Craig: Buckle up for another bumpy NFL journey

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2014 - 12:01 PM

Another NFL season is here, so expect the unexpected.

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Tom Brady is looking for a better season in New England.

Take the Bubble Wrap off Adrian Peterson and tell Johnny Football to holster that finger and find a seat. The NFL’s 95th regular season is about to begin.

Seattle’s defense of Super Bowl XLVIII begins Thursday night at home against Green Bay. The Seahawks are the logical league favorite, and the Packers should win a fourth consecutive NFC North title considering the third one came while going 2-5-1 without Aaron Rodgers.

Of course, standing between those two cities and their realistic goals are 30 other teams, 16 games and a weekly reminder that the NFL’s popularity is based primarily on very little going as planned. Except the Patriots quietly winning the AFC East while Jets coach Rex Ryan applies hammer to thumb through more drama at quarterback.

If the yellow blizzard this preseason is any indication, referees will be looking to open up the passing game even more with defensive holding and illegal contact penalties. Apparently, breaking a 65-year-old record for average points per game — 46.8, up from 46.5 in 1948 — is only the beginning since this league’s popularity also is rooted in grown men counting points in a fantasy land and then oversharing with the rest of us.

Speaking of scoring, the window of opportunity remains cracked for the Broncos’ record-setting offense and 38-year-old quarterback Peyton Manning. The latter threw a record 55 touchdown passes a year ago. Fifty-six if you count the one he threw to Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith in a 43-8 Super Bowl loss that made Broncos boss John Elway remember that there’s another side of the ball.

Denver forked over $60 million in guaranteed money, including $26 million to former Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib. New England coach Bill Belichick saw Elway’s Talib and raised the pot with Darrelle Revis at one year and $12 million.

The arms race — or anti-arms race — between last year’s AFC Championship Game participants will hit the field Nov. 2 at New England. It will be the 16th meeting between Manning and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Brady holds a 10-5 advantage but lost the most recent meeting, 26-16 in last year’s AFC title game.

In the NFC, the Super Bowl still goes through the West. The 49ers are a popular choice to win their first Super Bowl in 20 years (yeah, it’s been that long). But their ability to keep pace with a Seahawks team that remains amazingly intact and reach a third consecutive conference championship will be tested. The league’s best defensive front seven will be without injured inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman for at least six games and suspended outside linebacker Aldon Smith for nine games.

Smith’s nine-game suspension — four for substance abuse and five for personal conduct — comes at a time when Commissioner Roger Goodell is desperately trying to clean up the league’s image with harsher penalties for drunken driving, domestic abuse and weapons-related incidents. He’s also trying to establish a more logical message after taking a public relations uppercut when Cleveland’s Josh Gordon, last year’s league leader in receiving yards, was suspended for at least 16 games for substance abuse while Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended only two games for spousal abuse.

On the field, Goodell also is striving for a more respectful environment after Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s excessive taunting of 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree at the end of the NFC title game shined a big-stage light the growing ugliness of arrogance.

Referees will be less tolerant of taunting and racial comments on the field. And, yeah, Goodell has to be squirming at the contradiction that presents as Redskins owner Daniel Snyder digs his heels in against mounting pressure to change his team’s 81-year-old nickname.

Like anything that happens on the field, who the heck knows how that one will play out. As for on the field, we’ll throw a few things at the wall Sept. 3 and assume they won’t be sticking come Feb. 1 in Glendale, Ariz.

In the AFC, the Patriots will earn the top seed and beat the Broncos in the conference title game. In the NFC, the Packers will have the best record, but the No. 4 seed Eagles will be the team that gets hot at the right time and beats the Saints to reach the Super Bowl, where they’ll lose to the Patriots 31-24.

Amount of money where mouth is: $0.0.

 

Mark Craig mark.craig@startribune.com

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New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Detroit 69 FINAL
Philadelphia 89
Portland 94 FINAL
Cleveland 99
Sacramento 102 FINAL
Toronto 119
Boston 98 FINAL
Minnesota 110
Dallas 94 FINAL
Houston 99
Denver 93 FINAL
New Orleans 85
Brooklyn 102 FINAL
Atlanta 113
Oklahoma City 92 FINAL
New York 100
Charlotte 86 FINAL
San Antonio 95
LA Clippers 94 FINAL
Utah 89
Washington 98 FINAL
Phoenix 106
Toronto 1 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Pittsburgh 0 FINAL
Washington 4
Chicago 3 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Temple 86 FINAL
UCF 62
Winthrop 75 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 68
Lafayette 59 FINAL
Colgate 54
Northeastern 60 FINAL
Drexel 65
Wake Forest 76 FINAL
Florida State 82
Rhode Island 64 FINAL
Fordham 63
Delaware 82 FINAL
James Madison 88
South Carolina 58 FINAL
LSU 64
New Hampshire 63 FINAL
Maine 58
Seton Hall 80 FINAL
Marquette 70
Binghamton 68 FINAL
UMBC 56
American Univ 54 FINAL
Navy 64
Elon 65 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 82
Wright State 76 FINAL
Oakland 84
Minnesota 58 FINAL
Penn State 63
Duquesne 55 FINAL
Richmond 86
SMU 63 FINAL
South Florida 52
Hartford 66 FINAL
Stony Brook 72
Albany 47 FINAL
Vermont 44
Hofstra 79 FINAL
William & Mary 100
UNC-Asheville 74 FINAL
Longwood 64
Radford 84 FINAL
Char Southern 77
Holy Cross 0 Postponed
Loyola-Maryland 0
Duke 73 FINAL
Notre Dame 77
Texas Tech 36 FINAL
Oklahoma 81
Oregon State 55 FINAL
Arizona State 73
Morehead State 82 FINAL
Austin Peay 69
Drake 69 FINAL
Bradley 57
Lehigh 62 FINAL
Bucknell 68
Rice 48 FINAL
Houston 59
Missouri State 57 FINAL
Illinois State 67
Loyola-Chicago 47 FINAL
Wichita State 58
Nebraska Omaha 64 FINAL
South Dakota St 86
Northern Iowa 59 FINAL
Southern Ill 52
Louisville 81 FINAL
Boston College 72
St Johns 74 FINAL
Creighton 77
East Carolina 58 FINAL
Memphis 70
Georgia Tech 70 FINAL
Miami-Florida 50
Miss State 73 FINAL
Ole Miss 79
Clemson 68 FINAL
NC State 57
Indiana 67 FINAL
Purdue 83
Kansas 64 FINAL
TCU 61
Oregon 56 FINAL
Arizona 90
Air Force 66 FINAL
San Jose St 52
Stanford 84 FINAL
Washington 74
Rider 56 FINAL
Siena 49
Dayton 76 FINAL
Richmond 62
Eastern Kentucky 53 FINAL
Jacksonville St 73
Saint Josephs 0 Postponed
Saint Louis 0
UMBC 71 FINAL
Binghamton 55
Akron 60 FINAL
Ohio U 72
Ball State 72 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 55
Memphis 56 FINAL
Cincinnati 44
East Carolina 32 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 87
Murray State 59 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 75
Kent State 63 FINAL
Central Michigan 65
UT Martin 64 FINAL
Tennessee St 58
Eastern Michigan 56 FINAL
Western Mich 83
Bucknell 61 FINAL
Lehigh 76
Indiana 57 FINAL
Michigan State 72
Colgate 56 FINAL
Lafayette 58
Fordham 66 FINAL
Davidson 45
Duquesne 76 FINAL
St Bonaventure 64
George Mason 66 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 70
Detroit 59 FINAL
Youngstown St 58
Army 0 Postponed
Boston U 0
Loyola-Maryland 0 Postponed
Holy Cross 0
SMU 58 FINAL
Tulsa 74
Oklahoma St 54 FINAL
Kansas State 52
West Virginia 57 FINAL
Texas Tech 73
Denver 56 FINAL
South Dakota 82
Northwestern St 46 FINAL
Central Arkansas 63
Austin Peay 67 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 87
Kansas 61 FINAL
Iowa State 56
Bowling Green 50 FINAL
Northern Ill 67
Penn State 64 FINAL
Minnesota 75
San Jose St 80 FINAL
Air Force 83
Boise State 82 FINAL
Colorado State 83
Utah State 51 FINAL
Wyoming 86
San Diego State 50 FINAL
Fresno State 57
Nevada 52 FINAL
UNLV 75
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

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