NFL not quite ready for big turnover

Mother Nature always seems to have a way of reminding us Yoopers what time of the year is upon us.

Temperatures a few nights ago in the low 40s in Marquette and I hear in the 30s all over inland areas certainly got my attention when I walked to work the other morning.

It’s football season!

High schools are two weeks in and colleges just got started over the weekend, but it’s now time for the NFL to start playing games that count in the standings.

WLUC and NBC will kick off the season with Kansas City facing New England at 8:30 Thursday night, with the other 30 teams playing Sunday and Monday.

I’m not going to pick that game or the other Week 1 contests until Thursday, though.

Today is reserved for a longer look at the entire season.

I’m thankful that the preseason carries little weight in regards to who will succeed in the regular season, because I’ve paid very little attention to what has transpired the past month since Dallas beat Arizona 20-18 in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 3 in Canton, Ohio.

I did take a peek at the final exhibition standings, though — February’s Super Bowl combatants, New England and Atlanta, went a combined 1-7, while the “highly” regarded Cleveland Browns lit up August with a 4-0 record.

Uh huh.

Remember, the year the Lions went 0-16 they were also 4-0 in the preseason.

So onto what counts.

Starting locally and spreading globally, I don’t see anything stopping the Green Bay Packers from winning the NFC North again. Maybe Aaron Rodgers is getting a few gray hairs, but it hasn’t affected his ability to throw a bullet pass or scramble for his life.

And most areas of the team look pretty well shored up, particularly the defense.

Detroit? The $135 million contract extension Matthew Stafford just got last week won’t make him or the Lions any better. He doesn’t need to get better, but the Lions do.

Stafford led an essentially nonplayoff team into the postseason last winter with a number of amazing last-minute comebacks he pulled off in the regular season.

Without those, the Lions are the Jacksonville Jaguars or the L.A. Rams. No way could a team like that challenge the Seahawks in a playoff game played in Seattle, so don’t think their 26-6 wild card-round loss was a real letdown.

It was the … say it with me … “same ol’ Lions.”

They may very well get better, but I’m only seeing a teeny bit of improvement from last year’s team, not enough to offset the law of averages when they’ll start losing games in the final minute instead.

Chicago is way out in rebuilding mode, so that leaves the offensively challenged but defensively stout Minnesota Vikings to challenge the Pack.

And while defense may win championships, the Vikes first have to get into position to challenge for a title before they can apply their pro wrestling sleeper hold on the rest of the league.

Now for the rest of the NFC. Between an impending suspension of runner extraordinaire Ezekiel Elliott and a sophomore slump for QB Dak Prescott, I don’t see a repeat in Dallas. Give the East to the Giants in one last hurrah for Eli Manning.

In the South, the league still doesn’t respect Carolina’s Cam Newton and maybe shouldn’t respect Tampa’s Jameis Winston. So Atlanta repeats over New Orleans despite a pair of bottom-10 defenses again in the Deep South.

Even if Seattle stubs its toe, it will still win a West that’s otherwise in transition. It’s just that the Seahawks may revert to winning it with a 7-9 record just like they did in 2010. To the division’s credit, every year since then has taken at least an 11-4-1 record to come out on top.

Over in the AFC, some new blood needs to invigorate the race to topple the Patriots. Old stalwarts like Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Baltimore and Denver look more creaky than solid.

I’d rather take Miami, Houston, Oakland and Kansas City, even though that leaves out the entire AFC North. Give that division to the not-ready-for-prime-time Cincinnati Bengals, who play a dozen 1 p.m. Sunday games to make 12-4 an easy winner in that division.

But in this time of AFC transition, give it to New England for one more year — just one more — assuming that the painting Tom Brady has hanging in his drawing room ages rather than him.

Otherwise, all bets are off for the entire conference. The Oakland-soon-to-be-Las Vegas Raiders are my backup pick, though.

Coming out of the other half of the league, the Giants and Packers face off for a Super Bowl berth, and regardless of who hosts the game, Rodgers will be more suited to winning a game played in plus-15-degree temperatures and a minus-15 wind chill.

As I was looking up online where the 2018 Super Bowl will be played — it’s INDOORS at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis — I got my own minus-15-degree chill when the pundit on the site said Sports Illustrated has already predicted a Patriots-Packers Super Bowl.

SI picks the Pats to win 31-27, so at least I’ll go contrary there and take the Pack in a 38-33 offensive explosion.

Sorry Packers fans, I know you just think I jinxed your entire season.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.