Well, here we go again. The one sport where I take a little time and actually try to make some preseason picks that, normally, look pretty stupid when we finally get to mid-January.
But, hey, it's all in fun, right? So, here we go....
NOTE: I went through all 17 weeks and predicted winners of every game to come up with these forecasts...
1) Philadelphia (11-5): Just too many weapons offensively, especially with Sproles in the mix. They won't miss Jackson like many think they will, with Sproles available to help McCoy breathe (and leave something in the tank for the postseason). Nick Foles will likely be in the top 5 in passing categories, but, unlike a guy like Matthew Stafford, the stats will mean something.
2) Washington (7-9): It's the porridge season of "just quite not right" for the Redskins as they can't make the playoffs, but don't collapse under the weight of a knee brace. They lose a couple they shouldn't, then go build on this for 2015, if they can hear each other due to the hue and cry for a nickname change, which, IMO, will happen in the next one to two years.
3) New York Giants (6-10): We're a year away, if history is an indication, from another Eli December to February ultimate comeback to lead his team to the promised land, though I think that window has long since closed (and I'm a Giants fan! Wait 'till you see what I do with my Raiders!!). Victor Cruz always has some sort of physical problem. Randle isn't a #1 receiver. Loved the Rashad Jennings pickup, though, much to my chagrin on my Raider side. The defense doesn't wow me, either.
4) Dallas (3-13): Their worst season since Troy Aikman's rookie year. Romo to Bryant won't be enough, Murray won't stay healthy. They'll have to put up Madden '15 type offensive numbers because the defense will just....be....terrible.
1) Green Bay (13-3): Imagine a healthy Aaron Rodgers last year. He's back, Eddie Lacy has had an off-season to improve. Lacy will improve Rodgers, as Rodgers won't have to throw for 350 plus a game for victory. Time of possession, too. They'll miss BJ Raji, but they're okay defensively. I like the Packers.
2) Chicago (10-6): And it could've been better than this, but the Bears, in typical recent Bear fashion, will stink up the joint a time or two when they'll be favored to win. This is ALL predicated on a healthy Jay Cutler. That's all we'll say about that.
3) Detroit (7-9): New coach, same result. Lots of yards for Stafford that mean little; Johnson gets triple teamed, still catches balls, but no running game, and holes in the defense put the Lions in, again, the middle of the pack.
4) Minnesota (7-9): Mike Zimmer is a good coach; very good hire for the Vikings. He'll bring discipline and better defensive performance. Now if they had a decent quarterback to throw to Patterson and Rudolph so that AP didn't think he has to save the day every Sunday....
1) New Orleans (11-5): Many analysts with much higher profiles than mine, reading their Super Bowl picks, think the Saints go to the Super Bowl if they can ever clinch home-field advantage. I'm not sold on that. But if Drew Brees can develop one more receiver to go with Colston and Graham (that offense has always needed that third option to keep the best of defenses on their toes), the Saints could go to a place like Lambeau in January with a shot to win. Whatever happened to Mark Ingram?
2) Atlanta (8-8): They upset the Saints to start the year, but never find a groove. No big winning or losing streaks, and Matt Ryan and company finish 8-8. Jackson is again, Rodgers may not be the RB answer, and there are big questions defensively. But at least, for the sake of the franchise, they bounce back from '13.
3) Carolina (8-8): I see a SLOW start for Carolina, so much so that some will throw in the towel after Week 8 or 9. But Newton will heal, Kelvin Benjamin will have a monster second half of the season to run away with the Rookie of the Year awards (sorry, Johnny!), and they'll go 6-2, 5-3 down the stretch to get ready for '15. Carolina needs to find an Alfred Morris-type RB in the draft, say goodbye to their current group (save Tolbert, the bruiser). Give Cam a 1,500 yard durable back with that defense, and we're talking Carolina in the mix for home-field advantage instead of 8-8.
4) Tampa Bay (5-11): Little Known Fact: No quarterback named McCown has ever won a Super Bowl. Sorry, Lovie.
1) Seattle (10-6): As do most "defensive Super Bowl Champions", the Seahawks return to the pack this year. It's only a hot December that gives them the division crown. So the road to the Super Bowl won't go through the 12th Man this year, and the 2014 Seahawks will have happen to them what happened to the 1986 Bears, 2001 Ravens, and 1976 Steelers. Credit to the 1975 Steelers, though, for bucking this trend. It won't be duplicated this year.
2) San Francisco (10-6): This is being generous to the 49ers. Their defense is falling apart due to needing...defense...attorneys. Harbaugh's ability to keep a disciplined team together is in question (and rightfully so), but that's just what ol' Jim will use, the "us against the world, next man up" mentality to nurse the team through a rough season with key late wins to make the playoffs with the final wild card spot. It's time for Colin Kaepernick to start throwing for 35 touchdowns, though, as Frank Gore's "Best By" date quickly approaches....oh, can't wait to see Marcus Lattimore finally get a chance. I hope he's healthy enough to do so.
3) St. Louis (8-8): Yes, 8-8. Shaun Hill is miles ahead of the plethora of backups the Rams had to play last year. If they can get ANY semblance of a running game so Hill could really use Tavon Austin with the full playbook....and their defense is maybe the best in the league. They'd better keep games in the teens, though. The Rams will be the team you won't see on the big screens at Buffalo Wild Wings unless they play glamour opponents (or you live in St. Louis), because the average fan doesn't go nuts for a 13-10 defensive war. I love those games. I'm in the minority.
4) Arizona (6-10): Washington gone, Dansby gone, age a factor, and Carson Palmer can't possibly play like that two straight years, right? Or be healthy, right? Last year had to be a case of everything going right, and they STILL missed the post-season (and I felt bad for them, they played some good ball last year). Fitzgerald and Peterson can't do it alone.
NFC EAST: Philadelphia
NFC NORTH: Green Bay
NFC SOUTH: New Orleans
NFC WEST: Seattle
NFC WILD CARDS: Chicago, San Francisco
1) New England (12-4): No one comes close. They sweep the division to win by four games and are a threat, yet again, to reach February 1st. What else can you say? Brady will play like Brady until the one opponent he can't defeat, Father Time, catches up to him. Remember, this is his 15th season, 13th as an active starter.
2) Miami (8-8): The first of two division teams that have decent seasons even with quarterback doubts. Charles Clay emerges as one of the best all-around tight ends this year that people DO know, and the Dolphins are in the wild card mix to the end, joining....
3) Buffalo (8-8): Yes, it's finally the year that Manuel, Spiller, Jackson ALL stay healthy. Decent receiving by committee while Watkins gets going keeps them afloat. It's the defense that will need to improve to allow this .500 record to become a reality. On a side note, for the sake of keeping the Bills in Buffalo, Western New York fans NEED to still be in the playoff chase going into Weeks 16 and 17. I'd hate to see the Buffalo Bills become the Los Angeles Whatevers...
4) New York Jets (5-11): The bubble bursts. Geno is a bust, Vick gets hurt, and by Week 14, the Jets are starting Who Knows What at quarterback. Chris Johnson is spent, Eric Decker wonders what he was thinking during free agency, and there's not much defense, either. Time to clean house.
1) Pittsburgh (10-6): A bounce-back season in a tight, tough division. Roethlisberger and OC Todd Haley finally get along. That counts for half off the offensive success of any team. They finally started the youth movement on defense (a year too late, IMO), and in this division, ten wins can get you the title.
2) Cincinnati (9-7): A tough out at home, but poor road performances and a rough first-place schedule (at New England, at New Orleans....) hurt my baby girl's Bengals. On top of that, you cannot underestimate the loss of both coordinators to head coaching positions. Gruden and Zimmer had more to do with recent success, IMO, than Marvin Lewis did. Having said all that, Dalton and A.J. squeeze the 6th and final playoff spot.
3) Baltimore (7-9): Something's just not right here. The talent is there, but, for whatever reason, the Ravens go much the way of last season, not being able to win the big games that they did late in 2012 to start the Super Bowl run. One reason? Even though they struggled down the stretch that year, they'd already played well enough to be in the January tournament. That won't be the case this season. The NFL's enigma resides in Baltimore.
4) Cleveland (6-10): Browns fans dying for Johnny Football won't like this final mark. It isn't because Manziel comes in mid-season and goes 4-4. It's because Hoyer does just enough every week to keep America's Post-Curfew Darling on the bench. It's the perfect combination to drive Browns fans crazy: Hoyer does enough, the defense is really the reason they win six, but Pettine can't find it in his heart to pull the trigger. Let the off-season of angst begi....no, wait. Browns fans have Lebron to cheer for again, so they're good into spring. They'll get riled up by Draft Day. :)
1) Indianapolis (12-4): When you don't have a quarterback....quick, who else is starting in this division after Andrew Luck? The Colts have another great season from #12, run through most of the division, but won't be a huge threat come playoff time, even though they'll earn the #1 seed thanks to regular season wins over both Denver and New England. They'll be perceived by some as an overrated top seed.
2) Houston (7-9): There's too much talent on this defense not to have Houston turn it around to an extent. Arian Foster stays healthy, too. But the quarterback position.....oh, boy.....
3) Jacksonville (7-9): My surprise team of 2014, and I didn't even know until I did the game-by-game predictions! The Jaguars have a favorable schedule, and I think Bortles will see the field and do okay. Not Andrew Luck rookie season okay, but okay. No one will take them seriously, and a few teams, after playing them, will wish they had.
4) Tennessee (6-10): I like Ken Whisenhunt, but what does he have in the cupboard to work with? Jake Locker? Quick: name a healthy wide receiving threat? One reason why all these teams get to six wins is that they'll beat up on each other. Even the Colts will lose one inside the division.
1) Denver (12-4): It won't look like last year; no one romps with such precision as the 2013 edition of the Broncos, but they'll get it done, including an early November win at New England to clinch the #2 seed. Defense improves, slightly (big names aren't the answer, a cohesive unit is), but losing Decker, and now Welker for four games, and having Wes a hit away from the IR makes this run more difficult.
2) Kansas City (10-6): I just can't bet against Andy Reid. Such a consistent coach and with Smith, Charles, Bowe, etc, they'll be good again. Not quite as good as last year, as again I see an NFL with 30 of 32 teams closer to each in parity this year, but good enough for a playoff berth.
3) San Diego (7-9): They return to earth after their late run last year. They should sign Ryan Succop to a minimum deal just to say thank you for helping them get that post-season berth. I expect Mathews to return to his fumble-prone, injury-riddled self, and Danny Woodhead can't do everything....
4) Oakland (1-15): Oh, my Raiders. I normally say "4-12" by default, but not this year. Our best RB is gone, we have no receivers, so Derek Carr has no one to throw to. We didn't draft a Matthews for left tackle, so protection is still a concern. Justin Tuck and Lamaar Woodley....remember when the Raiders got so many retreads and got good years out of them? One of the reasons Al Davis was successful doing it was he could tell which players still had tread on the tires and which did not. Jim Plunkett struggled with injuries and didn't play for a few years, so, once he was healthy and serving as Dan Pastorini's backup, he was healthy with gas in the tank. Dan breaks his leg, Jim takes the Raiders to the first of two Super Bowl titles. We don't judge those decisions that way any longer. Al didn't do it in his final decade, Mark ain't doing it either.
So maybe a #1 pick can help rebuild the future for my Silver and Black. Because they're on track to get it.
AFC EAST: New England
AFC NORTH: Pittsburgh
AFC SOUTH: Indianapolis
AFC WEST: Denver
AFC WILD CARDS: Kansas City and Cincinnati
WILD CARD: New England over Cincinnati, Pittsburgh over Kansas City
DIVISIONALS: New England over Denver, Pittsburgh over Indianapolis
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: New England over Pittsburgh
WILD CARD: San Francisco over Philadelphia, Seattle over Chicago
DIVISIONALS: Green Bay over San Francisco, New Orleans over Seattle
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Green Bay over New Orleans
SUPER BOWL XLIX: Green Bay 31, New England 27
Enjoy the season!!!