Season Predictions

Here are Ken Palmer's and Paul Schwartz's season predictions for how the season will turn out in the NFL:

NFL

AFC playoff teams – Dolphins, Steelers, Colts, Chiefs, Ravens, Jaguars

NFC playoff teams – Cowboys, Bears, Panthers, Seahawks, Giants, Cardinals

AFC champion - Chiefs

NFC champion – Cowboys

Super Bowl champion – Cowboys

NFL MVP – Larry Johnson

NFL's worst team – Texans

NFL's most-improved team – Cardinals

Rookie of the year – Matt Leinart

Biggest story – Reggie Bush's early-season knee injury that sabotages his rookie year

Giants

Offensive MVP – Tiki Barber

Defensive MVP – LaVar Arrington

Rookie of the year – Barry Cofield

Breakthrough player (offense) – Tim Carter

Breakthrough player (defense) – Corey Webster

Biggest surprise – Gerris Wilkinson gets serious playing time at LB and plays well

Biggest disappointment – Sam Madison struggles to adjust to new defensive system

Unsung hero – Ryan Kuehl, who completes another perfect season of snapping

Eli Manning's stats – 306 for 550, 55.6 percent, 28 TDs, 15 INTs

LaVar Arrington's stats – 15 games, 109 tackles, 7.5 sacks

Small boxes (50-75 words)

How will the Giants finish in 2006? Big Blue is headed for a 10-win season, a wild card spot and a trip to the NFC championship game. After splitting their first six ridiculously tough games, they finish 7-3 for a 10-6 season. Two playoff wins precede a conference title tilt defeat in Big D.

What's the best/worst case scenario for Giants? There's no doubt the best-case scenario for this club is a victory in Miami in the Super Bowl. The Giants are one of a select few that have to be considered legitimate NFC contenders. On the flip side, with injuries and a more than challenging schedule, this team could end up 8-8 and a big disappointment.

Who will win the NFC East? The Cowboys. Not as the easy shoo-in everyone's predicting, but they'll do enough down the stretch to hold off the Giants and capture the NFC East crown. Bill Parcells has his Boys primed for a final run at the ring and it's going to start with 11 wins and the division title.

What's the most important factor in Giants' success? The offensive line absolutely, positively must stay healthy. For all the talk of the solid depth – and they have plenty – the key to unveiling all the offensive weapons is the guys up front. If they can't perform at least as well as they did last year, it's not going to matter how fast Tim Carter is or how tough Jeremy Shockey is.

Can Tiki Barber eclipse last year's record-breaking season? Absolutely. Positively. Tiki Barber is a specimen. He's likely going to get fewer touches this season, which only means that he'll be fresher and more effective when he gets the ball. Age is certainly just a number for Barber, who seems as primed as ever for yet another record-breaking campaign.

Paul Schwartz

AFC playoff teams – Dolphins, Colts, Steelers, Broncos, Patriots, Jaguars

NFC playoff teams – Giants, Lions, Panthers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Cowboys

AFC champion – Dolphins

NFC champion – Giants

Super Bowl champion – Giants

NFL MVP – Daunte Culpepper

NFL's worst team – Jets

NFL's most-improved team – Lions

Rookie of the year – Reggie Bush

Biggest story – Packers decide to bench Brett Favre midway through another losing season

Giants

Offensive MVP – Eli Manning

Defensive MVP – Antonio Pierce

Rookie of the Year – Gerris Wilkinson

Breakthrough player (offense) – Chris Snee

Breakthrough player (defense) – Corey Webster

Biggest surprise – Luke Petitgout is so solid at left tackle that he receives Pro Bowl consideration

Biggest disappointment – William Joseph's inconsistency finally gets him benched

Unsung hero – David Diehl, the sturdy left guard who never misses a play, much less a game

Eli Manning's stats – 292 for 505, 58 percent, 27 TDs, 13 INTs

LaVar Arrington's stats – 13 games, 65 tackles, eight sacks

How will the Giants finish in 2006? There's plenty of evidence to suggest the Giants will still be playing in early February when it's Super Bowl time down in Miami. They have as good a shot as anyone in the fairly balanced NFC, where there's no dominant team. The offense should soar with Eli Manning a year older and better and the defense should be able to dominate certain games. It's a winning formula, something like 11-5.

What's the best/worst case scenario for the Giants? The best-case scenario for the Giants is that they go at least 2-1 prior to the bye and then start building momentum from there. The worst-case scenario is that Manning gets hurt and no one emerges at defensive tackle, making it difficult to stop the running game. Then it could be a long season.

Who will win the NFC East? My initial thought was to pick the Cowboys, in deference to Bill Parcells' motivational skills and Terrell Owens staying on his best behavior for at least one year. But any team that is sifting through Drew Bledsoe and Tony Romo at quarterback shouldn't be taken completely seriously. I also don't trust Mark Brunell down in Washington and I don't believe the Eagles are destined for a big comeback. It's the Giants' division to win.

What's the most important factor in the Giants success? Keeping Manning healthy. It is nearly impossible to imagine Jared Lorenzen or Tim Hasselbeck stepping in and holding down the fort if Manning is out for any significant length of time. If he's in the game, Manning will prove himself to be a vastly-improved quarterback, vaulting into the upper echelon at his position in just his third season. But if he's on the sideline, it's major trouble for the Giants.

Can Tiki Barber eclipse last year's record-breaking season? No, and the Giants shouldn't put him in the position to try. If these Giants, with all their offensive weapons, need to rely so heavily on a 31-year old running back then something is wrong. Have you gotten a look at Brandon Jacobs recently? The guy's a monster and he should be able to give Tiki a series or two off a game, plus handle the bulk of the short-yardage banging.

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