NFC Predictions
By Ramine Dash

Well, here we are; the dog days of summer.  The worst time of the year in sports.  Don't fret though, because the  month of August is upon us and the smell of pigskin is getting closer.  Personally, I can't wait any longer.  Turn on Sportscenter, sports radio, or turn to the front page of the sports section and all that I see is news about murdered college basketball players, college football coaches involvened in scandals, star basketball players raping young girls, and professional footaball players passing out during training camp.  Remember the good old days; when the actual act of playing sports was talked about?  That all stops in September.  The NFL has become America's new past time.

Anyway, enough of the sentimental garbage.  Today I was asked to play NFL prognosticator for the 2003 season and because I like to fancy myself as an expert in all things football pertains to.  Actually, it's really all things that I consider myself and expert in.  I know so much that one book could be written about the things I don't know.  Now, since this is my first, and who knows, maybe my last article for this great website, I thought I'd give you my picks in installments.  That way the suspense builds and builds.  COnceivably, the suspense could build forever.  This week I will be covering the NFC, and if you all enjoy what you read, you can come back next week and read my AFC predictions.  Here goes nothing:

Division Winners:

NFC East:
NY Giants - The bottom line here is that the Giants were rolling with Jim Fassell calling their plays during the second half of last season.  He's calling the plays again this season.  Remember, this team was one non-pass interference call away from advancing to the NFC Divisional Playoff round last season.  COnsidering some of the talent that Philli lost during the off-season (Hugh Douglas, Shawn Barber, Al Harris, Brian Mitchell) the division looks like it belongs to the NYG.

NFC North:
Minnesota - Remember Green Bay's last 2 defeats of last year?  It doesn't matter, because they do.  They were humiliated by the Jets in week 17 and then suffered another humiliating loss to the Falcons one week later in the playoffs.  Minnesota, on the other hand looked really crisp closing out last season.  They are the ones who basically eliminated Miami from making the playoffs in week 16.  Yeah, I know Michael Bennett is injured, but they have enough depth there with Doug Chapman, Mo Williams, and Onterio Smith.  And they still have Culpepper and Moss.  I know, this pick seems like a longshot, but if their defense can even play average, Minnesota is going to open some eyes again.

NFC South:
Atlanta - Tampa Bay can't repeat.  Looking at all of their games last season, especially in the playoffs and the Super Bowl, it seems that they were never taken seriously.  The Eagles thought they could beat them in the NFC Championship because they thought having home-field advantage at the Vet was all it would take to win the game.  I know for a fact (with a tear rolling down my cheek) that the Raider under-prepared and under game planned for them because they thought their high-powered offense was fool-proof.  This won't be the case in 2003.  As defending champ, each team Tampa plays, from the Cardinals to the Steelers, will play them like the championship is at stake and they will not be over-looked again.  That's why it's so toug to repeat as a champ.  Teams take you serious the second time around.  That's why Tampa won't repeat.  Atlanta's defense, led by studs Patrick Kerning and Keith Brooking is really tough and we all know about Mike Vick, who now has a legit WR to throw to in Peerless Price.  This team looks special.

NFC West:
Seattle - The 49ers fired Mooch and in essence fired any chances they had in winning this division.  The Rams were a joke last year and until Warner and Faulk can prove that they're helathy, I will not give them a shot.  Seattle finally played like the team Mike Holmgren imagined they could be at the close of last season.  Hasselback finally looked like the Favre clone he was supposed to be and we all know about Shawn Alexander.  Koren Robinson and Daryll Jackson give the team two stud WR's.  The defense was the problem last season, and Ray Rhodes was brought in by his old buddy Holmgren to fix it up.  He brought in Norman Hand, Chike Okeofor, and Damian Robinson.  This team will surprise.  St. Louis does have a shot if Warner and Faulk can play all 16 games.  That's a big if.

The two Wildcards:

1)The Eagles are just too good not to make the playoffs, but something has to give.  And let me be the first to say that if Philly loses in week 1 to Tampa, which is in Philly's new stadium on the first Monday night game of the year, in front of the whole world; Philly's season could be over.  Back to back losses like that to the Bucs could be disastrous for the psyche of the Philly players and fans.  They need to win that game.

2) I was trying to decide between the Pack and the Rams and I'm going to ole relieable one more time.  It will be the Rams.  If they don't make the playoffs this year, Martz is done.  There's just too much talent here that it's inexcusable if this team doesn't make the playoffs.  Like I said earlier, if they stay healthy the Super Bowl is a possibility.  Again it's a big if.

And representing the NFC in Super Bowl XXXVIII will be: (drum roll) The Dallas Cowboys.  I just think Bill Parcells is a God and can do it in his 1st year.....Okay, that was a joke.  It's okay to laugh.....Seriously, I know what I said earlier, but after looking over some of the crappy dead-beat teams in this conference, I h ad no choice but to predict a repeat by the Tampa Bay Bus.  Think about it.  They're defense is already insane and on top of that they added Dwayne Rudd.  On offense, Gruden brought in Thomas Jones who once upon a time was the #4 pick in the draft (just 3 years ago).  On top of that "turn-coat" Gruden also has another year with the same offense from last season.  His offensive plays are complex.  Rich Gannon and Tim Brown said they didn't really have a grasp of his offense till Gruden's 2nd year in Oakland which mean nothing because they're old and forget things.*  Yeah, I know what you're all thinking.  Don't blame me, I hate the damn Bucs.  But look around the conference and try and be serious for a second.  Who's going to beat them?  The Packers?  Please.  The Rams?  Come on.  The Falcons?  Maybe, but I think Vick is one more year away from a Super Bowl (ooooh, next year's prediction already in?).  Philly?  Again, maybe, but I think they've proven themselves to be a team that can't get over the hump.  They'll go down in the books as good but not a great team - no NFL Films footage for them anytime soon.  And remember, they still don't have a great RB or WR.  Tampa Bay will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in 2003.  That really sucks.

Ramine Dash can be reached at OakRaiders1978