Super Bowl team, but he wimped out on picking a Super Bowl winner.

At the end of the year I’ll single out particularly good and bad individual expert picks, but for now, here’s the group’s …

Handy recap for ease of ridicule

NFC West: Rams
South: Buccaneers
North: Packers
East: Eagles
Wild cards: Giants, Seahawks
NFC champion: Buccaneers

AFC West: Chiefs
South: Titans
North: Steelers
East: Patriots
Wild cards: Raiders, Dolphins
AFC champion: Titans

Super Bowl champion: Bucs

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