Note: The following post is one of roughly 2-3 completely sports posts I’ll write per year. Apologies to the majority of you who skip write over posts when I do this, but it’s what I want to write about on occasion. So meh.
It’s that time of year where (nearly) every NFL fan base has hope. Preseason is in full swing and the NFL season is right around the corner. As such, it’s time for my annual NFL season and playoff predictions. My track record overall has started to even out a bit the last couple of years. After starting off hot from 2008-2010, I couldn’t get anything right to save my life from 2011-2013.
Last year I was pretty spot on in most of my predictions, so perhaps I’m back on an upcycle. I correctly predicted all four of the conference title game participants (New England, Indianapolis, Green Bay, and Seattle), as well as the eventual champion (New England), though I did miss on three predictions for division champs((New Orleans and Detroit don’t look that bad in retrospect…the New York Giants on the other hand…)). We’ll see if I can do a bit better percentage wise this year.
I’ve used Raymond Lehnhoff’s site to help me make sure the records work. My picks can be found here.
Note the Second: Teams in bold are division winners. Teams in italics are wild cards. Teams in bold italics receive first round byes in the playoffs.
New England 11-5
New York Jets 5-11
I can’t be the only one who thinks the Patriots are going to be just fine without Tom Brady, right? I mean Matt Cassell, oh he of K-Swiss ad fame and not much else, lead the Pats to an 11-5 record when Brady tore up his knee a few years back. There’s no reason they can’t win the division with Brady only missing a quarter of the season. Miami signed big name free agents on defense, but the continued improvement of Ryan Tannehill is what will make them a contender for the playoffs this year. Buffalo will be markedly better with Rex Ryan as coach, especially on defense((The Bills were already pretty good there to begin with.)), but their lack of a quality quarterback worries me. Speaking of quarterbacks, the Jets might actually be better with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center than Geno Smith. Had Geno been the starting QB, I had the Jets pegged as the worst team in the NFL. Now they’re likely not the worst team in their own conference.
Bill Barnwell of Grantland wrote a great piece on how the Ravens were a very good team last year despite underperforming nearly every advanced metric that they could have. Furthermore, while the AFC North isn’t bad, its reputation was inflated last year by playing the NFC South all year, which made a Browns team that wasn’t that good after losing Alex Mack look like a playoff contender for 11 weeks. The Ravens may well run away and hide from the rest of the division. Both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati seem primed for a down year thanks to a subpar defense and an inconsistent quarterback respectively. Cleveland fans may cringe at another 7-9 season, but by the end of the season, they’ll find that they have an elite defense as well as their quarterback of the future on the roster. Too bad Browns fans might run him out of town before he finishes overcoming his demons.
Remember how the Colts used to be able to sit their starters for the final 2-3 weeks of the season because they had Peyton Manning and a weak division? That’s pretty much this year with Andrew Luck and company. Jacksonville may not look better than Houston and Tennessee on paper, but they have a more favorable schedule and their quarterback situation is the only one of the three that’s actually settled. I fully expect Brian Hoyer, Tom Savage, Ryan Mallett (all Houston), Marcus Mariota, and Zach Mettenberger (Tennessee) all to make at least three starts this year. Poor J.J. Watt.
Kansas City 8-8
San Diego 4-12
It’s felt like it for a couple of years now, but I really do think this season is Peyton Manning’s last very good season as a quarterback. He might stick around the league for another year or two, but this will be the last season you see him lead a team to a playoff berth. Oakland and San Diego both might be moving to Los Angeles next year, but I think the pressure only impacts one of the two teams…and surprisingly it’s not the Raiders. While 10-6 might be generous, this division as a whole doesn’t appear to be great this year, and Derek Carr has some very good, young receivers to throw to((In addition to the Artist Formerly Known as Michael Crabtree.)). Kansas City just sort of…exists?
New York Giants 11-5
The NFC East will see the end of two grand experiments this year. First, in our nation’s capital, the era of RGIII as the signal caller for Washington will likely end thanks to an ongoing spat with head coach Jay Gruden. While Griffin isn’t a total bust, his fall from stardom has to be one of the more shocking ones in recent history. As for Chip Kelly’s philosophy that a system will always trump players, he made the mistake of making his starting quarterback a man whose career is essentially the love child of Tim Couch and Rick Mirer. That leaves the division to be decided between Dallas and the Giants. One will miss the playoffs, the other will likely get bounced in the first round. Flip a coin. I trust Tom Coughlin more than Jason Garrett, so I’m taking the Giants.
Green Bay 11-5
For all of the love that Amir Abullah and Teddy Bridgewater are getting in Detroit and Minneapolis, respectively, this division still belongs to Aaron Rodgers. Until someone can dethrone the Packers, or until Rodgers forgets how to play football, you can pencil in the Packers for 10-12 wins every year. This will be a three-way race for the division title right up until the end of the season, so at least things will be interesting. Unfortunately for Bears fans, their team won’t be involved((I really can’t be sad for the Bears. At all. But on the plus side, if the Bears are bad, that means there will be more Smokin’ Jay Cutler memes. So that’s a positive.)).
New Orleans 8-8
Tampa Bay 5-11
There’s no way this division can be as bad as last year. There was a point last season when the then 2-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were within two and a half games of the division lead. Seven teams((Buffalo, Miami, Houston, Kansas City, San Diego, Philadelphia, and San Francisco)) had better winning percentages than the Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) and missed the playoffs. This is why we can’t have nice things. Someone is bound to be better this year, and I feel like that’s Atlanta. For all I know, this division could be all below .500 again. Whatever. Even in the southeast, no one will be watching since the SEC exists.
St. Louis 8-8
San Francisco 5-11
As a Seahawks fan, I really don’t like taking the Seahawks as the top team in the NFC. But I also don’t see who is going to beat them. St. Louis has a stellar defense, but an offense that makes the Browns look like a juggernaut. San Francisco had approximately one-third of its contributing players retire, get suspended, get arrested, get traded, or some combination of the four, meaning that Colin Kaepernick can stay home and watch his beloved Dolphins in the playoffs. Now that J.J. Watt has stolen the Amazing Player on a Terrible Team championship belt from Larry Fitzgerald, it’s stands to reason that both Fitzgerald and the Cardinals regress to the mean. Did you know that Carson Palmer is 16-6 as the quarterback of the Cardinals but 54-67 as a starting QB everywhere else? And yet, other than win loss record, his numbers look creepily similar to Troy Aikman (who cratered at the end of his career due to injuries). The Cardinals will either win 12 games or 4, with likely nothing in between.
Baltimore 42, Miami 17
Oakland 21, Denver 10
Detroit 28, New York Giants 13
Minnesota 17, Atlanta 3
The first round brings winners from three big armed quarterbacks, along with the uber-efficient Teddy Bridgewater. Neither Manning brother gets another shot at Tom Brady this year, which will likely be Peyton’s last shot in the playoffs.
Indianapolis 34, Oakland 0
Baltimore 24, New England 23
Seattle 30, Detroit 21
Minnesota 27, Green Bay 24 (OT)
Flacco and company get revenge on the Pats for their formation shenanigans in last years playoffs, while a mild upset at Lambeau puts the Vikings back in the NFC title game for the first time since their quarterback was Brett Favre. Seattle and Indy hold serve as the top seeds, which the NFL would love if either team had a quarterback named Tom Brady.
Indianapolis 27, Baltimore 10
Minnesota 22, Seattle 21
The Colts have advanced one round further in the playoffs each year since Andrew Luck came into the league. It only stands to reason that on a team with the most weapons since Luck arrived that they’d continue that trend. While logic dictates the Seahawks win this game, the fan in mean knows what happens when a young, undersized quarterback goes up against a Super Bowl winning QB when the expectations are low. That doesn’t bode well for the Seahawks, even though the game would be at Century Link.
Indianapolis 35, Minnesota 10