One of the most arrogant endeavors in writing is to attempt to predict the future.  Yet it seems that almost all writers do it.  In fact, just about all people do it.  For an example, take a look at the hype surrounding Tropical Storm Fay, which was predicted to hit land in the one place it did not (Tampa Bay).  In Tampa, they closed public schools and government buildings a day before a storm that never hit, essentially giving government workers and certain students a chance to enjoy a day exactly like any other summer day. 

You see, we think we can do it.  We think that with our advanced instrumentations, our computer technology, our know-how and years of interpreted history at our fingertips, we ought to be able to predict (at least somewhat) the future.  But we can’t. 

That won’t stop us, however.  Human beings are nothing if not frustratingly optimistic.  It’s part of what makes us so stupid and gullible.  We want to believe that we can.  And so we keep trying, results be damned. 

And so I ventured up to Peabody’s Billiards in North Tampa in an effort to meet with two people whose football minds I respect.  These two people, Nikki the Bartender and Scotty the Handicapper, have agreed to help me out with my weekly football predictions.  They also agreed to criticize my season predictions. 

The chances of us predicting outcomes with near one hundred percent certainty are impossible.  Nevertheless, we’re all sure we’ll be right.  And we’re all confident in our predictions. 

Oh, and we’re all sure that I know the least about football of the three of us.

But I’m getting off target. 

Because research is my middle name, before heading up to Peabody’s, I took it upon myself to actually and really and truly physically write down, on an actual piece of really and truly yellow legal paper, my predictions for the upcoming NFL season.  When I arrived at the pool hall, I found Scotty quietly playing video poker and handed him said piece of paper. 

"You underestimated the Jags," he said. 

"Everyone underestimates the Jags."

"They’re gonna be good this year."

"They say that every year."

"Jack Del Rio is smart."

"Not saying he ain’t."

"Well, whatever," said Scotty, after marking up my paper.  "They’re making the playoffs this year."

Of course they are.  Most definitely they are.  It was predicted by Scotty.  And Scotty’s a handicapper.  He knows the future. 

"You bet on them much?"

"No, I usually only bet college.  And I always bet the MAC."

For those of you who don’t know, the MAC, or Mid-American Conference, is not one of the biggest powerhouses in college football.  It features teams like Ball State and Eastern Michigan.  Unless you went to (or go to) one of their schools, you probably don’t watch the MAC.

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"Why do you bet on the MAC?"

"It’s rigged," he said and smiled.  "And I know a guy."

Sometimes the future’s already predicted long before you get there. 

In a few moments, Scotty’s woman would arrive and she would be pissed.  She’s pissed a lot lately and I can’t blame her.  She’s pissed that she has to wake up early to drive Scotty to work, she’s pissed that she doesn’t have her degree yet, and she’s incredibly pissed that her boyfriend went up to the bar when he promised her that he would not. 

"But Honey, Nate needs help with his football writing thing."

Most of my friends’ women hate me.  I don’t think this is my fault.  No matter how many husbands come home drunk, talk rudely to their wives and urinate in hampers after nights out with me, I still say that they chose their own fate.  I am just one man.  Got no superpowers or anything. 

Nevertheless, I chose this moment to sneak off and find Nikki the Bartender. 

You know how some hot chicks claim to be into sports, but then you talk with them and learn they’re ignorant of the designated hitter and have no idea who plays defense on the local football teams?  Yeah, well Nikki is not one of those chicks.  Nikki settles sports arguments between drunks as part of her job.  She can run rings around me in terms of basketball knowledge (though I own her in baseball, but I own most people in that category down here) and she’s actually taught me stuff about football. 

And she’s smoking hot. 

And she’s a college graduate. 

And, sadly if you’re most of the Tampa male population, she is engaged. 

To a pretty great guy, too. 

Anyway, I walked over to her chunk of the large room (that night, she was assigned to a rear bar nicknamed The Beta Bar) and asked for her opinion on my picks. 

She liked the Jaguars, just like Scotty. 

"I just don’t see it," I said. 

"Come on.  Are you kidding me?  They’re winning ten games at least."

She also liked the Giants.

"But they won’t have that guy who poops on women.  Osi Uyemen-crap I can’t pronounce his name."

"It’s okay," said Nikki.  "That’s how I remember him, too.  I think that’ll probably be the way most everyone remembers him."

"And they’re getting older on D.  They even asked Strahan back."

"Well," she said.  "He did retire at the top of his game.  I‘m sure he’s got something left in the tank."

Of course he does.  Nikki predicted it. 

"But he’s not coming back."

"Not yet," she smiled knowingly. 

Nikki belongs to two fantasy football teams and she is the commissioner of a league run out of Peabody’s, which means that in addition to fights between drunks from Boston and drunks from New York, she also has to break up fights between upset coworkers who can’t believe that a David Boston for Randy Moss trade could possibly exist in a just world. 

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Often times, when I talk to Nikki about football, I wonder if she can cook.  I never bring myself to ask her though.  And anyway, God doesn’t give with both hands.  

After thanking Nikki for her help, I left her to her regular fan club of ogling drunks (I’m not judging here-I’m pretty sure I’m in that club) and went back to the Alpha Bar to take one last look at my notes. 

The future. 

When the season rankings sit on a few wadded up pieces of legal paper in a smoky bar, they seem easily attainable.  They seem correct.  The season hasn’t started yet.  No one can say we’re wrong.  We know this game.   

We can do it this year.  We can get everything right. 

Of course we can.  We can do anything.  We’re football fans.  And the future is easily predictable.  Especially when you consider our knowledge base and the technology at our disposal…

Okay, so maybe we don’t have a shot in hell.  But I saw this one episode of Night Court when I was nine years old and Harry Stone said that, "Even a fool knows that he cannot reach the stars, but that does not stop the wise man from trying."  Ah, Harry Stone.  Is there anything he couldn’t explain?

Here are my predictions for the 2008 NFL season.  I’ve bolded the teams I think will make the playoffs and Nikki’s and Scott’s suggestions for changing my predictions can be found below the division in question.  We didn’t break each team down by number of wins and losses (we have lives), just their order in the standings and who will make the playoffs.

Football season is coming.  Thanks be to God. 

AFC EAST

Patriots

Jets

Dolphins

Bills

AFC SOUTH

Colts

Texans

Jags

Titans

Scott and Nikki both have the Jags finishing second and winning the wildcard. 

AFC WEST

Chargers

Broncos

Chiefs

Raiders

Scott has the Raiders finishing first this year because, "Every year some team comes out of nowhere and wins it all and no one team is as nowhere as the Raiders."

AFC NORTH

Steelers

Browns

Ravens

Bengals

Nikki gives the Ravens the wildcard in this one. 

NFC EAST

Cowboys

Eagles

Giants

Redskins

Nikki gives the wildcard to the Giants because she doesn’t think McNabb will stay healthy. Which, given his history, is probably a safe bet.

NFC SOUTH

Bucs (I’m a homer)

Saints

Panthers

Falcons

NFC WEST

Seahawks

49ers

Cardinals

Rams

NFC NORTH

Vikings

Packers

Bears

Lions

Remember, all picks are for entertainment purposes only.  And if they didn’t entertain you, well then they’re just for wasting your time.

Thanks to Nikki and Scott for their help, input and beverages.