Thursday, September 09, 2010

NFL Preview

Another NFL season starts tonight, and that can only mean a whole batch of wrong predictions.

Every year, the NFL turns over 50% of its playoff teams. This isn't a well-kept secret at all, but still NFL prognosticators mostly pick the same teams to win as the year before, with a couple groupthink 'sleepers' sprinkled in. They aren't trying to be accurate, they are trying to avoid instead of insight, you get a minor edit to the previous year's standings.

Don Banks only picks the division winners - 5/8 of his picks won last year, and two others were in the playoffs - for a turnover ratio of 12.5%.

ESPN has a whole host of experts making their predictions. Matthew Berry and Jeff Chadiha have 3 new teams out of 12 (25%), while John Clayton and KC Joyner have only one new team (8%), and Tim Graham has two out of 12 (17%). I stopped counting after that. And even though all three of the last Super Bowl champions had 20/1 or worse odds at the start of the season, most pick favorites like the Colts. The darkhorse candidate is the Ravens, who are 18/1, and a full 33% of the expert panel picked them - hello, groupthink. has another panel of experts, and while it's more of the same (no one predicted as much as 50% turnover, the average of the past dozen years), groupthink is even more evident as the Packers were unanimously chosen to make the Super Bowl.

Well, one thing you never have to worry about with me is a fear of embarrassment. I will fearlessly (and wrongly) predict the finish for each team, with a careful eye on that 50% turnover threshold. Teams with WC after their names are my picks for the wildcard.

AFC East

  • Miami Dolphins - The first of my new playoff teams is the Dolphins. Brandon Marshall is a huge addition who will benefit from the improved play of Chad Henne.
  • New England Patriots - WC - A series of bad drafts are starting to catch up to them. The Patriots are the oldest team in the league, and their age will show on defense and the offensive line. [Edit: Not even close on this claim, the Patriots are old on offense, but spring chickens on defense. And after injuries to projected starters Ty Warren and Leigh Bodden, their defense is one of the youngest in the Belichik era. That's what I get for not fact-checking.] Brady to Moss is still deadly, but they can't win enough games on their own to take the division.
  • New York Jets - Don't forget this team was 9-7 last season, with two gift-wrapped wins from teams resting their starters. And by dumping Thomas Jones and Alan Faneca, they've actually regressed in their biggest area of strength.
  • Buffalo Bills - I like the Bills to be better than most people think, but that's still terrible.

AFC North

  • Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens defense will regress toward mediocre, but their offense could be scary good.
  • Cincinnati Bengals - Undefeated against their own division last season, that means they were only 4-6 against the rest of the NFL. If you don't expect them to sweep the Ravens and Steelers again, and I don't, it'll be tough for them to reach the playoffs.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers - The best player on their OL is a rookie, which doesn't say much for the other guys. Missing their QB for four games won't help, either.
  • Cleveland Browns - The last year of the Mangenius reign won't be a good one.

AFC West

  • San Diego Chargers - They aren't as good without their left tackle and #1 WR, but this division is still weak.
  • Oakland Raiders - The whole attitude of this team should change without JaAwful hanging around their neck. Campbell isn't a top-15 QB, but he's a pro who will show up and work, and that will rub off on the rest of the roster.
  • Kansas City Chiefs - I like the additions of Thomas Jones and McCluster, but I still don't see much talent in the trenches.
  • Denver Broncos - John McDaniels is creating the playbook for destroying a talented team. Trading away great players and blowing high draft choices is a recipe for a last-place team.

AFC South

  • Indianapolis Colts - At some point, the Colts will falter. I will not be in front of that trend. I'll ride this horse until they lose.
  • Tennessee Titans - WC - The best RB in the league, one of the better OLs, and a developing QB. If the defense can just be mediocre, the Titans are a playoff team.
  • Houston Texans - Experts have been predicting the Texans to break through into the playoffs for the last three years. Like the Colts, I'm tired of trying to get in front of that trend. I'll bet on them to continue underachieving until they prove otherwise.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars - I'm trying to find something I like about this team. Oh yeah, MJD. MJD and...well, nothing. They're bad on offense and worse on defense.

AFC Playoff teams (recap):
Dolphins, Ravens, Chargers, Colts, Patriots, Titans. 4/6 made the playoffs last season, so we'll need better-than-average turnover from the NFC to hit 50%.

NFC East

  • New York Giants - The Giants underperformed in a lot of areas last season...OL, RB, DL, DB...and I think they'll regress toward the mean in all of them. Antrel Rolle was a solid addition, and if they get anything from Kenny Phillips it will be another huge improvement. I also like Hakeem Nicks to take a leap forward. The Giants have also performed better as an under-the-radar team than a preseason favorite. It all adds up to a division championship.
  • Dallas Cowboys - Can the Cowboys handle success and the weight of preseason expectations? Will their injured OL and first-year LT hold up all year? Can they really have only three CBs on their roster? I think they'll be good, but narrowly miss the playoffs.
  • Philadelphia Eagles - The Eagles are extremely young, averaging 25.5 years (I'm excluding the P/K in that number.) Their OL had some injury issues this preseason, but the group that will start the first game was 8-1 last year. They have playmakers on both side of the ball, enough that they'll have a shot to win any game they play. But their youth also means inconsistency, and a chance to lose any game. 7-9 or 8-8 is realistic, with a real chance to contend again next season.
  • Washington Redskins - I thought McNabb would thrive in Shanahan's offense, but instead he's just looked like McNabb in the preseason. Along with the Haynesworth disaster, I wonder if this team has enough playmakers, on either side of the ball, to be very dangerous.

NFC North

  • Green Bay Packers - Like most prognosticators, I struggle to see how anyone can stop this offense. They gave up 50 sacks last season, and still were one of the most productive in the league. I don't like the defense, but they'll do just enough to complement the offense.
  • Chicago Bears - WC - As terrible as the Bears looked at time last season, and as badly as they were ravaged by injuries, they still managed to win seven games. With just a little regression toward the mean on the injury front, and the addition of Julius Peppers, they'd have to win nine or ten.
  • Minnesota Vikings - Brett Favre and the Williams Wall are another year older...injury problems are a real possibility for all three. With Sidney Rice already down for half the year, at least, they are missing one of their deadliest offensive weapons. The loss of Chester Taylor is also underrated, especially if AP is dinged for a few games here and there, like usual. A disappointing 8-8 season seems a lot more likely than a repeat of last year.
  • Detroit Lions - I like the Lions to be much improved this season, but I liked every other team in the division better.

NFC West

  • San Francisco 49ers - I'd love to pick someone else in this division, because everyone is picking the Niners...but who? This division is so bad, that Alex Smith has a legit chance to lead a team to the title. The defense will continue to improve, and the OL will get better as the season progresses.
  • Seattle Seahawks - There's not much to like about the Seahawks, which says a lot about the two teams below them. I don't see much talent on the OL, and I don't see anyone who can rush the passer. Other than that, well, they're not good at other positions either. There is no one on this roster, on either side of the ball, that is a real playmaker.
  • Arizona Cardinals - The Cards have grossly mismanaged their QB situation, and have given away quality players like Antrel Rolle, Anquan Boldin, and Karlos Dansby. They'll be lucky to win five games.
  • St. Louis Rams - I like Bradford, but the defensive cupboard is bare, and the OL is shaky. And wide receivers? Not on this roster, bro. Better luck next year.

NFC South

  • Atlanta Falcons - Matt Ryan will continue to improve and Michael Turner will have a monster year. The big questions are on they have enough pass rush, and enough talent in the secondary? I'll guess 'yes', because I need another new team in the playoffs.
  • New Orleans Saints - WC - I expect the offense to be dominating again, although there isn't as much depth on the OL this year, so an average amount of injuries could cause major problems. Also, it's highly unlikely their defense will lead the league in turnovers and defensive scores again, especially without a healthy Darren Sharper. This points to a regression on both sides of the ball.
  • Carolina Panthers - Matt Moore is fine, and the running game is excellent. The defense, though, is not good at all.
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Still a couple years away from being competitive.

NFC Playoff teams (recap):
Giants, Packers, Falcons, Niners, Bears, Saints - only 2/6 repeats from last year, so we slip under the 50% wire.

Now let's watch some football.


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