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From Britney to U2: The 2007 NFL Preview

Hallelujah, football season is here. No more pretending to care about the Astros, Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens’s annual appearance as the lead character in everyone’s favorite off-Broadway hit, “A Midsummer Night’s Attention Whore.” For the next five glorious months, we can instead focus our attention on sport’s holy trinity: fantasy football, college football and the NFL. With all apologies to Andy Williams, this is the most wonderful time of the year. In fact, I’m so giddy right now I find myself happily breaking into song at the most random and unexpected of moments. Thus inspired, I’ve decided to preview the upcoming NFL season with a wee bit of musical flair. Below, you’ll find all 32 teams, arranged according to their appropriate musical match. So summon your inner Casey Kasem, put on your headphones and play along. Perhaps you won’t agree with my unique ranking system (or division representatives) but on at least one point I’ve no doubt we can find common ground: Football rocks!

The Disgraced Pop Starlet Division Division Representative: The three-headed monster of Britney, Paris and Lindsey

Kansas City Chiefs Atlanta Falcons Cleveland Browns Miami Dolphins Tampa Bay Buccaneers New York Giants

Poor Britney. What can be written about her tragic fall from grace that hasn’t already been said? So let’s focus on the positive for a moment. Sure, she’s the figure-head for the division housing the league’s crappiest teams, but at least she’s not alone. Gal-pals Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton will certainly help her walk the straight and narrow and if she’s lucky, maybe they’ll even devise a plan to beat up Brady Quinn’s girlfriend, allowing Brit an opportunity to swoop in and steal the Browns’ dreamy young quarterback. We’re pulling for you, Britney. You’re far too entertaining to fade into irrelevance just yet.

As for the teams stuck in this quagmire, the less said about them the better. The Chiefs, Falcons, Browns and Dolphins are lacking an NFL-caliber quarterback, the Buccaneers have a roster built to win in 2001, not 2007, and the Giants are as dysfunctional as the patron saints who gave this division its name. Maybe next year, guys. Or not.

The “I have no idea what to make of these teams and I don’t even care” Division Division Representative: James Blunt

Washington Redskins Detroit Lions Arizona Cardinals Carolina Panthers Jacksonville Jaguars

Truth be told, I know exactly what to think of James Blunt: He sucks. I just wanted to use him as the division rep so I could make my feelings perfectly clear. His music is boring, trite and completely devoid of anything even remotely resembling quality. But other than that, he’s great.

I should also point out that I don’t necessarily believe the teams in this division will finish in the bottom third of the league. In fact, I suspect most of them will finish around the .500 mark. But much like the Blunt-meister, I’m bored by their existence and can’t envision any of them factoring into the relevant season storylines.

The “They’re not as good as you think” Division Division Representative: Imogen Heap

New York Jets Cincinnati Bengals Seattle Seahawks San Francisco 49ers Philadelphia Eagles

I try not to have too many restrictions or rules when it comes to defining good music. But sometimes you hear something either so transcendent or trashy that it compels you to pass judgment on the fly. For instance, I recently heard this line from the Imogen Heap song “Just For Now:”

“(sniff sniff) I think something is burning…”

If you haven’t heard the song before, please note that Ms. Heap does not actually say the words, “sniff, sniff.” No, the sniff you hear emanating from your speakers is the air which is forcefully being inhaled (twice) through Imogen’s nostrils. Suffice it to say, when actual sniffs are part of the lyrical content of your songs, your music really blows.

As for the teams taking up residence in this division, I suspect a few eyebrows will be raised when one peruses the list. The Jets made the playoffs last year and certainly seem to be building around a solid nucleus of talented young players. But I think they’ll take a step back this year; at least until they realize they’re better off ditching Chad “Noodles” Pennington and hitching their ride to Kellen Clemens.

Meanwhile, the Bengals have yet to address their porous defense, Seattle seems to have missed out on its window of opportunity, and the 49ers spent their off-season gorging themselves at the free-agent buffet table, a strategy which rarely paid dividends for the Washington Redskins. As for the Eagles, I just can’t shake the feeling that this is Donovan McNabb’s final season in Philly. And needless to say, that doesn’t bode well for the Eagles’ prospects in 2007.

The “They’re better than you think” Division Division representative: Fiona Apple

Houston Texans Minnesota Vikings Oakland Raiders Buffalo Bills Green Bay Packers Tennessee Titans

Perhaps you slammed the door on Fiona Apple the second you heard her vitriolic speech at the 1997 MTV Music Awards. Or maybe you just don’t think a true football fan can ever be caught enjoying a chick wailing above the soulful notes of her piano. Whatever your excuse, you need to get over it and give the woman a listen. Her music is simultaneously poetic, original, heartbreaking and euphoric. Her latest release, “Extraordinary Machine,” is simply brilliant. Not a single “sniff, sniff” to be heard.

But you probably want to focus on the team at the top of this division, don’t you? I’ll be delving deeper into the Texans’ season later this week, but for now I’ll just say this: I’m not buying the playoff talk, but I do think Houston is going to have a legitimate football team this year. .500 is a definite possibility and, if things break right, maybe even 9-7. Considering the majority of the national media still sees the Texans as a bottom five team, they definitely deserve their place in this division.

As for the rest: Minnesota’s strength in the trenches should be worth around nine wins, despite starting rawer-than-sashimi Tavares Jackson at quarterback. The Raiders can’t possibly be as bad as they were last year, so there’s nowhere to go but up. Buffalo appears frisky and under-the-radar enough to ambush under-prepared teams. And the Packers may very well be able to send Brett Favre into retirement with a playoff appearance.

Oh yeah, I’m forgetting someone. Look, I really don’t think Tennessee is going to be that good this year. But the thing is, they have this certain dude who plays quarterback and, quite frankly, I’m not interested in being labeled a blasphemer. So I’ll just quietly leave the Titans here and be on my merry way. Hopefully, the Gods will one day reward me for my obedience.

The “Why aren’t more people talking about these guys?” Division Division representative: Amos Lee and Arcade Fire

St. Louis Rams

Sometimes it’s fun to be part of a small, select group of people brilliant and open-minded enough to appreciate the creative genius possessed by an artist or band. But there are other times when that talent is so breathtaking and so immense that you consider it a crime that the vast majority of the world around you remains oblivious to the object of your affection. That’s kind of how I feel about Amos Lee and Arcade Fire. How is Amos not as huge as Norah Jones? How is Fergie out-selling Arcade Fire? I suspect I’ll never know the answers to these questions so, for now, I guess I’ll just have to take solace in my own open-minded brilliance.

Speaking of which, I’ve deemed the Rams my sleeper pick of the year. Sure, they’ve finished below .500 in four of the last five seasons, but I think St. Louis is poised for a big year. They’re probably never going to approach the “Greatest Show on Turf” days again, but they do have more balance now so I’m putting in the call for an 11-5 record. Of course, if Torry Holt has to play hurt all year, I’m relinquishing all responsibility for this pick.

The Rock-Solid, Kick-Ass Division Division Representative: The White Stripes

Indianapolis Colts Baltimore Ravens Pittsburgh Steelers Denver Broncos Dallas Cowboys

Okay, so the Stripes aren’t much of a team. Jack does all the heavy lifting while Meg tags along for the ride. So what? At the end of the day, they repeatedly rock the Casbah. And that’s the only thing that matters.

Like the White Stripes, the clubs in this division are not perfect teams. Each one possesses a rather glaring deficiency somewhere on the field. But they all have what it takes to punch their ticket for the playoffs.

Taking a closer look: Indy can’t stop the run and has issues on the offensive line. While those problems will prove to be the Colts’ undoing in the post-season, Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning is good enough to lead his team to ten wins. Dallas also has question marks along its O-line and a secondary that’s still susceptible to giving up big plays. Doesn’t matter. The Cowboys will rank among the NFC’s elite. Denver and Baltimore may be fool’s gold in terms of true Super Bowl contention, but both possess more than enough shine to keep playing into January.

Meanwhile, I suspect Pittsburgh will be viewed as the most surprising team to be granted inclusion into this group, but I view the Steelers’ disappointing 2006 campaign as nothing more than an aberration. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong in the Steel City last season and I think this year’s group will be on a mission to prove they still belong in the upper echelon of the NFL.

The “Best band in the land” Division Division Representative: U2

New England Patriots Chicago Bears San Diego Chargers New Orleans Saints

Say what you want about U2, but they always deliver the goods. Even on their worst albums (Zooropa and Pop), the Irish quartet still managed to conjure moments of magic far above and beyond the reach of 99.9 percent of the bands that have ever existed.

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Perhaps it is a similar characteristic which separates these four teams from the rest of the NFL pack. The Pats, Bears, Chargers and Saints simply won’t have to play their best in order to win most weeks. And when they do put it all together, no one outside of this group can stop them.

However, despite their superior talent, all four members of this division have questions that must be answered. Can the Saints’ defense stop anyone? Does it even need to? Will Rex Grossman bring sexy back to Chicago? Is San Diego’s Norv Turner an even worse crunch-time coach than Marty Schottenheimer? Will Tom Brady direct more passes to Randy Moss or the Victoria Secret girls? Each team must find answers to these questions if they’re to successfully negotiate the road to the Lombardi trophy.

So who will end up on top? Well, I’ve been picking the Pats since January, so I’m not about to stop now. But no matter what happens, it’s just good to know pigskin is finally back on the menu. And if that last realization puts an extra hop in your step and a song in your heart, just know this:

You’re not alone. – Jason Friedman

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