More than halfway there

This NFL season has been one of the most exciting I can remember. The biggest surprises this year are the Pittsburg Steelers and the San Diego Chargers. Going from the bottom of the heap to rarefied heights, these two teams have completely shaken up the balance of power in the AFC.

Each team features a stellar young QB surrounded by playmakers, including crushing running attacks. Each team has a rock-solid, dominating D, and each team has a brilliant veteran coach.

Neither team reached the playoffs last year but both will do so this year. I love this game!

The biggest disappointments have been the Carolina Panthers, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins. The first two teams both made the playoffs last year, one as a Cinderella, one as a high-octane offensive juggernaut. But, unfortunately, this year both have dismal records. The Panthers have zero chance of reaching the playoffs, and the Chiefs have a lot of catching-up to do.

But no team has been through more drama, more distractions and more misfortune than the Dolphins. Prefaced by an off-season so horrid as to almost be comical, their season has been abysmal, all the more so because most of the games they’ve lost this year have been within their grasp, only to be tossed away like the 14 interceptions they’ve surrendered.

First David Boston, star wide-out, suffers a season-ending broken leg in practice, then Ricky I-had-to-throw-his-jersey-away Williams, then Aduwale Ogunleye’s defection to the Bears, then about seven hurricanes, now the resignation of ne’er-do-well Dave Wannstedt… Sing it with me: "No-body knows the trouble they’ve seeeeen… ."

So what can we expect from the rest of the ’04-’05 season? More excitement, surprises, and a hell of a lot of great football. Let me get out the ol’ crystal pigskin and make a few predictions:

1. The demise of the New England Patriots is greatly exaggerated. Though they lost to this week’s darlings, the Steelers, they came back and pounded the Rams on the road. Tom Brady is still a baby Joe Montana, and their D is still the league’s most unfathomable. Can anyone stop them in the postseason?

2. The Seattle Seahawks will continue to be the best worst team in the NFL. They collapse under the pressure of good teams, and their loveable, bald QB gets a trifle ditzy under the gun. Maybe it’s all the vegan food up in Seattle…

3. The Philadelphia Eagles will not miss a beat after their colossal ass-whuppin’ last Sunday. They are still the most dominant team in the NFC, and look for Donovan McNabb, who incomprehensibly played like a scared rookie in Steel City, to bounce back with a vengeance. I pick him or the divine Terrell Owens to take the MVP this year.

4. Ben Roethlisberger, my favorite QB of the Class of ’04 since he was drafted, will continue to play brilliant football. I think it’s possible that he’ll be remembered as the best rookie QB in the history of the league, even eclipsing my boy, Dan Marino. Big Ben’s for real, and he’s here to stay (Eli who?).