Like Chris mentioned in his epic season preview, it would be only a matter of time before myself and Gene chime in with our season predictions. Great minds think alike (at least we think they are great), so Chris and I like a lot of the same teams this year. However, there are some big differences and hopefully I won’t predict a Giants-Titans Super Bowl.
The biggest question I always have to ask myself when I make season predictions is always, “Who are the unknowns that will make the playoffs and perhaps even win it all this year?” The Saints went 8-8 before holding up last year’s Lombardi Trophy. The year before the Steelers turned the previous year’s embarrassing first-round home loss to the Jaguars to a championship a year later. This past year they missed the playoffs.
What do the Saints, Packers, Cowboys, Patriots, Jets and Bengals all have in common? Besides five of them being mentioned as possible Super Bowl teams this year, they all missed the playoffs the year before making it last year. The year before it was seven teams different teams. It is easy picking chalk, but it is also the doom of all preseason predictions. That is one of the big reasons why all of this hype of the Packers is bothering me. So, some of my picks might be a little out there, but you have to remember every year the turnover of playoff teams is about 50%.
1. New England Patriots (11-5) – Looks like Brady’s new contract may be set sooner than later, but Moss is still far away. However, I look at this as a positive for the Pats as they will play “the world is against us” card. Don’t underestimate Belicheck when everyone seems to be ignoring him.
2. Miami Dolphins (10-6)* – Love what Parcells is doing down in Miami. I believe this defense is on the rise and if Brandon Marshall can keep is ego, head, whatever it may be in check he represents the best deep threat target the Dolphins have had since the Clayton and Duper days.
3. New York Jets (8-8) – This team could surprise me and win the division, but I think they finish more than likely here. Let’s remember they barley made the playoffs last year and I think the offense did not get any better. Rex Ryan may make it work, but too many grenades waiting to explode.
4. Buffalo Bills (2-14) – Jake Locker moves from one losing program to another. Feel a little bad for the guy.
1. Baltimore Ravens (11-5) – The Houshmandzadeh signing is good value, but he is the same kind of receiver as Boldin and the team still lacks a deep threat. Still, there is a lot to love about this team, even with Ed Reed on the PUP list. They are built for January.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7) – Nasty Ben’s return will provide a lift for this team if they can survive the first month. However, they fall just short of the postseason as the o-line woes continue.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) – I actually think the T-Ocho show will actually work this year. It is Cedric Benson’s return to reality that keeps the team from a return trip to the playoffs.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12) – Maybe the best thing to happen to the Browns as Holmgren gets to choose his own coach after another dismal season gives him the green light to axe Man-genius.
1. Indianapolis Colts (12-4) - Another year. Another 12 wins. Another MVP-caliber year for Manning. Is there any suggestion to prove otherwise?
2. Houston Texans (10-6)* – The Texans finally break through. Matt Schaub puts up MVP numbers and Arian Foster cranks out 1,200 yards. Oh and don’t forget about the game’s best wideout.
3. Tennessee Titans (8-8) – Chris Johnson will put up sick numbers again this year because he wants $$ and lots of it. However, how is this team any different than last year? Can you really trust Vince Young for all 17 weeks?
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12) – Poor MJD, burried in the wasteland of Jacksonville. Luckily for him Los Angeles is on the horizon. Was Tyson Aluala really that much better than Tebow? NFL is a business Mr. Weaver.
1. San Diego Chargers 10-6 – Not sold on this team at all. Rivers and Gates are superb, with Floyd on the rise, but I just smell letdown waiting to happen. Merriman isn’t the same player anymore and with no McNeill and V-Jax, this teams squeaks out another division title, but that is about it. Also, don’t forget about who is at the helm there.
2. Oakland Raiders (9-7) – So if the Chargers slip, who rises up to challenge them? Yes, the Raiders. They run the ball and their defense is on the rise. I don’t think they get there quite yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Last year’s last season success wasn’t a fluke and I think McClain wins Defensive ROY, write it down.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (5-11) – Improved from last year, but still near the bottom of the AFC. Charles and Jones will provide a solid 1-2 punch and McCluster will be electrifying. I know it is just the preseason, but KC’s #1’s struggled against GB’s #2’s. Both teams have different aspirations, but it is still the NFL and that isn’t good.
4. Denver Broncos (4-12) – Just a mess on both sides of the ball, especially without Dumervil now. The only good can be a lot of Tebow time (am I the only one who likes the guy?).
1. Dallas Cowboys (11-5) – Lots of toys for Tony Romo and last year’s playoff loss will help. I am a strong believer in that you have to lose before you can win. Defense will again be solid and I don’t think the East is as strong as people think it is.
2. New York Giants (8-8) – Yes, they have one of the best D-Lines in the game, but there are still a lot of question marks in their back seven. Steve Smith is a talented receiver, but he isn’t a true #1 and the team needs Nicks to step up.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (7-9) – Chris absolutely nailed it with the Kolb-Rodgers comparison. The one thing he didn’t mention is that Rodgers missed the playoffs his first year. This holds true with Philly even if they are headed in the right direction.
4. Washington Redskins (5-11) – I really wanted to get behind the McNabb-Shanahan tandem, but this team is too old and too dysfunctional right now.
1. Green Bay Packers (12-4) – I could write the whole this whole preview about how the Packers are Super Bowl-ready, but I am assuming you read our site regularly and know our reasons (if you don’t, shame on you!). The one drawback I see right now if the pass defense, but I will think this will get better as the season rolls along with Harris and Bigby coming back coupled with maturation of Shields and Underwood.
2. Detroit Lions (9-7)* - Yes I am shocking the world, the Detroit Lions in the playoffs. And why not? Outside the top 3-4 teams in the NFC, isn’t the rest of the field wide open? Stafford-Johnson-Best has a chance to rekindle the electricity of Barry Sanders. Jim Schwartz is an excellent coach and the rebuilt defense will be better than you think. This may be my craziest sports prediction ever, but remember there are always teams in the playoffs you didn’t expect. Why not the Lions? The Saints giving New Orleans new hope was a great story and the Motor City Kitties could do the same for a down-and-out Detroit. Believe, I say!
3. Minnesota Vikings (9-7) – The whole season hinges on Favre. If he stays healthy for all 16 games, this is a playoff team and will challenge for the division title. But if he isn’t healthy they won’t make the playoffs. I am going with the later and I don’t think he finishes out the year with the team losing complete interest once he is done. Their first half of the schedule is just brutal and my bold prediction is that Tavaris Jackson will lead this team into Detroit Week 17 with the playoffs on the line and fail miserably. Plus that would be karma from insulting the Motor City last postseason.
4. Chicago Bears (4-12) – Let me get this straight: Lame duck coach, an overpriced defensive free agent who plays hard 1/3 of the time, and an offensive “mastermind” trying to teach a disciplined system to an immature quarterback. Get the popcorn ready!
1. Atlanta Falcons (11-5) - Matt Ryan leads the Falcons back to the playoffs and proves that last year’s sophomore slump was an aberration. As long as Michael Turner stays healthy, this is a playoff team who will carry last year’s strong second half over to this season.
2. New Orleans Saints (10-6)* – Every champion suffers a hangover, small or large. I think the Saints fall in the middle here, but Brees is at the point of his career that he won’t let the Saints miss the playoffs.
3. Carolina Panthers (7-9) – This team can run, should run and will run. I predict over 1,000 yard seasons for both Williams and Stewart, but that won’t be enough. As long as Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen are taking snaps the book is written on this team, which is not a good thing for a team that couldn’t score in the preseason.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13) – All of this youth movement will pay off someday, right? Bucs fans hope so, there is nothing else for them to do.
1. San Francisco 49er’s (10-6) – Alex Smith is not all that good, but he is in a good situation as he will not have to be much more than a caretaker. San Fran had a great draft picking two stalwart O-linemen in the first round. I really like the team’s identity under Singletary and this team runs away with the worst division in football. Great to see the Bay Area back on the NFL map, but you have to wonder how bad their fans wish the team didn’t screw up the quarterback decision in the 2005 draft.
2. Seattle Seahawks (6-10) – I think this record is better than what Seattle actually is, but this division is terrible so six wins seems about right. There are some exciting parts in Seattle, but Mike Williams? Really Pete? that Mike Williams starting? I said it during the Packers-Seahawks preseason game, the guy is on the juice. Explain to me otherwise how this is happening, I dare you.
3. Arizona Cardinals (5-11) – And the fall from grace is complete. No Warner, no Boldin, no Dansby, no chance. I would have given this team one if they just landed a half-way decent, competent quarterback this offseason. But they have Derek Anderson after the Pretty Matty left town. If you are a D-coordinator, don’t you just double team Fitz with a safety roaming and then just tee-off on Anderson? (Remember all of this advice is free)
4. St. Louis Rams (3-13) – Bradford will take his lumps and the Rams #1 goal this year is for him to make it through the season intact. Then go out and draft A.J. Green or Julio Jones in next year’s draft.
Wild card round – (3) Baltimore over (6) Houston and (5) Miami over (4) San Diego
Divisional round – (5) Miami over (1) Indianapolis and (2) New England over (3) Baltimore
Championship game – (2) New England over (5) Miami
Wild card round – (3) Atlanta over (6) Detroit and (5) New Orleans over (4) San Francisco
Divisional round – (1) Green Bay over (5) New Orleans and (2) Dallas over (3) Atlanta
Championship game – (1) Green Bay over (2) Dallas
Super Bowl XLV – February 6, 2011, Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
New England Patriots 33, Green Bay Packers 27
As much as it pains to say it, I can’t be a complete homer. I really hope and believe the Packers will raise St. Vincent’s trophy, but unless the pass defense improves throughout the year (which I think it very might do) I have to go with Belicheck, Brady, Moss and Welker in this matchup. Don’t hate me Packer nation.
I only picked five new teams to make the playoffs from the year before, strongly debating including the Raiders, Giants or Steelers, but I couldn’t justify it at this point. As for the Lions pick? Crazy things happen every year. Who would have thought the Saints would string together this run after Katrina or the Bengals would be relevant again? If I have learned anything with the NFL in today’s parity stage, expect the unexpected. Believe, Detroit. Believe.