The other night I played darts with my buddy Nick. If I was a little more of a thinking man I would have assigned the 20 spots on the board to the 20 Premier League teams and done my 1-20 table prediction that way. That might be a little drastic.
Anywhere you look on the Interwebs you'll probably see the same variation of the top six with the same teams scuffing it out at the bottom. If you can accurately adjudge, say, spots 8-14 you're going last name is Tannen. That's where the true guessing game lies.
Remember as you read these, at this time last year I surmised that Roy Hodgson would be a godsend to Liverpool and Joe Cole was the best move of the summer.
Print this page out and get a good laugh for the next 10 months.
20. QPR -- Too much Neil Warnock. Too much Kieron Dyer. Too much bad mojo on and off the field.
19. Blackburn Rovers -- There is some talent here. With Ryan Nelsen and Chris Samba coupled with Paul Robinson in goal Blackburn has a sturdy foundation. The rest? David Hoilet is a nice, speedy talent, but the rest of the forward pool is dreadful. Two words: Jason Roberts. Sorry, but it's true. Problem over Blackburn is the owners -- Venky's -- want to be Real Madrid, which is patently unrealistic. On the pitch, who's the leader of this mismatched band?
18. Swansea City -- Should be a nice story, what with a supporters trust owning 20 percent of the club. Eh? How many games are they going to win? Defense is going to cost them in the end.
17. Wigan Athletic -- Bet against Wigan at your own peril. Rioting in England could burn down the entire country and all that will be left in the DW Stadium. Plus, it's hard not to like owner Dave Whelan, who seems like one of the few genuine "good guys" in positions of power in the Prem. Secretly I'm going to be #TeamWigan this year. Deal with it.
16. Norwich City -- Paul Lambert seems to have an Owen Coyle-like vibe to him when he was at Burnley, which was decent in the Prem until he bolted to Bolton midway through the 2009-10 season. You have to like teams that keep most of the pieces in place, playing their own way.
15. Bolton -- Coyle knows what he's doing, but Bolton might be in some serious trouble. Stuart Holden is still hurt. Chung-Yong Lee is likely out for the season. Daniel Sturridge went back to Chelsea and Johan Elmander signed in Turkey. Where is this team going to score? Kevin Davies can't do it alone, can he? On the plus side, Bolton added Nigel Reo-Coker and then Tuncay on loan. Oh wait.
14. Newcastle United -- Despite all the Joey Barton manufactured drama, Newcastle actually made a few decent moves in the summer. Adding Sylvain Marveaux from Rennes and Yohan Cabaye from French champs Lille was savvier than expected from the Mike Ashley-owned club. Demba Ba isn't Andy Caroll, but he's going to score goals, albeit of the garbage variety. Don't forget they get de Jong-ed victim, Hatem Ben Arfa back, too. The Magpies might actually not be too terrible, even with Alan Pardew in the mix. They'll have to score to stay up, though with their shaky defense.
13. Wolves -- Quietly made some consolidating type moves, adding Roger Johnson to solidify the defense, retaining Jamie O'Hara full-time and hanging onto Matt Jarvis ... at least until January or next summer. Wolves won't wow you, but Mick McCarthy's team is going to be hard to beat. Don't forget how this team took points off Manchester United and Chelsea last season. A little consistency and maybe they don't sweat out relegation all year.
12. Sunderland -- Steve Bruce never strikes you as a mad scientist, as most scientists seem to have small, nebbish faces not one that looks like a lumpy potato. God only knows what kind of a lineup he throws out there to start the year -- even in goal between Simon Mignolet and Craig Gordon. Lots of new players. Lots of moving pieces. Somewhere in there a decent team might reside, even with John O'Shea now club captain. With Stephane Sessegnon, Keiran Richardson and Seb Larrson, Sunderland might be tricky to deal with. David Vaughn, from Blackpool, is a move that doesn't make headlines but provides depth. Not sure Asamoah Gyan is consistent enough to be the club's top striker, though. We'll see if Connor Wickham, purchased from Ipswich Town, is another in the long-line of over-hyped English talents
11. Aston Villa -- In theory, Villa should be a lot worse, after selling Ashley Young and Stewart Downing. Let's ask this: how good was the team with them in the lineup? What you know is Darren Bent is going to score -- assuming Alex McLeish doesn't strand him alone in the manager's preferred 4-5-1 at Birmingham City. The rest? Somehow Villa have a nice bunch of young players: Marc Albrighton, Ciaran Clark, Barry Bannan, Jonathan Hogg, Fabian Delph, etc. The biggest issue here is an aging defense. Coaxing another year from James Collins and Richard Dunne in central defense might be asking a lot. Also, keep an eye on if Charles N'Zogbia fits into a team role and provides delivery for Bent, or if the French winger continues his 1-on-1 show, which ends up being less effective than it looks in the highlights.
10. Stoke City -- Meat and potatoes football.
9. West Brom -- The Baggies defense simply has to be better, as it allowed over 70 last season. The addition of Ben Foster will help. So will Shane Long from Reading. What does Peter Odemwingie do for an encore? Roy Hodgson's conservative ways should suit West Brom.
8. Tottenham -- Spurs went for broke the last two years, so consider this the hangover season. It goes against the way most English people think, but why not try to make a long run in the Europa League? Trying to hang with the big boys in the Prem is a bridge too far, unless Harry Redknapp finds a reliable forward that can bring it, week-in, week-out. Expect this to trigger the Gareth Bale-to-Real Madrid/Inter Milan rumors by mid-September. [As of writing this, sounds like Spurs might add Emmanuel Adebayor. Bump them up a spot if they do.]
7. Fulham -- Considering his track record at Spurs, surprising Martin Jol hasn't done much of anything all summer in transfers. Fulham is what is it. Solid pros, albeit getting a little older. This team knows what it is and how to do it. With Steve Sidwell and John Arne Riise they might lead the league in one thing at least: gingers on the field at the same time.
6. Everton -- Figure on a bounce-back from Mikel Arteta. Tim Cahill won't miss time for the Asian Cup. Leon Osman is healthy, too. February onward Everton went 8-3-4, including wins over Manchester City and Chelsea. David Moyes finds a way, although losing Seamus Coleman on the eve of the season is a concern. This team must stay healthy.
5. Arsenal -- At the time of writing this how to accurately gauge the Gunners, with Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri almost out the door and their replacements unknown. Arsenal could slide further down the table either way, except which of the teams below them have the guts to surpass them? Aside from Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and maybe Jack Wilshere where is the blue-chip talent at the Emirates? There's a lot of good, individual players, but a winning side? Teams don't fear the Gunners anymore. It's up to Arsene Wenger and the players to decide: capitulate to all the negativity, or play the nobody-believes-in-us card? That's were I'd pin my hopes, Gooners.
4. Chelsea -- Let's put it this way, Chelsea by this time in 2012 should be poised to contend for the title again if Andre Villa-Boas' track record is to be believed. Is Roman Abramovich going to give him the time, though. Either way Daniel Sturridge is nice Fernando Torres insurance.
3. Liverpool -- Kenny Dalglish has had the magic touch at Anfield so far, tinkering with a loaded midfield and finding combinations that work. One of those would be figuring out a kinship between Lucas and Charlie Adam, even if its as simple as the Brazlian tracks back, runs, provides cover and Adam slumps around, puffs a cigarette and lines up free kicks. Liverpool, it's a hunch, wins one of the Cups this season.
2. Manchester City -- Talent-wise City have enough to win, even if Roberto Mancini insists otherwise. If City moves away from plodding for 89 minutes, then having Carlos Tevez pull something out of his hat at the last second, they'll push United to the end. Where they might fall off is Mancini, despite his time with Inter Milan, might not know how to juggle his squad if he goes deep in the Champions League at the same time. City have been slow starters the past two years, this year they probably breakout quick, but fade a little around the New Year.
1. Manchester United -- This pick comes down to Sir Alex Ferguson's track record. In the Premier League era United have won the title 12 times. Only once, in 2002-03, did they fail to repeat. The midfield with Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, Anderson, Tom Cleverly, might be a little lightweight for the Champions League, but with Wayne Rooney back to form, coupled with Chicharito, Ashley Young, Nani and Danny Welbeck there's a lot of goals to come, backed up by a solid defense, unless David de Gea is horrid in goal.
Top Scorer: It's not going to be Dmitar Berbatov repeating, that's for certain. Hard to pick Carlos Tevez with all his interpersonal drama and City's other options. So let's go with, gulp, Robin van Persie who's due one of these years to play a relatively healthy season. With all the defections at Arsenal he'll have to carry the load. After missing the start of the 2010-11 season, he bagged 18 in 25 matches. Runner up: Luis Suarez.
Top Keeper: Statistics will probably say Joe Hart at the end of the year, via clean sheets. Still for my money, I'll always take Pepe Reina as far as shot-stopping and distribution go. Paul Robinson could have plenty of double-digit save games at Blackburn, too, as he's quietly been very good the last two seasons.
Best overall player: You'd think he was too frail, but David Silva acclimated quickly to Manchester City and is the kind of player who makes everyone better. If the Tevez drama lingers, Silva's role should increase as a pure playmaker beyond set piece delivery. We should also expect huge seasons from Wayne Rooney, in his do-everything hybrid forward role.
Worst player: Stephen Ireland. Is he even still alive? Or trying. Seems like he doesn't care at all. Talk about deadweight at Aston Villa.
Best transfer (high-profile): Stewart Downing to Liverpool. Call Downing-to-Carroll the 2011-12 version of Montana-to-Rice. It's not quite down, yet, but figure down the road Chelsea adding Belgian teenager Romelu Lukaku pays off if not immediately.
Best transfer (low-profile): Ben Foster is a gigantic upgrade over Scott Carson for West Brom in goal. Other low-key moves that should pay dividends include: Darren Pratley to Bolton; David Vaughn to Sunderland and Roger Johnson to Wolves.
Worst transfer: Gervinho to Arsenal. Just don't understand why Arsene Wenger would waste money on a guy who might be surplus requirements when the club had other major issues. On the lower end of the table, why would QPR burn money on Dyer. Why?
First Manager Fired: Neil Warnock with Steve Kean right behind him, though Warnock might quit instead of being fired.
Trend to Watch: Call it a carryover from last year, will the middle class teams continue to go for three-points and try to stand toe-to-toe with the top tier teams? Or will pragmatism once again rule the day? Either way, figure on a pretty big gap between the two Manchester powers and Chelsea with the rest of the table.
Breakout player: If you're an Arsenal fan you're going to be scratching you head, on the one hand I trash the team, but then I think Aaron Ramsey is going to have a giant season coming all the way back from his broken leg. He'll be overshadowed by Jack Wilshere, since Ramsey is Welsh and Wilshere is an English bulldog. With Cesc and Nasri out the door (probably) Ramsey is going to be play and play a lot. Also, his breakout started in the final two months last season, but I'd bank on a massive two-way season from Yaya Toure, driving the engine at Man City.
Best American: Clint Dempsey ... until further notice, especially with the competition down to Eric Lichaj, Brad Freidel, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Holden, who is coming off a major injury.
Round 1 Picks:
* Wigan Athletic v. Norwich City -- For whatever grain of sand it's worth, Wigan got thumped at home in the season opener by promoted Blackpool. ... Wigan 1, Norwich 1
* Fulham v. Aston Villa -- (Live, ESPN2, 9:30 a.m.) Fulham might be the most settled team in the league, nothing exciting, but enough to get points at home. ... Fulham 2, Aston Villa 1
* Blackburn Rovers v. Wolves -- This one ought to be on ESPN. America deserves this game. ... Blackburn 1, Wolves 2
* Liverpool v. Sunderland -- (Live, FSC, 10 a.m.) Commence the countdown for pink, customized Charlie Adam t-shirt jerseys. Let's make it happen, John Henry. ... Liverpool 3, Sunderland 1
* QPR v. Bolton -- (Live, FSC+, 10 a.m.) Absolutely overjoyed QPR signed DJ Campbell from Blackpool. The more neck tats, the merrier. ... QPR 1, Bolton 1
* Tottenham v. Everton -- (Live, ESPN2, 10 a.m.) The battle for sixth place begins today! ... Spurs 1, Everton 1
* Newcastle United v. Arsenal -- (Live, FSC, 12:30 p.m.) When this kicks off, will any of the 22 players on the field actually want to be wearing the shirt they're currently in? ... Newcastle 1, Arsenal 2
* Stoke City v. Chelsea -- (Live, FSC+, 8:30 a.m.) Maybe the best barometer game for the season. Are Stoke, at home, ready to make a leap forward and are Chelsea still automatics, even away, against the bottom-half teams? ... Stoke 1, Chelsea 1
* West Brom v. Manchester United -- (Live, FSC, 11 a.m.) Actually might be a tricky opening fixture for the Mancs, but expect something to happen in "Ferugson Time." Wait, it's too early in the year to be this cynical, isn't it? ... West Brom 1, Manchester United 2
* Manchester City v. Swansea City -- (Live, ESPN2, 3 p.m.) Didn't realize when ESPN gained Prem rights in America roughly 75 percent of its matches would feature Manchester City. ... Manchester City 3, Swansea 0
Last season: Horrific
T.O.P. EPL Fantasy:
It's back. All the fun of micro-managing a roster until the 100-point salary cap, yep, it's back!
And now the official Premier League Fantasy game is being run by EA Sports, hooray!
So if you want to join up, go to the official website.
* Single table league code: 771739-194075
* Head-to-head league code: (first 38) 771739-194086