Thursday, September 29, 2011

Godzillapalooza #20: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)
Monster Profiles:


-HEIGHT: 394 feet.
-MASS: 165,000 tons
-SPECIAL POWERS: This Mechagodzilla's host of powers and weapons put the first one to shame. Besides flight at Mach 2, it can also fire a Mega-Buster ray from it's mouth, paralysis missiles, laser beams from eyes, and shock anchors/cables. It has a Super Heat Shield "NT-20" which absorbs energy that can be redirected through a plasma grenade. Mechagodzilla also employs the "G-Crusher" weapon and can be joined with the UN battleship Garuda to form Super Mechagodzilla.
-BACKGROUND: Unlike the first Mechagodzilla, this one is built by the UN and G-Force as a means of global protection, specifically against Godzilla. It was built from salvaged parts of Mech-King Ghidorah that were researched and improved upon. Mechagodzilla 2 came closer than any other foe to completely defeating Godzilla.


-HEIGHT: 5.4 feet
-MASS: 924 pounds
-SPECIAL POWERS: Able to communicate with Godzilla and Rodan telepathically. Eyes glow red when afraid.
-BACKGROUND: As the name suggests, Baby Godzilla is Godzilla's son. His egg was found on a remote island under Rodan's guard. Scientists escaped with the egg and took it to Kyoto while Godzilla and Rodan fought over it. The baby was cared for by scientists until it was deemed that he should be given back to Godzilla.


  • RODAN (see movie #5)

After all these years of enduring Godzilla's destructive force, the UN decides it would be a good idea to help Japan out, so they create the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center (UNGCC). The UNGCC is on the cutting edge of creating state-of-the-art weaponry and such to defend the world from Godzilla and any other monster for that matter. Using the salvaged remains of Mech-King Ghidorah, the UNGCC engineers the greatest anti-Godzilla weapons of all-time: MechaGodzilla (2) and its sort of whacked-out spaceship, bastard step-brother Garuda. Everyone hates Garuda except for one of its chief creators named Aoki (more on him later). Meanwhile, a team of scientists discover a living dinosaur egg on a remote island guarded by Rodan. When Godzilla shows up, the two monsters start a brawl over the egg, allowing the scientists to take it back to Japan. Long story short, the egg hatches into a baby Godzillasaurus that recognizes one of the scientists, Azusa, as its mother. Azusa becomes the baby's primary caretaker and they form a strong bond. Before you know it, Godzilla shows up to get the egg back. MechaGodzilla is sent to stop him and puts up a good fight, but ultimately Godzilla kicks his metal doppelganger's ass. Godzilla wanders off after a bit, having still not found his baby. Aoki convinces the UNGCC that MechagGodzilla would be more powerful with Garuda attached to its back and a new plan is formed to kill Godzilla with the "G-Crusher": a weapon that targets a second brain at the base of Godzilla's spine that would cripple him. They try to lure him with the baby, but first Rodan shows up and is defeated by Mechagodzilla. Then Godzilla shows up for the major throwdown, and with Garuda attached to its back Mechagodzilla deploys the G-Crusher and actually kills Godzilla. However, in a final act of sacrifice for his old buddy, a dying Rodan flies over to Godzilla and transfers his radioactive life-energy to him. Now that's friendship. Godzilla arises more powerful than ever and beats the shit out of Mechagodzilla and leaves with his baby, who bids the humans a bitter-sweet farewell.

I love this Godzilla film. Yet another fantastic addition to the series brought on by the Heisei era. It's got everything you'd want in a Godzilla movie: incredible monster battles, gratuitous explosions, inexplicable sci-fi, and a nice helping of cheesiness from the human actors. Not to mention this film has its helping of drama. I've got to admit I was pretty upset when I saw Godzilla go down when I saw this for the first time, but it was so awesome to see Rodan sacrifice himself like he would in the old days. Nerd alert! Anyway... Ifukube composes another awesome score that moves the movie beautifully. Honestly, this is my favorite complete Ifukube score besides the original in 1954.

This movie has got to have the absolute best special effects of an Godzilla movie up to this point and is actually very well directed in my opinion. Mechagodzilla has more weapons than you can count on two hands and its a feast for the eyes to watch him battle the King of the Monsters. The Godzilla suit is also top-notch, as are all of the other monsters and model work. This film integrated a lot of new techniques in animatronics for close-ups and some good puppetry too. Baby Godzilla looks fantastic and actually like a believable baby dinosaur, not like Minya. Ugh, I shudder when I think of that waste of cinematic space. I'm also a huge fan of the inclusion and update for that matter of Rodan. Nicely done, Toho. All in all, it's a great Godzilla movie, definitely in my top 5, and I never get tired of watching it. A must see for any G-fan.    

Best Part:
Maybe its a cop-out, by I would be amiss if I didn't say that my favorite part(s) of this movie are the battle scenes. You can't go wrong with any and all of them. Especially the final battle between Godzilla and Mechagodzilla. When Godzilla is resurrected, it's just so awesome. Not much else to say. Please enjoy this video I found that is basically a summary of the whole movie. Please excuse the God-awful background music though.

My Ranking: #4

Up next, Godzilla faces a ferocious interstellar foe with a crappy name... "Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla"

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Godzillapalooza #19: Godzilla vs Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992)

Godzilla vs. Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992)
Monster Profile:


-LENGTH: 239 feet (590 foot wingspan)
-MASS: 33,000 tons
-SPECIAL POWERS: Battra can fly at Mach 3 and even travel through space. Chief among his powers are the Prism Beams he shoots from his eyes.
-BACKGROUND: Battra is essentially the evil version of Mothra. He represents chaos and turmoil in the world, but he is not inherently evil if that makes any sense. Battra is the Earth's defender and when something (like pollution) threatens the Earth, he comes to it's defense and kicks ass. While Battra is the Earth's defender, Mothra is mankind's, so they are not exactly enemies, but have fought in the past. Battra is awakened in this movie by untold amounts of human pollution and proceeds to throw a fit. However, Mothra convinces him that Godzilla is the true threat, so the two team up to fight the Monster King.


-LENGTH: 295 feet
-MASS: 22,000 tons
-SPECIAL POWERS: Battra's larval stage is like a supernatural tank. It's an armored caterpillar with superior burrowing and swimming ability. In this form Battra can also shoot Prism beams from not only its eyes, but its horn as well.


  • MOTHRA (see movie #4)

The film begins like a sort of Japanese Indiana Jones... Tokyo Jones? Anyway, the guy's name is Takuya and his ex-wife and a corporate big-wig convince him to go on an expedition to Infant Island. Meanwhile, a meteor strikes earth, wakes up Godzilla, and starts a storm that unearths Mothra's egg on Infant. So Takuya, his ex-wife Masako, and Andoh from the Marutomo Corp. head out to explore Infant Island. While they're there they discover Mothra's giant egg, some ancient cave paintings, and meet the good ole' twin fairies, who are called the "Cosmos" in this movie. The Cosmos keep the world in balance, so they know all about ancient history, Mothra, and Battra and enlighten the explorers. In spite of logical impending doom, the explorers take Mothra's egg and the fairies toward Japan on a boat and are swiftly attacked by Godzilla. The Egg hatches and Battra also shows up to join the brawl. An underwater eruption engulfs Godzilla and Battra, while Mothra pursues Andoh who has decided to take the Cosmos to his boss to make up for losing the egg. Sound familiar? Mothra destroys a lot of stuff in Tokyo before Andoh comes to his senses and allows Takuya, Masako, and their daughter to reunite the twins and Mothra. But at the worst possible time the military shows up and Mothra turns into a cocoon around the capital building. Before you know it Mothra hatches into an adult and the adult Battra and Godzilla show up for a battle royal. Eventually Mothra convinces Battra that Godzilla is the true threat to the Earth and the two unite to defeat him. Battra and Godzilla are both sent to the ocean depths and it's up to Mothra to fly to space and save the Earth from an asteroid that Battra was originally going to stop. Thank you Mothra!

This film has everything you'd expect from a Mothra movie and is very well done and a nice addition to the series. While the plot's a little different than the original Mothras, it works and is very intriguing and puts a cooler face on the "Save the Earth" message. The concept of Battra as the yin to Mothra's yang is also a cool one and is well executed. And also of course, it wouldn't be a great G-movie without Ifukube's masterful score. The old-school Mothra song even makes a comeback in this movie which is nostalgic and cool.

 The upgrade to Mothra is very good as well. Mothra is more vibrant and colorful and has a host of cool new powers. Overall I feel like this movie is very colorful, and the special effects, monster battles, and city destruction looks great. And as always, the Heisei Godzilla looks awesome. I also like that the final battle takes place in a sort of amusement park, which is different and...well amusing. It's like "Godzilla vs Gigan" but WAY WAY better. Definitely worth a look for any fan of Godzilla or Mothra. In fact, I'd reccomend it to any fan of sci-fi. There's a lot to like about one of the most popular films of the series.

Best Part:
There's plenty of good comic relief in this movie. I really like the whole scene where the three explorers are trekking through the jungle looking for the egg. In fact, much of the comic relief in this part reminds me a lot of anime comedy. But I digress. All of the monster battles are top notch in this film and, like all Heisei movies, are very creative. You've also got to love the city destruction. But things really get good when Mothra and Battra are in their adult stages. Thus, I've got to say the final battle is my favorite part. It's colorful, exciting, dramatic. It's an awesome Godzilla fight. What you would have wished was possible special effects-wise for the original "Mothra vs Godzilla".

My Ranking: #14

Up next, yet another classic Godzilla foe gets re-made with an oh-so-good makeover. It's another of my all-time faves... "Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla II"

2011 College Football Preview: Week 3

Florida's biggest rivals both find themselves in key games this week
It's week 3 and things are starting to get juicy in the college football universe. Plenty of great non-conference matchups to talk about! There was no shortage of excitement last week (see replay of Notre Dame-Michigan game which is sure to be on ESPN Classic soon) and hopefully that will continue on. Overall things were pretty great last week, I mean the Frogs got their first win so what's not to love? Well no sense rattling on, let's get right into the week 3 action!

Featured Teams:

1. UL-Monroe Warhawks @ #23 TCU Horned Frogs
-Last Week: TCU got back to its winning ways with a convincing 35-19 win @ Air Force. The defense took a quantum leap forward, albeit against a running team, and looks to continue to improve as the season goes on. The offense continued to look great behind Casey Pachall and a great running game. What's most impressive is how potent the Frogs stayed despite injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. The next two weeks present great opportunities for this team to grow and get healthy as they face two sub-par opponents at home.
-Preview: A home opener in an almost totally new stadium. While UL-Monroe isn't on TCU's level talent-wise by any stretch of the imagination, they are very athletic and present just enough of a challenge that these young Frogs can continue to grow and improve through the game. It's no secret that the Frogs should win, but what will be interesting to watch is which young players continue to step up and get better.
-Matchup to Watch: The offense is looking great, so I'm still interested in the growth of the defense. Watch TCU's secondary vs. ULM's WRs who can stretch the field.
-My Pick: TCU wins, 52-14

2. Ole Miss Rebels @ Vanderbilt Commodores
-Last Week: The Rebels did what was expected of them and whipped Southern Illinois, 42-24. The defense left something to be desired, but the offense showed improvement, especially at running back. Jeff Scott rushed for 118 yards and 3 TDs.
-Preview: Ole Miss begins conference play against the SEC's perennial punching bag, Vanderbilt. There isn't another team in this conference you would rather open with on the road, especially considering the last time the Rebels won an SEC opener was in 2003 against the 'Dores. Ole Miss has lost 4 of the last 6 games against Vandy, so if history is any indication, they'll be in for a dog fight. Vanderbilt has some good players on defense that will play the Rebels hard. I give Ole Miss a slight edge just based on how they played against BYU. Vandy is 2-0, but the best team they played was UConn, who I don't see as being on BYU's level. This should be a good one to watch.
-Matchup to Watch: Jeff Scott and Ole Miss' running game vs. Chris Marve and Vandy's front 7.
-My Pick: Ole Miss wins, 35-34.

3. Texas Tech Red Raiders @ New Mexico Lobos
-Last Week: Tech was on an early bye week. Not sure who's in charge of scheduling in Lubbock and why they thought a 2nd week bye before UNM would be beneficial, but they should be fired.
-Preview: I don't see any way that Tech loses this game. New Mexico is the worst the Mountain West has to offer, and even at home they don't tend to present much of a challenge. Look at it as another opportunity for Tech to grow and get to where they want to be. And if they start the game like they did against Texas State, look at it as a reason to be very worried about the future of the Red Raiders' season.
-Matchup to Watch: Tech's running game vs. UNM front 7.
-My Pick: Texas Tech wins, 63-10

Games to Watch

1. #3 LSU Tigers @ #25 Mississippi State Bulldogs
-Last Week: LSU imposed it's will upon Northwestern State, 49-3, and improved to 2-0. Conversely, MSU lost what could have been a statement game @ Auburn, 41-34. That was MSU's chance to prove they could be a major factor in this year's SEC West race. Oh well.
-Preview: Last week MSU failed to impress, but here they have an opportunity to make an even bigger statement at home in a top 25 showdown. Expect to be disappointed, Bulldog fans. LSU proved in Week 1 that they are for real this year and should jump on MSU early. This has the potential to be a defensive game though and could be fun to watch. Cats and dogs in Starkville and the last chance for MSU to stay in the rankings. Check it out.
-Matchup to Watch: Les Mile's offense vs. Dan Mullen's defense
-My Pick: LSU wins, 24-17.

2. #15 Michigan State Spartans @ Notre Dame Fighting Irish
-Last Week: Notre Dame lost a thriller to Michigan, 35-31, in the final seconds of the 4th quarter and fell to 0-2. MSU won their second consecutive pillow fight against Florida Atlantic, 44-0.
-Preview: Another week, another chance for Notre Dame to impress or depress. Expect the later, Irish fans. Last week's game was great and all, but MSU is a much better team than their in-state rivals. Kirk Cousins is a pretty good QB and is surrounded by some great weapons on offense. The Irish have found an answer for their own QB position in Tommy Rees, which could make things interesting at home. Expect a shootout in South Bend, with the Spartans coming out on top and snagging the Megaphone.
-Matchup to Watch: QB Battle: Cousins vs. Rees
-My Pick: MSU wins,  45-38.

3. Utah Utes @ BYU Cougars
-Last Week: Utah lost a heart-breaker in it's Pac-12 debut against USC in LA, 23-14. BYU also lost a heart-breaker to Texas in Austin, 17-16. Both teams easily could have, and probably should have, won their respective games.
-Preview: What better way to get out the previous week's frustrations by beating the living crap out of your most hated rival? While it's strange seeing the Holy War so early in the season, that is exactly what will be happening. For those that don't know, this is a nasty and bitter rivalry that usually results in some classic games. For this year's installment, I really like what BYU brings to the table. A much improved defense, good QB, and some solid offensive weapons, particularly Oakridge WR Ross Apo. Expect a brawl and close Cougar victory. Don't miss this one if you can help it.
-Matchup to Watch: Another QB Battle: BYU's Heaps vs. Utah's Wynn
-My Pick: BYU wins, 28-24.

4. #23 Texas Longhorns @ UCLA Bruins
-Last Week: As mentioned above, Texas escaped, 17-16, against BYU in Austin. UCLA also escaped, 27-17, against San Jose State.
-Preview: Both Texas and UCLA have been underwhelming so far this season. Texas looked like they found their offensive answer last week with McCoy-Shipley 2.0 (Case and Jaxson are the younger brothers of the ones you've already heard of). But for some reason, Mack Brown still wants to go with the two QB approach, involving David Ash as well. I've never liked this philosophy, well because it never works. That said, the Bruins were incredibly unimpressive last week. My gut wanted to call the upset with UCLA at home, but UT will be ready after last years embarrassment and, so long as McCoy plays most of the time, I see a Longhorn victory.
-Matchup to Watch: Texas offense vs. UCLA defense
-My Pick: Texas wins, 24-21.

The infamous call
5. #17 Ohio State Buckeyes @ Miami Hurricanes
-Last Week: The Buckeyes were incredibly unimpressive in a 27-22 win over Toledo. The Canes had a bye week following their 32-24 loss to Maryland.
-Preview: What was originally a marquis game between two of college footballs historic powers is now a game between the two naughty boys. 10 years ago they were #1 and #2, now they are both blacklisted. I'm not complaining. I mean, we all knew they were both cheating, but now it's official. Anyway, it's hard to know which way to go on this one. OSU has managed to win against awful teams, but Miami looks to be in complete disarray. Last years game was sloppy enough with all of both teams top players. Reason says to go with the higher-ranked Ohio State team, but I like Miami in a close one. QB Jacory Harris will be allowed to play (for now) as well as many of Miami's suspended players. The Bucks will be missing a top RB and WR. Should be interesting.
-Matchup to Watch: Miami offense vs. Ohio State defense
-My Pick: Miami wins, 31-28.

*Game of the Week*

#1 Oklahoma Sooners @#5 Florida State Seminoles
-Last Week: FSU put away their second cupcake, Charleston Southern, 62-10. OU had a bye week following their 47-14 beatdown of Tulsa.
-Preview:  Talk about a big time game! This one's a little bit of a rivalry considering the history, and it's interesting to consider that in 2001 it marked a turning point for both schools. This year's game could have the same gravity, only (while it launched the Sooners 10 years ago) this year it could mark a major shift back to dominance for FSU. Both teams are stout, but I really like the underdog 'Noles at home in this game. Last year's 47-17 embarrassment in Norman has been stewing for a year now and this team is talented enough to take the next step. QB EJ Manuel looks impressive and as always FSU is brimming with Florida speed. This will come down to the wire and is a can't miss game.
-Matchup to Watch: QB Battle: FSU's Manuel vs. OU's Jones.
-My Pick:FSU wins, 31-28.
2001 Orange Bowl. Could fortunes be reversed this year?

Monday, September 12, 2011

2011 NFL Preview

Are you ready for some football??? I apologize that my official NFL preview is a tad late, but between Godzilla, NCAA previews, and my life not spent on this laptop I haven't had a lot of time. Also, due to the amount of time it takes for me to do weekly NCAA previews, do my homework, and all other responsibilities, I will not be able to do weekly NFL previews as well. I know, sadness. But hopefully this blog full of predictions will be enough to whet your appetites until playoff season! A lot has changed since I posted my pre-season power rankings in June. I just wanted to get this dadgum thing posted before Week 1 was completely over. Similar to my NCAA preseason blogs, the divisions will be listed in order of my predicted finish, plus I'll have some additional previews at the end. Now, without further ado, please excuse my lateness and let's get things underway!

Division Breakdowns

NFC East

1. Philadelphia Eagles-
Now that I'm done vomiting, let me say that it's hard not to pick the Eagles to win this division after all of their impressive offseason moves. That being said, I don't think that they'll run away with the East either. The defense should be great, but the offensive line is a bit of a question mark. The key will be if Mike Vick can stay healthy. If so, look out NFL, if not look out Philly.

2. Dallas Cowboys-
I'm a believer in the 'Boys this year for many reasons, the two biggest being Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan. They've energized this team and instilled so many positive qualities that simply weren't there during the Wade Phillips era, i.e. discipline and G.A.F. The defense will be much improved and all of the dead weight veterens have been cut, making room for talented and enthusiastic young players. Dallas is building for the future, and they won't be slouches this year either. I expect them to get progressively better as the season goes on and make the playoffs with lessened expectations than previous years (their secret weapon).

3. New York Giants-
Competing in the NFC East is historically a tall order, and this season the G-men won't be getting any favors. The o-line's got a new look that could be hit or miss and the defense could run into some trouble early on due to injuries. Even if New York does manage to make it through the first half of their schedule alright, it could all go to hell in November. Here's when things get nasty: 5 of there final 9 games are away, including New England, New Orleans, Dallas, and the Jets. The home schedule isn't too rosy either, featuring Philly, Green Bay, and Dallas to name a few.

4. Washington Redskins-
Ugh, the Redskins. It seems like they've been the East's cellar dwellers forever. Granted it's only been like 3 or 4 years, but who's counting. The worst QB to ever play in a Super Bowl, Rex Grossman, is at the helm, so that should give you an idea of where this team is headed. If Mike Shanahan is going to turn this ship around, he's still got a lot of work to do. It might take a small miracle to reach .500.

NFC South

1. New Orleans Saints-
What do you get when you have an incredible QB, plenty of offensive weapons, a stout defense, and an underachieving early playoff exit the year before? A force to be reckoned with. This year the Saints are like their '09 championship team except with a MUCH better running game (thank you Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles) and a new chip on their shoulder. I'm not sure that any other team worked as hard during the lockout as Drew Brees and the Saints. I really think their defense give them the edge in an NFC South that is quickly becoming, and may already be, the toughest division in the NFL.

2. Atlanta Falcons-
As good as Tampa may be, there's no question that the race for the division crown will likely be between the Saints and Birds. The Falcons will have one of the best offenses in the League (besides the Packers). I mean, Holy crap look at all of their weapons! Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Micheal Turner, and Matt Ryan running the circus. Things could get crazy. But as I said above, the defense makes the difference and I don't see Hotlanta as being quite on par with New Orleans in that area. Time will tell though. The Falcons will certainly outscore a lot of opponents.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers-
As Sublime said, "Can't fight against the youth," and that's exactly what the Bucs have: a freaking youth movement brimming with talent. They turned some heads (mine definitely being one of them) with last year's 10-6 campaign and look to continue to improve. It just sucks for them that they are playing in the gauntlet of the NFL. The future looks bright for Josh Freeman and company, but for now a hard earned Wild card berth could be the best case scenario.

4. Carolina Panthers-
Even the best divisions have an embarrassingly crappy team. Enter the Panthers. They've decided Cam Newton is their man, and whether that's the best or worst descision they make this decade, no rookie QB can expect to do too well in this division. The only tight race they'll be in is for the worst in the league crown.

NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers-
Everyone is obsessed with the Pack right now, and why shouldn't they be? They won last year's Super Bowl missing more than a handful of key players to injury. Now the whole team is healthy and should have an incredibly impressive year. Aaron Rodgers leads an offense that needs no introduction and Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson lead a defense that... well doesn't need an introduction either. I fully expect them to win the North, but repeating as Super Bowl champs is much easier said than done. Does Green Bay have it in 'em? They did it in the '60s, we'll just have to see if history can repeat itself.

2. Detroit Lions-
Geez, I know what you're thinking, you can't remember the last time you saw the Lions top two in the North. Me neither. It's really as simple as Matthew Stafford's health. If he can stay in the game, I have a lot of confidence in this team and wouldn't be surprised if they made a playoff run as a wild card. They've proven they can compete with him at QB; he's got good weapons and a whole new, proven defense lead by Ndamokong Suh. Really though, if Stafford gets hurt again, all of that becomes irrelevant and the Lions fall right back to where we're used to seeing them: at the bottom.

3. Chicago Bears-
To be honest, I don't know how this Bears team made it as far as they did last year. Not very much about this team impresses me except some parts of the defense. The offense is an enigma. I think Jay Cutler is awful, the o-line is underwhelming, and all of my fellow DFW natives know exactly what Roy Williams brings to the table. You'd think that Mike Martz' play-calling would make a difference, but the players running the offense need to be semi-decent. I put the Bears 3rd because of their front 7 and Minnesota would be better off with a ferret playing QB. Bear-down Chicago Bears, this could be a long year.

4. Minnesota Vikings:
The Brett Favre experiment is long over and the Vikings find themselves with a few outstanding players (Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Jared Allen, Antoine Winfield), but otherwise screwed. I don't care what level of play, but especially in the modern NFL, you MUST have a QB to be successful; no ifs, ands, or buts. Donovan McNabb is done. He needs to retire and doesn't have Brett Favre's mysterious (and occasionally absent) old-man super powers. The Vikes might beat some mediocre competition on the back of AP, but don't expect any shot at the playoffs.

NFC West

1. Arizona Cardinals-
In my opinion, there's a lot to like about this season's Cardinals. They've got a talented QB for the first time since Kurt Warner retired in Kevin Kolb and a great coach in Ken Whisenhunt. The offensive weapons were always there, they just needed a half decent gun-slinger. The defense also is good enough to keep them in the hunt. Everyone's picking the Rams in this division, but I think Kolb gives the Cards a great chance. It's also worth considering that Arizona's early season schedule is pretty soft, giving them plenty of time to get their legs under them and get on a roll.

2. St. Louis Rams-
There's a reason the Rams are everyone's favorite sleeper this year and most people's favorite in the West. Sam Bradford is the real deal at QB, he's got improving receivers, a decent o-line, and a great proven running back in Steven Jackson. The defense is also quickly getting better. Coaching is also great. So why didn't I pick them to win the West like everyone else? Unlike Arizona, the first two months will be rough: Eagles, @ Giants, Ravens, Redskins, @ Packers, @ Cowboys, and Saints. They could find themselves in a hole behind the Cardinals that will be hard to overcome. If they can survive that schedule though, as Coach Dennis Green said, "Then crown their asses!" I'll certainly be impressed.

3. San Francisco 49ers-
For years the 49ers have had some great pieces in place, but what's held them back... Alex Smith. The best acquisition they could have made this offseason was Coach Jim Harbaugh, and he very well may be just the man to set not just Smith, but the whole team back on the winning path. If Smith can't figure things out this year though, it's safe to say San Fran can throw in the towel and call him an enormous bust.

4. Seattle Seahawks-
Hope you enjoyed that thrilling playoff victory last year, because the 'Hawks won't even sniff the postseason this time. Two words: Tarvaris Jackson. I guess they can always throw the season and hold out for Andrew Luck.

AFC East

1. New England Patriots-
I think the race for this division is going to be a very tight one between it's top two teams, but I have to give the Pats the edge for a few reasons. Reason number one is Tom Brady: no body is better at putting his team in a position to win and now thanks to all the noise the Pats made in free agency, he's got some nice new weapons. Albert Haynesworth could be a huge boom or bust for this defense which needs a lift, and Bellichick usually gets the most out of his players.

2. New York Jets-
Yet another chance for the Jets to cash in on Rex Ryan's guarantee and get LT a ring before he retires. The defense will be the best in the division and just as blitz happy as ever. However, the offense still has a little improving to do before they can overtake the Pats. Mark Sanchez has to continue to improve and make better decisions and Shonn Greene MUST improve his production if he is going to have an increased role.

3. Buffalo Bills-
I actually like the Bills to escape the AFC East cellar this season. They've made some nice acquisitions across the board including Shawne Merriman (remember him?) and Brad Smith. And the offense looks to be in pretty good hands with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson, and Steve Johnson. They're making a lot of progress, but don't expect them to make the playoffs just yet.

4. Miami Dolphins-
While the Bills are on their way up, the 'Phins are on their way down. Chad Henne is not and never was the answer at QB and Daniel Thomas shouldn't make too big of an impact as a rookie. Reggie Bush is also not good enough to carry the load that Miami will need him to. There's a fair amount of talent on defense, but not enough to keep them in the hunt.

AFC South

1. Houston Texans-
This is, without a doubt, the Texans' year to step up, win the division, and make a playoff run. In fact, if they can't do it this year, they might as well give up. The Colts missing Peyton Manning for the first chunk of the season is a huge blow and the other two teams in the South are nothing to write home about. But enough about everyone else, let's talk about H-town. Of course the offense is in great shape with the likes of Arian Foster, Matt Schaub, and Andre Johnson. Now the defense, which already was fairly talented, gets a huge boost from some key free agents and Wade Phillips back were he belongs: as a D-coordinator.

2. Indianapolis Colts-
The window of dominance for the Colts appears to be closing. Peyton Manning is getting older and having injury issues and no one else is getting any younger either. I think this defense has some glaring holes and the Colts will really struggle as long as Kerry Collins is off his couch and taking snaps.  They're only ranked 2nd because the Titans and Jags should be sub-par at best.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars-
This one was close, but I went ahead and put the Jaguars above Tennessee, despite their inexplicable decision to cut David Garrard 5 days before their opener (I won't even attempt to make sense of that). Whether Luke McCown manages to work out or not, the Jags still have MJD, so at least their offense has that going for 'em... which is nice. The defense is a huge question mark though. I don't know, will Jacksonville ever be truly relevant?

4. Tennessee Titans-
The Titans are just completely starting over: new coach, new contract for Chris Johnson, new QB that's actually really old. Anyway, Matt Hasselbeck will be taking snaps until Jake Locker is deemed ready, and that should work out okay. At least Hasselbeck is a proven leader. The offensive line is pretty good and there's always Chris Johnson in the backfield. The defense is a BIG question though and I'm not so confident in the receiving corp besides Kenny Britt. With so many changes coming after a short offseason, my confidence level  in Tennessee runs low.

AFC North

1. Baltimore Ravens-
I'm going to be extremely controversial and pick the Ravens to best the Steelers for the division crown. And no, it is not just because I hate the Steelers; I think there's a whole lot to like about this Baltimore team. The defense is fantastic, duh. Yes, the stars are getting old, but they aren't dead yet and there's been some infusion of great youthful talent like Jimmy Smith. But the offense is really turning things up a notch as well. It goes without saying that Ray Rice is great and Joe Flacco gets criticised way more than he deserves. I think people will be shocked though by how much Lee Evans improves the passing game. Having a fast, down-field threat means Anquan Boldin and the other good slot receivers are left uncovered more and Joe Flacco finally gets some credit.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers-
The Pittsburgh Steelers are very good, but every bandwagon fan knows that. The faces are the same: Mendenhall, Roethlisberger, Polamalu, Harrison... I could go on. The defense will be great and the offense will be just good enough. The Steelers will win a lot of games and make the playoffs, but only be edged out by the Ravens for the division crown.

3. Cleveland Browns-
Colt McCoy is a great QB and the Browns are slowly building to get to a place where they can make a serious push for the postseason. It won't be this year, but you can see the progress they are making. More talent comes with every draft and it won't be long before the Browns are a hot topic. Just not yet.

4. Cincinnati Bengals-
I really don't think the Bengals are nearly as bad as most experts are making them out to be, but regardless, they are not in a very good position to win many games this year. This draft was a step in the right direction and they were right to move on from Carson Palmer and Ochocinco. AJ Green is as good as his billing and Andy Dalton is a good QB and great leader. In a couple years, these Bengals could be the real deal, but for now it's time to continue to grow and build. Just hope that Mike Brown doesn't get in the way.

AFC West

1. San Diego Chargers-
It's hard to believe that the Bolts missed the playoffs last year with the NFL's #1 offense and defense. What?! The production should be similar and it would be even more shocking if the same thing happened this year. Special Teams must improve and Ryan Matthews needs to quit fumbling (LT spoiled the Chargers). The Chiefs are turning into a great team and will give SD some trouble, but overall I don't see how the Bolts won't prevail and get back to playing in January. They should also get out to a fast start unlike last year, considering their only really challenging games in the first 5 weeks before their bye are @ New England and against the Chiefs at home.

2. Kansas City Chiefs-
No brainer. If the Bolts are first, the Chiefs have to be second. KC could just as easily win the division again if things go their way. There's great talent on both sides of the ball like Cassel, Charles, Bowe, Berry, and Hali who are turning this former afterthought into a true contender. If the Chiefs do miss out on the West championship this year, they will still be in the hunt for the Wild card and likely miss out by just a hair.

3. Denver Broncos-
To say last season was forgettable for Denver fans would be an understatement. But this year looks to be heading in the right direction. For whatever reason, no one has any confidence in Tim Tebow, but Kyle Orton should still be productive enough. The offense still has a bunch of unsolved problems, but the defense looks to be much improved thanks to rookie Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil coming back from injury. The Broncs benefit the most from the Raiders losing almost every player that was worth a damn.

4. Oakland Raiders-
Oh Oakland. Just when it looked like the Raiders where making some real progress they lost three of their best players in free agency: Robert Gallery, Zach Miller, and Nnamdi Asomugha. What else can you say? The Raiders will struggle and fans will love Al Davis out of principle while still wondering why he hasn't died yet.

Other Predictions

NFC Wild Card Teams:
Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons

AFC Wild Card Teams:
Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets

NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints-
Ironically, a rematch of the game that started the season. As good as this Green Bay roster looks, it's hard to imagine them not making it back to at least the NFC Championship. Aaron Rodgers and the Pack could have the makings of the next dynasty if they play their cards right. Meanwhile, the Saints are just as solid and even more hungry after last year's playoff exit. Should be another great game between two of the game's best QBs. I expect another Green Bay victory in a close game.

AFC Championship: Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Jets-
This isn't a popular pick based on what I've read, but I just have a gut feeling about both of these teams. Of course that probably means I'll be wrong. As I said before, I think there's a lot to like about this Ravens team. Enough that I see them making it this far in the playoffs given the right matchups. As for the Jets, this team just knows how to turn it on in the playoffs and a third straight AFC Championship isn't out of the question. Last year, the Jets were an awful first half away from playing in the Super Bowl. This team is wiser and full of talent and enthusiasm and I think they just might pull it off this year.

Super Bowl: Green Bay Packers vs. New York Jets-
Rex Ryan finally gets his team to the big dance, but I have a hard time believing Gang Green can best this Packers team. It's just so impressive. Aaron Rodgers wins a second consecutive title, Green Bay boasts about "Title-Town" more than you can possibly imagine, and the Packers are one step closer to being crowned the Dynasty of the 2010's.

NFL MVP: QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers. Too many weapons and what a team. Likely Super Bowl Champs.

NFC Rookie of the Year: QB Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers. I have been Newton's biggest naysayer, but I was shocked after his opening day performance. I wouldn't be surprised.

AFC Rookie of the Year: LB Von Miller, Denver Broncos. This dude is a stud and will have immediate impact on Denver's defense. Potential running out his ears.

Coach of the Year: Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers. He'll turn the ship around.

Most Improved Team: Detroit Lions. The Lions will not be terrible for the first time in recent memory. In fact, their shot at the playoffs is extremely realistic and tangible.

7 Games to Watch
(since I'm a little late, this list excludes opening day)

1. Philadelphia Eagles @ Atlanta Falcons, Week 2
Vick's old home and two of the NFC's best teams. The mascots even create an intriguing matchup. Should be a shootout.

2. Houston Texans @ New Orleans Saints, Week 3
Big time measuring stick game for the Texans to see what they're made of. Should be another offensive show. Also somewhat of a regional rivalry.

3. New York Jets @ Baltimore Ravens, Week 4
Preview of my pick for the AFC Championship. Two great defenses and improving offenses. Sure to be a fierce, smash-mouth game.

4. Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles, Week 8
Always an intense rivalry. Both teams will be racing for the division. Also Rob Ryan has established that he doesn't buy the whole "Dream Team" image of the Eagles. Should be as good as ever.

5. Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 9
Always intense rivalry. Can the Ravens smash the Steelers again or will it be more typically defensive?

6. New England Patriots @ Philadelphia Eagles, Week 12
Two playoff teams and a rematch of the 2004 Super Bowl. Has all the makings of a great game

7. Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints, Week 16
Great NFC South rivalry and two stellar offensive teams. We can only hope that neither team rests their starters.