All my rowdy friends are here...well you know. We make our picks for the new NFL season.

Sure it’s past Labor Day, but for most of the country the weather here in the US still feels a lot like summer. Folks are still going to the beach, putting up that fence in the back yard, fighting unbearable heat, playing those late evening pick-up basketball games at the local court or simply enjoying the still relatively long days. But all of that extracurricular activity, for football fans at least, is about to come to an abrupt end, as the National Football League kicks off its 2007-2008 season with tonight’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints.

To commemorate the start of the NFL season, we thought we’d slip on our prognostic’s hat and go through our picks for the upcoming season – from each of the individual division winners and wild card teams in the AFC and NFC, to the eventual champion of Super Bowl XLII.

First up, the all-powerful, uber-competitive American Football Conference:

AFC East Winner: New England Patriots – Brady finally has some WR targets to throw at, and given the talent infusion we wouldn’t bet against a Belichick coached team.

AFC North Winner: Cincinnati Bengals – A rookie coach in Pittsburgh, a rookie QB who will probably start by mid-season in Cleveland and little offense to speak of in Baltimore means that the Bengals will sort of win this division by default.

AFC South Winner: Indianapolis Colts – The Colts are one of the top 3 teams in the league and they play in one of the worst divisions. Even our poor math skills can calculate the winner of the South division.

AFC West Winner: San Diego Chargers – The Chargers are probably the most talented team in the AFC, perhaps the NFL, with studs on both sides of the ball. Despite Norv Turner at head coach, they take the division with ease.

AFC Wild Card Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.

Now for the less powerful, not-too-competitive National Football Conference:

NFC East Winner: Philadelphia Eagles – If McNabb stays healthy, and it is definitely a big “if”, we’re taking the Eagles by a slim margin. Jerry Jones’ Cowboys are very good, but their secondary and QB Tony Romo are somewhat suspect. The Redskins and Giants are in for a sub-500 campaign.

NFC North Winner: Chicago Bears – The Bears defense won’t be as good as the past two seasons and their QB Rex Grossman may very well be benched by mid-season, but the monsters of the midway will easily handle Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit to win this division.

NFC South Winner: New Orleans Saints – We really believe that the Carolina Panthers will have a huge bounce-back year, but we also think that Reggie Bush can become the LT of the NFC – besides, the no-longer ‘Aints are such a feel good story.

NFC West Winner: St. Louis Rams – Every team in this division has serious flaws, but if the Rams can play some semblance of defense, their offense will overpower the rest of the teams in the weak NFC West.

NFC Wild Card Teams: Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys

So now, the Super Bowl picks.

If the New England Patriots are able to get home field advantage, they will roll over San Diego and/or Indianapolis in Foxboro to go to yet another Super Bowl. But, if San Diego is at home in the AFC Championship game, we may find ourselves talking about Philip Rivers and Tomlinson as the co-Super Bowl MVPs. We, however, tend to think that the Patriots will somehow end up with the best record in the AFC.

On the NFC side, if McNabb can stay healthy all season, especially going into the playoffs, we’d take the Eagles, but we don’t think he can or will. So, we’ll pick the New Orleans Saints, and red-hot quarterback Drew Brees, to join the party in Arizona.

Super Bowl Matchup: New England Patriots vs. New Orleans Saints

Super Bowl Winner: As much as we hate to say it, New England Patriots


In The News: September 5, 2007

Calling Kobe Bryant confident is like saying Ferraris are fast – it goes without saying. The Los Angeles Lakers and recently minted Team USA star displayed some of that bravado during his current whirlwind, Nike-sponsored trip to Asia by announcing that he is confident that the US National team can win gold during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. Kobe said that this US Team will face a “much greater” challenge at the Olympics than what the 1992 Dream Team led by Magic, Jordan and Bird faced in Atlanta. "We're preparing for (the Olympics) like we were playing for the NBA finals,” Kobe said.

Michigan takes monumental tumble

From being ranked number 5 to being clear out of the AP Top 25, the Michigan Wolverines took the largest tumble in the NCAA college football rankings since the poll expanded to 25 teams. The Maize and Blue lost this past weekend to former Division 1-AA school Appalachian State, marking what some are calling the biggest upset in the history of college football. If you think Michigan Wolverine fans were devastated by the loss to the lowly Mountaineers, imagine how Michigan football head coach Lloyd Carr must be feeling right about now. Carr, who was contemplating retirement after season’s end, might want to speed up those proceedings.

Don't sleep on Formula One

The Formula One season rolls into Monza, Italy this weekend for the aptly-named Italian Grand Prix. With only five races to go until season’s end, two drivers each from Ferrari and McLaren are locked in an incredibly close race for the coveted drivers’ championship. McLaren teammates Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, who have had a rather contentious relationship, are at the top of the standings, with Alonso only 5 points behind Hamilton. While, Ferrari teammates Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, who seem to be on better terms, having finished one-two at the recent Turkish Grand Prix, are third and fourth respectively in driver points. The remaining five races will be a literal sprint to the finish and should be a lot of fun to watch. The Italian Grand Prix will be shown on Speed TV on Sunday, September 9 at 3:00pm Eastern.

Beckham's former coach has serious beef

Soccer star David Beckham’s former coach, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, doesn’t think the former “Man U” star has what it takes to significantly increase the sport’s profile in the US.

"It is difficult with David going there. I don't know what kind of impact he can make," Ferguson said. "David Beckham himself can't change the whole country. In European soccer, and especially in British soccer, you can travel easily. If you are in Boston and need to go to Los Angeles, it's a six-hour flight. Supporters don't travel, so you are missing that rivalry between fans."

Soccer wasn’t specifically the only subject discussed, as Ferguson addressed an audience in Glasgow, Scotland. It seems that the Manchester United manager isn’t a big fan of Beckham’s high profile spouse, Victoria Beckham of the Spice Girls, either.

"He was never a problem until he got married," Ferguson continued. "He was a fantastic young lad. Getting married into that entertainment scene was a difficult thing -- from that moment his life was never going to be the same. He is such a big celebrity, soccer is only a small part."

Apple drops iPhone price. Is a sleeker version planned at the original price point?

Only month's after its launch, Apple cut the price of its decidedly cool iPhone from the original $599 to a somewhat affordable $399. Historically, particularly with its line of iPods, Apple has been known to hold the launch price point well into the product's lifecyle, so the quick price-cut on the iPhone is a clear indication that the product may be falling behind the company's sales targets. So, while At&T network users are the still the only consumers that can buy and use an iPhone (unless you use this hack), the new $200 cheaper price point should help move a lot of the devices this fall. The price-cut though brings up an interesting question. Is Apple planning on bringing a newer, sleeker, cooler iPhone to market at the original $599 price point soon?

Shaquille O'Neal files for divorce

Shaquille O’Neal is easily the most imposing player in the history of the NBA. Standing at 7 feet 1 inches and anywhere from 310 on a good day to 360 pounds, O’Neal paints an imposing figure, particularly for opposing Centers. But, off the court, O’Neal is one of the nicest, friendliest and kindest players in the league. So, as reports leaked out today that “The Big Aristotle” had filed for divorce from his long-time wife Shaunie, the news came as somewhat of a shock to the NBA community. Heat coach Pat Riley called the news devastating and saddening.

“I’m going to reach out to him today and find out how he is doing, and I hope everything works out,” Riley told a local Miami radio station. “But obviously, it is not the kind of news that you want to hear about one of your friends and also one of your players.”

Things must have disintegrated rather quickly in their long-running marriage, as the couple were just recently seen together at the ESPY awards in July, happily enjoying the celebrity-laden event. In fact, last year in an interview with USA Today, Shaunie only had the nicest things to say about Shaq.

"My 6-year-old still thinks Daddy can come through a wall. He thinks Daddy is really Superman," Shaunie told the paper. "It's hilarious the things he does to make them still believe that Dad has these magic powers. He says that when the kids grow up, he wants them to always know that he tried to be the best father he could be."

We wish the big guy, and Shaunie, the best of luck.


Team USA experience could be a turning point for Kobe Bryant

If this summer has taught us anything, it’s that Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has one of the most complex and intriguing personalities in sports. He is at the same time relentlessly loyal, extremely impulsive, and very competitive, easily influenced, sometimes hardheartedly emotional and stubborn to a fault.

Bryant entered his tumultuous summer with a bitter loss to the Phoenix Suns in the fist round of the NBA playoffs for the second straight season, flip-flopped more than former presidential candidate John Kerry on his desire, or lack thereof, to stay with the Lakers, threw a couple of his teammates, most notably Andrew Bynum, under a double-decker bus, proceeded to take a vow of silence without coming to any sort of resolution on his trade demands, and revived Michael Jordan’s original Dream Team role on this year’s Team USA squad by showcasing suffocating defensive play and, shockingly enough, mature leadership. Having begun the summer on a low note and ending it with a seemingly cathartic run in the FIBA Americas Tournament, which finished on Sunday with a triumphant drubbing of Argentina 118-81, Kobe’s roller coaster summer hit the end of the line this week.

Given the positive vibes of the Team USA experience, what is Kobe’s current mindset? Does he remain stubborn and stick to his principles that he holds so dear, and continues to demand a trade out of LA? Or, has the team-first environment and camaraderie of the FIBA experience kindled his other strong personality traits like loyalty to his team?

The second redemption of Kobe Bryant

The key is that Kobe seems to be in a positive state of mind going into Lakers training camp in October, and we believe that he’ll be there, ready to make another run. Not only will he play for the Lakers next season, but the team-first attitude that he put on display at the FIBA Americas Tournament will carry over into the regular season with his NBA squad.

"[Kobe] tried to lobby all of us (to come to L.A.)," Team USA teammate Michael Redd said recently. "We all have tried to lobby everybody to come to our teams. I told Carmelo, there's going to be no tolerance for our teams when we get back to camp."

Wondering why Kobe would be lobbying other NBA stars to come to LA, if he so wants to leave town himself?

In the coming season, expect Kobe Bryant to take yet another step forward in the evolution of his game on the court and his leadership off it. Expect Kobe to trust his teammates on the floor and be more forgiving of their deficiencies.

Unlike last season, he will no longer be alone in shouldering the pressure of the storied Lakers organization and fans. Expect Kobe to lean heavily on his long-time pal Derek Fisher both on and off the court, to relieve some of that burden. Expect Kobe Bryant, just like he did coming off the adulterous debacle in Colorado, to redeem himself and rebuild his image in the upcoming season. He alienated many of his fans with his actions earlier this summer; expect him to erase that bitterness with his play on the court and his candor off it. The Team USA experience seems to have yielded a kindler, gentler Kobe Bryant. Expect him to translate that positive experience into a productive 2007-2008 season with the Lakers.

Lakers will need to reward Kobe’s loyalty

Of course, all of this doesn’t take the Lakers front office off the hook in the least bit. Kobe will continue to demand for added help. The Lakers will surely need to make some moves, because Kobe will keep the pressure on high (hopefully, behind closed doors). Whether it’s using Kwame Brown’s large expiring contract to yield another front-line starter in return, or orchestrating a creative trade for a player like Jermaine O’Neal, owner Jerry Buss and GM Mitch Kupchak will need to improve the talent on the Lakers roster. They owe it to their uber-competitive superstar and they owe it to Laker fans everywhere.


Tiny Appalachian State stuns mighty Michigan

In case you haven’t heard, Appalachian State University pulled off one of the most improbable upsets in the history of NCAA college football by stunningly defeating the Michigan Wolverines 34-32 on Saturday afternoon. The game was as exciting as the score indicates, with Appalachian State blocking a Michigan field goal in the final seconds to preseve the victory.

Appalachian State University was an underdog in every sense of the word when its football team met up with national powerhouse Michigan Wolverines. Tiny Appalachian State with a student population of just over 15,000 is located in nondescript Boone, North Carolina, a town centered almost entirely around the university, while mighty Michigan with 40,000-plus students strong makes its home in equally robust Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Appalachian State mascot is a happy-go-lucky “mountain folk” named Yosef, while Michigan instills fear in its opponents with its own mascot the mighty Wolverine. The Mountaineers play in the Southern Conference, which is equivalent to the now defunct Division 1AA level, while the Wolverines came into last night’s game ranked number 5 in the entire country. And, to top it all off, Appalachian State is plain weird. The school uses this unsettling, yet oddly hilarious recruitment video, which by the way might explain the low enrollment rate at the public school.

These non-conference games at the start of the college football season are supposed to serve as tune-ups and help pad win totals for the national powerhouses. Unfortunately for Michigan, the Mountaineers decided to ruin the Wolverine’s entire 2007 season in one horrible, horrible September afternoon for the fans of the maize and blue. For the rest of us, it was among one of the most exciting and entertaining college football games in recent memory.