NFL Season Mini-Preview

5 Sep

Two years ago, I called the Red Sox as World Series champions. They…did not make the playoffs.

Last year, it was the Brewers. They made the playoffs, making it as far as the NLCS. And then they lost.

This year, I said it would be the Rays. That is still technically possible, if not outright likely, but I had them ultimately triumphing over…the Miami Marlins. The currently 60-76, last-place, got-their-reality-show-canceled-with-one-episode-left Miami Marlins.

Hey, I know, let me make predictions about a sport I know less about!

I know football reasonably well. It is not my strong suit, not baseball or anything. But I can carry on intelligent conversations on the subject, and have spent more than a couple weeks now researching and structuring my season projections. I present them now, here to you, for your reading pleasure, and for your make-fun-of-Daniel pleasure, when you look back at this in spring 2013 and see that I had the Super Bowl champion finishing 4-12.

For the record, the only team I project to finish 4-12 is the Oakland Raiders. And if they win the Super Bowl, there will be far more on everyone’s agenda than my faulty projections, as hell will have frozen over and various and sundry pigs might well be airborn.

Regardless, here are my projections:

AFC East: Patriots (13-3, division champ), Bills (8-8), Jets (6-10), Dolphins (5-11)

On the one hand, this division is pretty awful. On the other, so are the AFC West, AFC South and the NFC West. Most of the good teams this year are pretty lumped together in divisions, which will lead to a lot of good-vs-good and bad-vs-bad matchups this year, which will temper a lot of records.

Except, you know, for the Patriots. They are the biggest playoff lock I can remember, and I had to stretch to find losses for them at the Bills in week 4, at Seattle in week 6 and against the 49ers in week 15.

The Bills will be improved this year. I kind of feel bad about only giving them eight wins, but if it helps, I feel that they start out 5-2 before the wheels come off after their bye week, when their schedule gets exponentially more difficult.

The Jets’ wins will all be 6-3 games. Their defense is still stout, their offense is not. You know all this. Moving on.

Really, Dolphins? Ryan Tannehill? You realize Matt Moore was actually good last year, right? Sigh.

AFC North: Steelers (12-4, division champ), Ravens (9-7, wild card), Bengals (5-11), Browns (2-14)

When I started writing this, I thought I’d predict the end of the Ravens’ run, with no playoff spot. But I went through the season schedule, game-by-game, and projected winners, and, on my first pass, the Ravens had 12 wins. On further passes, I revised my prediction, but still.

The Ravens are getting older on both sides of the ball. I like the Flacco-Rice-Smith-Boldin offense, but their O-line is suspect to me, their run defense is really downhill now, and their pass defense just isn’t what it used to be. I actually have them starting at 4-7 and finishing with five straight wins, so if the rough start gets the best of them, my initial hypothesis might prove correct.

The Steelers, likewise, are nearing the end of their run of dominance. But four games against the (worse) Bengals and the (oh god no) Browns help, as do games against the AFC West and second-place games against the Titans and Jets. Thanks, schedule guys.

The Bengals are building. If they hadn’t overperformed last year, this year would be a building block to a potentially good 2013, with Pittsburgh and Baltimore falling. But they did overperform last year, so this year will look disappointing. Bad luck.

The Browns are terrible. That is all.

AFC South: Texans (10-6, division champ), Colts (7-9), Titans (6-10), Jaguars (3-13)

The Texans were a top-two AFC team last year, and then everyone in or near Houston broke a part of his body. From that perspective, and the fact that most everyone seems to be healthy now, it seems like they ought to be back at the top of the heap. But they have three straight road games against Detroit, Tennessee and New England in November-December that I think they lose, which really hurts them, and I think they lose a meaningless season finale at Indianapolis.

Early in the year, I have them starting 7-1 (and beating Green Bay), so I think they go on cruise control in a rough division.

I’m biased for the Colts. Readily admit it. But their schedule really works for them, with a good chance at starting 2-1 (Chicago-Minnesota-Jacksonville), and very winnable games against Cleveland, Miami, Buffalo and Tennessee (who I’m down on), and that previously mentioned meaningless Houston game. Luck looks good, and seven wins are totally doable.

Yes, Tennessee will struggle. I don’t have a lot of faith in Locker right away, especially with a suspect O-line. I think they’re actually probably better than a 6-10 team, but starting with four against New England, San Diego, Detroit and Houston will doom their season before it gets going.

Oh, Jacksonville. You’re trying so hard. Poor guys, they stink and they don’t know why.

AFC West: Chiefs (11-5, division champ), Chargers (9-7, wild card), Broncos (8-8), Raiders (4-12)

Kansas City is getting no love. And I don’t understand why. Again, first go-through, I had them at 13-3. That seemed high, but 11-5 is totally fair. People are loving Adrian Peterson (torn ACL week 17), but nothing for Jamaal Charles (torn ACL week 2)? Berry, Moeaki, Cassel are all returning from injury, Hillis doesn’t need to be a lead back but can do fine behind Charles, and Romeo Crennel is…well, the less said there, the better. But still, the Chiefs are stout, even if Cassel isn’t what they thought Cassel might be.

The Broncos and Chargers are fairly interchangeable. I actually have the Broncos winning both of their matchups, but that’s about it for them. McGahee did more last year than he had any right doing, and that whole defensive performance was a bit nuts while they rode Tebow’s Mojo. If they contend, it’ll be because Peyton is still Peyton, but if he’s even a notch or two below his peak, there’s not enough.

The Chargers, meanwhile, missed their window. I happen to think Rivers will bounce back (an opinion likely influenced by the fact that I have him on a $100 fantasy team), but his receivers are nothing, Ryan Mathews is porcelain, and who knows what you have in Antonio Gates’ health week-to-week.

Remember what I said about the Raiders? They’re bad. Some people are touting them, and I don’t know why. So there.

NFC East: Eagles (13-3, division champ), Giants (10-6, wild card), Cowboys (8-8), Redskins (3-13)

The Eagles are so freaking good, damnit. Last year was stupid and fluky, and they were better than that. I don’t see much of anything stopping them this year, with 2 of their 3 losses coming after week 12, when there won’t be as much to worry about.

The Giants are who the Giants are. They weren’t the best team last year. They were good. They are good. They will start this year really strong and fade late, which is actually the opposite of their typical season, but five of their last six games are against green Bay, New Orleans, Atlanta, Baltimore and Philadelphia, which is just mean.

I think that, if I’m wrong about Dallas, it’ll be that they win fewer than eight games. Not more. This team stands a great chance of being terrible, especially since everyone is either likely to be hurt (DeMarco Murray, Tony Romo) or hurt already (everyone else). On the plus side, I’m pretty sure Kyle Orton is getting time this year, which is awesome for this Orton fan.

I didn’t plan to predict the ‘Skins for only three wins. But, damnit, they have six games against their division, they play the NFC South and the AFC North, and they filled out their receiving corps with a bunch of guys who looked good because the good receivers on their teams were drawing coverage. Garcon, Morgan, et al, are not the ingredients to a winning recipe, even if I do love RG3.

NFC North: Packers (14-2, division champ), Bears (13-3, wild card), Lions (9-7), Vikings (3-13)

Holy crap, who did the NFC North send presents to in order to get games against the NFC West and the AFC South? Are there a bunch of schedule makers with cheeseheads, Fargo DVDs, Chevy trucks and crooked politicians in gift baskets or something?

Green Bay and Chicago have the easiest schedules I’ve ever seen. I don’t think the Bears are a 13-3-caliber team, but I tried so hard to find more losses in their schedule, and I just couldn’t. What, are they going to lose to a terrible Cardinals team, a terrible Vikings team, a terrible Jaguars team? I actually have Green Bay and Chicago splitting their two games, but if you want to say Green Bay sweeps, fine. Make it 15-1 and 12-4. Doesn’t change anything.

Green Bay is really good.

The Lions are the same team they were last year, when they overperformed slightly. They’ll be fine. They won’t make the playoffs.

Also not making the playoffs is the Vikings. Sorry guys. You’re bad, and you’re playing all sorts of good teams.

NFC South: Saints (11-5, division champ), Falcons (10-6), Buccaneers (10-6), Panthers (5-11)

I feel bad for Atlanta and Tampa Bay. They have good teams. In the AFC, they would be no-doubt playoff teams. But they are in the NFC, and they will miss the playoffs in a tiebreaker with the Giants.

I have no idea how to project the Saints. I really don’t know the impact a good head coach has in the NFL (and neither do you), and there’s that whole karma thing that isn’t real but often feels as such. I could see them going anywhere between 14-2 and 5-11. But they still have a lot of talent.

Dude, I am all in on the Falcons’ passing game this year. Julio Jones is a stud. I think their running game is no great shakes, and their defense is good-not-great, but I love the passing game so much.

I kind of blew past the mention earlier, but yes, Tampa Bay has a good team. Between Raheem Morris being the least popular Tampanian ever last year and a lot of bad breaks, they lost a lot of games they shouldn’t have, and a lot of games that they will win this year. I really want them in the playoffs just on principle, but they’re not quite there. Poor guys.

People will look askance at my doomsday Panthers projection. But come on. Cam Newton won’t be the Super-Duper Awesome Guy again. He’ll be really good. But their defense couldn’t stop me (yes they could), Steve Smith is the only guy who can catch things out there, and I think their running game is a “too many cooks” situation.

NFC West: 49ers (11-5, division champ), Rams (8-8), Seahawks (7-9), Cardinals (3-13)

This is another weird one — if I’m wrong about San Francisco, it’ll be because they lose more than five games. I have no faith that the 49ers will be anything like they were last year. I’ll save you the deeper stats and just say that their defense was historically good last year, in a way that is in almost no way repeatable. Good, yes. Historic, no. Without a historic defense, Alex Smith is not a take-you-to-glory quarterback, Gore is no longer Gore, and Moss-Crabtree-Manningham is…whatever. The 49ers might still win the division, but they’ll lose their first playoff game no matter who they face.

Everyone picked the Rams to win the division last year. Everyone. They didn’t (you probably knew that), but it’s a lot of the same personnel this year, and most everyone seems healthy. I have no worries about them, and think eight wins might be on the low side.

I felt really weird predicting the Seahawks, because I have no concept of how good Russell Wilson is or is going to be. On the other hand, who the heck is he going to throw to? Even if he’s great, the guy has no weapons.

The Cardinals are terrible. I’m a better quarterback than Kolb or Skelton (that one might actually be true). They have no offensive line. I hope Patrick Peterson can catch and return punts that go out of bounds, because they might not get any other touchdowns.

Wild Card round of the playoffs:

Kansas City Chiefs (3 seed) over Baltimore Ravens (6 seed). Like I said, the Ravens are nearing their end. Putting those old guys in a tough game after a full season? No thank you.

Houston Texans (4 seed) over San Diego Chargers (5 seed). The Texans are a good team who only fall to the 4 seed because they can turn the season off in approximately October. The Chargers are a…team, who make the playoffs only because the AFC is terrible.

New York Giants (6 seed) over New Orleans Saints (3 seed). Whatever significant impact coaches have, I think it happens in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Giants clearly know how to do the playoffs.

Chicago Bears (5 seed) over San Francisco 49ers (4 seed). I told you earlier, San Francisco won’t win a playoff game.

Divisional round:

New England Patriots (1 seed) over Houston Texans. Lost in my stuff about the Patriots’ division earlier is the fact that they are a damn good team in their own right. Probably the best in football, definitely the best in the AFC. Damnit.

Kansas City Chiefs over Pittsburgh Steelers (2 seed). Again, Pittsburgh, end of the run. That is the story.

Green Bay Packers (1 seed) over New York Giants. Green Bay’s revenge. Cedric Benson is a fantasy steal this year, by the way. Victor Cruz, meanwhile, will fade.

Philadelphia Eagles (2 seed) over Chicago Bears. All of this presumes Michael Vick’s health. If he gets hurt (which, you know, is always possible), they fall down several notches, either Atlanta or Tampa makes the playoffs, and either Chicago or New York makes the conference championship. But I don’t like forecasting injury. It saddens me.

Conference championships:

New England Patriots over Kansas City Chiefs. The. Patriots. Are. The. Best. Team. In. The. A. F. C. And it isn’t close.

Philadelphia Eagles over Green Bay Packers. The Packers will be the 1 seed by virtue of schedule ease. The Eagles have the best team in the NFC, though this time it’s actually kind of close.

Super Bowl:

Philadelphia Eagles over New England Patriots. Mostly because it would be funny to read Bill Simmons’ column if the Pats lose another one. But I like the Eagles team a lot this year.

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