Sure Things: Ten developments you can book now

by | Senior Writer

The Miami Heat was supposed to be The Sure Thing in the NBA, a Milky Way of stars destined to win -- what? -- five, six, seven NBA titles? I remember LeBron James saying something like that after he signed on with the Heat, and now I know whom not to consult for my next palm reading.

Nevertheless, James wasn't far off. The Heat finished second. James just happened to forget that We trumps Me when it comes to team sports, which got me to thinking about the next Sure Thing in the NFL, which, of course, is Green Bay.

From where most of us sit, the Packers look like a cinch to repeat as Super Bowl champions, provided, of course, we have a Super Bowl. Recent talks have owners and players confident something will be resolved and that a season will be played, and that's great ... though it's no sure thing.

Strong demand will lead the Eagles to deal away Kevin Kolb, even with Michael Vick's injury risks. (US Presswire)  
Strong demand will lead the Eagles to deal away Kevin Kolb, even with Michael Vick's injury risks. (US Presswire)  
Not yet it's not. So we'll go elsewhere for the next Sure Things, starting with 10 slam dunks over LeBron.

Kevin Kolb starts ... but not in Philadelphia

The Eagles don't have to do anything with Kevin Kolb. He's under contract for another season, and with starter Michael Vick an injury waiting to happen it makes sense to have a secure safety net -- and Kolb fits the description. You wouldn't deal him unless you fielded an offer you can't refuse, and the Eagles will. They're not committed to trading Kolb unless it's for the right reason, and, trust me: Coach Andy Reid heard enough before the NFL lockout to know there's a bullish market out there for quarterbacks in general and Kolb in particular. If he doesn't gain a first-rounder for him, he's liable to get a couple of seconds or a player and a pick.

All I know is that Philadelphia will make the deal when the lockout is lifted, with Arizona the most likely destination for Kolb. Look, I'd be hesitant, too, about peddling someone who only a season ago was tapped as Philadelphia's Quarterback of the Future. It's not only that he has a future; it's that Vick's reckless play and inability to avoid big hits are guaranteed to put him on the bench again. Meaning ... meaning Mike Kafka or the next veteran addition can please stand by. The Eagles make the deal not because they want to be rid of Kolb, on the contrary, they love the guy. They make it because what they gain in return makes them a better team now and for the near future.

Carolina has the first pick of the 2012 draft

Poor Carolina. It chose the wrong year to have the first pick of the draft. There was no consensus No. 1 choice, so the Panthers were unable to deal out of the top spot and gain the multitude of draft picks needed to fill in the Help: Wanted vacancies that are everywhere. So they stayed where they were, tapped Cam Newton and now suffer the consequences. I'm not talking about anything Newton has done or said; I'm talking about a lockout that penalizes clubs like the Panthers and quarterbacks like Newton. Carolina has a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, a rookie quarterback and no friggin' chance to do much of anything this season. Reason: The lockout penalizes new coaching staffs and/or new quarterbacks, and last I checked the Panthers had both.

They also had a 2-14 foundation and Jimmy Clausen as a veteran quarterback. To move forward, you need time for coaches to teach and players to improve, and time isn't on anyone's schedule these days. No minicamps, no OTAs, no quarterback sessions mean no shot for Carolina.

The good news: That puts them first in line for Andrew Luck. The bad: They exercised their first picks of the past two drafts on quarterbacks. But look at it like this, Panthers fans: Unlike this April, there will be a long line waiting outside GM Marty Hurney's door prior to the 2012 draft. Help is on the way, even if it is a year off.

As long as Tom Brady is standing, New England wins the AFC East

There's a perception out there that this season belongs to the New York Jets, and you can see why: They made it to the AFC Championship Game the past two seasons, including the 2009 season where they made it with a rookie head coach and rookie quarterback. Plus, they beat mighty New England in Foxborough in the 2010 playoffs. One problem: They still didn't win their division either year, and I can tell you why in two words: Tom Brady. As long as he's in the lineup, opponents are in deep kimchi. Since Brady took over as the Patriots starter, they won the AFC East eight of the nine years he's been healthy. The lone exception was 2002 when they tied Miami and the Jets for the top spot but lost the tiebreaker to New York. So Brady's a problem. A big problem. And as long as he's upright the competition can sit down. Everyone plays for second.

Yeah, yeah, so he's older, and he doesn't have a legitimate deep threat, and the club could use a bona-fide running back and the pass defense has more holes than Storrow Drive. I heard about those shortcomings over and over last season, yet the Patriots were a league-best 14-2, coach Bill Belichick won Coach of the Year and Brady became the first unanimous MVP in league history. There's a lesson there, and the lesson is never, ever, ever underestimate Tom Brady.

As long as Brady is standing, winter comes early to Buffalo

When they talk about Tom Terrific they're talking about Brady vs. the Bills. The Bills beat him about as often as it snows in Ft. Lauderdale. You can look it up: Brady is 17-1 vs. the Bills, including victories in the last 13 games, with 39 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Sure, he's had close calls, like the 2009 season opener when he rallied the Pats to a 25-24 win with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes. But that's the point. He won. He almost always does. If Brady is good to go, make Buffalo 0-2.

The bailouts of Detroit are over

Jim Schwartz might actually give Detroit a playoff team. (US Presswire)  
Jim Schwartz might actually give Detroit a playoff team. (US Presswire)  
Once upon a time, the Lions were the Edsels of the NFL. Then the Fords had a better idea. They canned Matt Millen, hired Martin Mayhew to replace him and brought in Jim Schwartz as head coach. Result: It's not just GM and Ford that are back on their feet. The Lions are poised for their first winning season since 2000 and look like the next best team to Green Bay in the NFC North. I'm serious. They won their last four, including a defeat of Green Bay with -- get this -- a third-string quarterback, and they added tackle Nick Fairley to a defensive wall that already features Defensive Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh.

I know, I know, much depends on the health of quarterback Matt Stafford, who missed more games his first two seasons (19) than he played (13). Still, I like what's happening here, and while I acknowledge that Detroit is no sure thing for the playoffs, I guarantee the Lions become a tough out again. Moreover, I guarantee they push for their first postseason appearance since 1999. Finally, finally, finally, No-Town is Mo-Town again.

San Diego re-enacts "The Tortoise and the Hare" for those who missed it last year ... and the year before that ... and

I don't know what it is about the Chargers, but when it comes to quick starts they're about as dependable as Animal Kingdom in the Belmont -- which wasn't. Anyway, in their four seasons under Norv Turner the Bolts have been 2-3 after five games in each season, compiling an 8-12 composite along the way. Yet they still won three division titles and once made it to the conference championship game. Turner and his players are tired of trying to explain the slow starts, and so am I. Hey, it happens, OK? I'm more concerned with how clubs finish, and the Chargers have no trouble in that department, going 17-2 from Dec. 1 and winning their last 11 regular-season starts in 2009. I heard Philip Rivers the other day say that maybe the lockout will help the Chargers get over their early season woes, but I doubt it. They had the Oakland Raiders on the schedule last year in the fifth game -- a team they had beaten 13 consecutive times -- and they couldn't seal the deal. As I said, it happens.

Someone, somewhere can't wait to call for Andy Reid to be fired

It doesn't matter what Reid's record is. If it's November, someone out there is tired of him and wants him canned. Forget that Reid is the winningest coach in Eagles history. Forget that he went to five conference championship games in eight seasons, too, including four straight. Even forget that he's the second most successful head coach over the past decade. Nope, all that matters to Reid bashers is that the Eagles haven't won an NFL championship in 50 years and that Reid lost his last three playoff appearances. A year ago he wasn't supposed to finish .500, yet he won the division. In 2008 he was the dunce who was supposed to bench Donovan McNabb, yet he went to the conference championship game ... with McNabb.

Among active coaches, Reid's regular-season winning percentage is second only to Belichick, yet critics are unfazed. They continue to slash and burn because, well, because Reid isn't Charlie Manuel. I remember asking Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier when he thought Philadelphia would appreciate Reid and what he accomplished, and he said, "After he's gone." Sadly, I think he's right.

Wade Phillips improves the Houston defense at least 15 notches in the rankings

A year ago, the Texans ranked 30th in team defense and 32nd against the pass, surrendering 24 or more points in 14 of their 16 games. You wonder why they failed to make the playoffs? Start there. Before Phillips started in San Diego in 2004 the Chargers ranked 31st in team defense and were last in their division. A year later, they vaulted to 11th, and the club won its first AFC West title since 1994. Say what you want about Phillips as a head coach, but there are few better defensive coordinators. With his addition, the Texans make the playoffs for the first time in their history.

The Cincinnati Bengals do nothing with Carson Palmer

Sure, they know he's not returning, but this one is president Mike Brown's call, and he's not about to set a precedent by trading an unhappy camper. He didn't do it when Chad Ochocinco wanted out, and he won't do it with Carson Palmer. Granted, there's little comparison between the two, but Brown won't make the distinction here. He can't afford to. This is a business proposition, and if he opens the door for Palmer he opens the door for every miserable soul who wants a seat on the next flight out of Cincinnati. So Palmer won't be traded. Not this year he won't, which means Andy Dalton has a job waiting for him once the lockout ends.

When there's a settlement between players and owners, there will be more "Win-Win" references than pre-game flyovers

It is on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's watch that the NFL comes to a halt for the first time in nearly 25 years. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, who once told players "We are at war," has a contract that expires next March. Neither can afford to be portrayed as a loser here, and neither will be. Guaranteed, when something is done, the two shake hands, declare a win-win and talk about how important fans were in this equation and how they couldn't risk losing their support. Which is how it should be. The courts will declare a winner and loser, but the courts won't settle this. They can influence a settlement, but it will be Goodell and Smith who make a deal -- and when they do each sells it as what's good and right and fair for the NFL.


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