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  OVERS AND UNDERS: THE BIG BLACK TABLE NFL PREVIEW '05.  
   
 

I could tell you about how this NFL season will be unlike any other, about how the game will be more exciting than ever, about how we're ready to focus on the game again after a long offseason litany of shootings and loud contract squabbles.

I can say that every year, though. Sure, some things will be different -- like the nomad Saints. But in the NFL, we've quit expecting anything other than the unexpected. Which means that Terrell Owens can call his quarterback a hypocrite and a mouthpiece for management, yet also have a huge season without talking to him.

All of which makes predicting the NFL a pretty tough gig. Not that I'm trying to make preemptive excuses for what undoubtedly will be some idiocy to follow. It's just, well, sometimes the better pick is exactly the opposite of what a so-called expert suggests.

Here's the annual over/under predictions for each of the NFL's teams. If you're a betting man. Not that we'd condone that sort of thing.

 

 
   
 

Buffalo Bills
Over/Under Total: 8.
A stirring late-season playoff push that fell just short didn't save veteran quarterback Drew Bledsoe. In comes J.P. Losman and here are the Bills: Great defense and special teams, great running back, very good wide receivers. And a wholly inexperienced quarterback. Step back? Not necessarily. Everybody has known for six months what they are in for with Losman, and nobody seems worried. The schedule is soft enough early to let him settle down, and then it's pound, pound, pound with Willis McGahee. The Bills won't blow away the eight wins, but they'll get there. Pick: Over

Miami Dolphins
Total: 6.
I think Nick Saban eventually might be a good coach, but he has these Dolphins running scared. Scaring talented players is Bill Parcells' successful philosophy. But scared bad players just start running around trying to do something, anything to impress the coach. No quarterback, questionable running back and aging, slowing defense. Pick: Under

New England Patriots
Total: 10.5
They can't win without the genius coordinators, can't win without Tedy Bruschi, can't stay ahead of a tough, early season schedule. All Bill Belichick needs is a rallying cry for this season … and we've handed it to him. Belichick's next big test is succeeding without his top assistants, losses that have torn down previous dynasties. He's been planning for this for at least two years. Pick: Over

New York Jets
Total: 9
Coach Herm Edwards has run off his defensive and offensive coordinators the last two years, and you know who gets fired next after the top assistants are sacked. The Jets should have been playing for the AFC title, and this clearly is a talented team. But they have a 32-year-old running back and a quarterback and lead receiver who can't stay healthy. Something also tells me that the Jets are tiring of Edwards' high-strung act. They are a crash-and-burn candidate this year or next. Pick: Under

 

 
   
 

Baltimore Ravens
Total: 10
This is a really tough number, only a half-game under the Patriots - and quarterback Kyle Boller is no Tom Brady. But the lofty total tells you Vegas believes in Boller. They might be the only ones, but in this act, they're the only ones that matter. The division will be theirs to take, because the Steelers aren't repeating. I could be a chicken and take a push, but where's the fun in that? Pick: Over

Cincinnati Bengals
Total: 8
Carson Palmer, Carson Palmer, Carson Palmer. We've heard all offseason about how this is his time, and I do think he will be a very good quarterback. This offense, along with running back Rudi Johnson and wide receiver Chad Johnson, should be very good. But coach Marvin Lewis, a defensive guy, has a horrendously soft defense. He's getting his guys in there, but it takes time and he's not there yet. Luckily, the number is an easy one. Pick: Over

Cleveland Browns
Total: 4.5
I really don't have anything nice to say about the Browns. And my mama taught me the same thing yours did. Pick: Under

Pittsburgh Steelers
Total: 9.5
Nobody remembers the Steelers went 15-1 last year, which is reflected in that 9.5 number. Vegas is even begging you to take the under, offering a nicer payout than on the over. At the end of the season, there will be some serious teeth gnashing in Steel Town about what went wrong with Ben Roethlisberger and about where they are going to find a running back after Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis played to their age. Relax. Nothing is wrong with Roethlisberger that a swift punch to the gut won't fix. Pick: Under

 

 
   
 

Houston Texans
Total: 7.5
I don't like much about the Texans. Neither David Carr nor Andre Johnson is as good as they should be, running back Domanick Davis gets too much hype for a mediocre back and coach Dom Capers can't fire this gang up. They did very little to improve themselves and the schedule is tough. But, you say, this is the year Carr finally gets better! Just because a guy sticks around a few years doesn't mean he is getting better. Pick: Under

Indianapolis Colts
Total: 11.5
For too long, these guys ignored the defense. But in recent years, the draft has been all about defense, defense, defense. Now come the late additions of defensive tackle Corey Simon and linebacker Rocky Calmus. Nothing earth-shattering, but coach Tony Dungy must have finally gotten through to GM Bill Polian about balancing that listing ship. And the offense has that "one final run" feel to it, before Edgerrin James and Reggie Wayne scatter to the bigger money. Pick: Over

Jacksonville Jaguars
Total: 8.5
Coach Jack Del Rio is going to get himself fired one of these days, but not because he is a bad coach. He is one of those guys committed to what he believes, which isn't always what the dysfunctional front office believes. What does that have to do with this season? Not a whole lot, just that the Jaguars might use any excuse to get rid of Del Rio, including a season sunk because running back Fred Taylor breaks down and the front office never stepped up to land a capable backup. Pick: Under

Tennessee Titans
Total: 6.5
Titans fans are dedicated. They have no doubt that as long as Steve McNair is on the field, everything will be OK. Those days are in the past, and McNair can't even stay on the field very long any more. They'll be in the running for the No. 1 pick next year. Pick: Under

 

 
   
 

Denver Broncos
Total: 8.5
Everybody is talking about the other AFC West teams - how Randy Moss will lift the Raiders, how good the Chiefs' offense is and how LaDainian Tomlinson can do anything for the Chargers. All anybody wants to say about Denver is the weird move to acquire the Browns' pitiful defensive line from last year. I don't understand it either, but I do know Mike Shanahan has another good offense and they have several good defensive playmakers. Now, will they win a playoff game? Pick: Over

Kansas City Chiefs
Total: 9
I know this offense is supposed to be invincible, but nothing stops age in the NFL. And the Chiefs have a lot of age. They did this, that and the other to improve the defense and, yeah, those moves might work out fine. But their quarterback has a strange circulation problem in his leg. When you're putting stents in a week before the season begins, that makes me a little uncomfortable. Pick: Under

Oakland Raiders
Total: 8
Well, here comes the Randy Moss show. And it should be a fun ride because the Raiders don't care about all that other stuff, like walking off the field before a game ends. Will it win a championship? Not with that defense, and who knows if quarterback Kerry Collins has more than one decent season in him. But this one, while everything is new and everyone is happy... Pick: Over

San Diego Chargers
Total: 8
Not much love for the Chargers after their 12-4 season. This one almost looks too inviting, which often is a reason to turn the other way. I think Tomlinson will be good enough to carry them a long way, but the defense isn't much better and there is that nagging pressure to try to repeat what nobody thought you could do the first time. They might slip back a bit, but coach Marty Schottenheimer is a master of the 8-8 or 10-6 team. Pick: Over

 

 
   
 

Dallas Cowboys
Total: 8
You should always consider betting against the Cowboys because their huge fan base always leads to more people betting on them. And that number must have people practically drooling. Cowboys fans, and there are a lot of them, will be snapping that one up. I have problems with their defense, and I suspect Bill Parcells does too, although he will see some improvement by late in the year. Total: Under

New York Giants
Total: 6.5
If you can find somebody to take this bet, you should. The NFL handed the Giants an extra home game, a Monday nighter at that, and that's an unfair advantage. It'll be an emotional game, but it's still a home game against a team they might not beat on the road. And that extra game might be enough to push them over the top. I'll give them 7 wins, but if this number corrects to 7.5, I'll go under. Pick: Over

Philadelphia Eagles
Total: 11.5
What a big number, especially for a team with all the distractions the Eagles have had. It's the distractions that invariably drag a team down, maybe not in their first or second game but possibly in the eighth or ninth. Distractions are going to be the case, to some extent, because the Eagles still are talented enough to win the division. The rest of the division is a little bit better, and that will make enough of a difference in the record. Pick: Under

Washington Redskins
Total: 7.5
This is another absurd number, although it might just be crazy enough to make sense. A very good defense, and even a slightly better offense will make for a few more wins. This team isn't going anywhere, not in its current makeup, but an average 8-8 season is within reach. Running back Clinton Portis will have a better year; all he needs are a couple more TDs to get the Redskins back to level. Pick: Over

 

 
   
 

Atlanta Falcons
Total: 9.5
Coach Jim Mora legitimately has the Falcons moving in the right direction, and the team does appear to be starting to fill out nicely around star quarterback Michael Vick. About the only thing that will completely derail them is an injury to Vick, which he exposes himself to with his reckless style. Vick won't be enough of a passer to make more noise in the playoffs, but they should at least get back there. Pick: Over

Carolina Panthers
Total: 9.5
One of the hot, trendy picks of the year - and with good reason. The Panthers are fairly loaded, and deep, at almost every position. They will have injury concerns at running back but go about four-deep at the position. Everybody is getting worked up about the wide receivers as well. Remember Rod Gardner. He is a big, Muhsin Muhammad-type receiver who ought to be able to thrive in a secondary role. Pick: Over

New Orleans Saints
Total: 7.5
As with the Giants, good luck finding somebody to take this bet. And better luck trying to figure out what's going to happen with the Saints. Without a natural disaster, I'd go under because they will have trouble finding wins in their division. With little kids asking Joe Horn to go win a game for them … beats me. Pick: None

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Total: 7
I'm not as down on the Bucs as most folks because I like the offense. Quarterback Brian Griese should be fine once the team loses a few games and has little to play for, and Michael Clayton and Carnell Williams are on their way to being stars. They are better than a seven-win team, but I don't see how they win enough games in the division. Pick: Under

 

 
   
 

Chicago Bears
Total: 6.5
It's another year of no offense after another serious injury to Rex Grossman. I'm not sure it really hurts the psyche of this team, because they aren't used to playing with Grossman anyhow. Kyle Orton is going to give them a little spring in their step, even if he plays like a fourth-round rookie should. There's potential for more because Orton doesn't have a fourth-round arm, but that's getting into risky territory. Pick: Over

Detroit Lions
Total: 8
So now is the time to wonder about Joey Harrington. Is this finally the year that he steps up? He has the whole loser tag, and that's a very hard tag to shake once you're stuck with it. Everything else is setting up very well around him, so well that another quarterback will walk into Detroit next year and be an instant winner. But that's next year. Pick: Under

Green Bay Packers
Total: 8
Nobody in Green Bay learned from the Chiefs last year, when they found out that just changing coordinators doesn't improve the defense. There are some serious salary-cap and age questions here, especially with Brett Favre playing like a quarterback who doesn't look like he cares that much any more. And management just wants to run coach Mike Sherman out of town. Pick: Under

Minnesota Vikings
Total: 9.5
The division should be there for the Vikings' taking with folks thinking the division will be considerably better than it will be. Those other teams have some serious questions, while the Vikings have a serious MVP candidate in Daunte Culpepper. Sure, the defense will be better, but Culpepper is the one to watch. Pick: Over

 

 
   
 

Arizona Cardinals
Total: 7.5
Everybody is in love with the Cardinals, and all they have to do is win eight games. I don't know what to make of Kurt Warner either, but he did get the Giants off to a 5-2 start. And the Cardinals are better than that Giants team, especially on defense. That ought to equal at least eight wins fairly easily. Pick: Over

St. Louis Rams
Total: 8.5
I'm starting to like the Rams more and more. I hate their defense, but coach Mike Martz has won without much defense before. Quarterback Marc Bulger keeps getting better and looks more and more comfortable in the pocket every game. He is going to have a big season and win the Rams another division title. Pick: Over

San Francisco 49ers
Total: 4.5
The 49ers could reach the over if we knew Tim Rattay would stay healthy. He is a solid 6-7 win quarterback, but Vegas also has even odds that Rattay will get hurt pulling on his shoulder pads. OK, bad joke. Worse team. Pick: Under

Seattle Seahawks
Total: 8.5
The Seahawks will be on the goal line late in the fourth quarter of their season finale, trying to get win No. 9 when Shaun Alexander will fumble, stabbing all of us who bet on them in the back. I still think Matt Hasselbeck is a good quarterback, but this team feels funny. Pick: Under

 

Matt Pitzer is the fantasy football expert for USA Today Sports Weekly. This makes it particularly exciting when Black Table editors beat him in fantasy leagues, which has been known to happen.