The end of summer is nigh, with all of its annual traditions: The days are beginning to cool, leaves will soon change color, baseball will turn to pennant races and playoffs, the neighborhood bar will get pumpkin beers on tap, and I’ll sit down to write my NFL Season Preview.
When last football left us, Baltimore cornerback Jimmy Smith had his arms wrapped around San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree, an obvious pass interference penalty that went uncalled, allowing the Ravens to thwart a desperate Niners rally and hang on to win the Super Bowl.
This year, with my beloved Niners again a Super Bowl contender, my season preview has more jinx potential than ever. Usually I maintain a healthy fear of and respect for the football gods by predicting torture for myself: Last year, I predicted the Niners would lose the NFC Championship Game on a missed field goal, which, given the drama of their final two games, and the struggles of then-kicker David Akers, actually came pretty close to coming true. Of course, I predicted they’d lose that game to the eventual Super Bowl Champion … Philadelphia Eagles, who went 4-12 last year. So, if you’re looking for a football preview that has any hope of being correct, you should probably look elsewhere.
But I’m forging ahead anyway. And I’m issuing challenges to my other football fan friends: To Josh and Matt, who I’ve been exchanging preview e-mails with for years, I’m expecting to see your on-the-record predictions in the comments below; and props to my fellow blogsmith Juan (who told me that his wonderfully specific childhood dream job was to be an NFL Defensive Coordinator), who already posted his picks.
Here we go:
Philadelphia, 9-7: Yes, I picked the Eagles last year, disastrously so. In fact, I picked them the year before that, also disastrously. No, I haven’t learned my lesson. Yes, their defense is going to be really bad. Yes, college coaches (aside from St. Harbaugh, who doesn’t count because he was an NFL QB for more than a decade) tend to not do so well in the pros. But you know what, with Chip Kelly, Shady McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Michael Vick (who, for all his shortcomings, sure should fit Chip Kelly’s offense), I think they’ll score points. A lot of points. Enough points to win the weakest division in the NFC, which is BY FAR the stronger of the two conferences this year. Hell, one of these years I have to be right about this team.
New York Giants, 8-8: They’ll start 6-2 and finish 8-8, like pretty much every year. And if they manage to get to 9-7 and squeak into the playoffs, they’ll probably win the Super Bowl, just like always. What a screwy team.
Washington, 8-8: If I was 100-percent sure about RG3, I’d probably pick the ‘Skins to win the division. But are we really sure he’s all the way back from a major knee surgery (his second, by the way) that happened less than eight months ago? And should we be all that excited about the rest of the talent on this team? I could be wrong, but for right now I’m a bit wary of the Washington Racial Slurs.
Dallas, 6-10: Fuck the Cowboys.
Atlanta, 10-6: I think Atlanta’s got enough firepower to hang onto the division, but they’re not going 13-3 again this year, not with that defense.
Tampa Bay, 10-6 (Wild Card): I’m definitely on the Tampa bandwagon. They’ve got a nice offense/defense balance, I think they’ll make the playoffs in spite of a tough schedule that sees them playing the two best divisions in football (the NFC West and their own).
New Orleans, 9-7: I have them narrowly missing the playoffs. With Sean Payton back and a lot of weapons on offense, I think they’ll score a lot of points. But their defense still stinks, and don’t even try to tell me that Rob Ryan’s fat, camera-hogging ass is going to magically fix that.
Carolina, 6-10: I actually think the Panthers are going to be pretty good, and was kinda bummed that I missed out on Cam Newton in my fantasy draft (I know, no one cares). But they’re lacking a bit at the skill positions on offense (mostly because they shelled out a ton of money for two mediocre running backs), and they’re really just in the wrong division.
Green Bay, 12-4 (First Round Bye): The Packers have some weaknesses on defense and the offensive line, but they’ve still got the best QB in the league, and he has a ton of weapons to throw to (I’m also optimistic about rookie RB Eddie Lacy). And their schedule doesn’t look all that tough to me.
Detroit, 9-7: Maybe I’m overrating the Lions, but I think they’re a lot better than they showed last year (though not as good as they seemed during their 2011 playoff season). I originally had them slotted at 8-8, though in going over their schedule, it looked more like 9-7 to me. I still think they come up a bit short of the playoffs, though.
Chicago, 7-9: If anything, I’m being generous giving the Bears seven wins. I don’t believe in Jay Cutler at all; he’s the modern-day Jeff George.
Minnesota, 6-10: Teams that have a huge jump in wins (like the Vikings did last year in going from 3-13 to 10-6) usually regress the following year; they lost Percy Harvin; I don’t believe in Christian Ponder; and Adrian Peterson can’t be as superhuman as he was last year again–can he?
San Francisco 12-4 (Homefield Advantage): I covered the Niners in depth yesterday.
Seattle, 11-5 (Wild Card): They’re the second best team in football–but they happen to play in the same division as the best. Percy Harvin getting hurt, while not exactly a shocking development, might have cost them the chance to leapfrog the Niners.
St. Louis, 9-7: I wouldn’t be at all shocked if the Rams do better than this, and I think they’ve got a decent shot at the playoffs. They’ve got a tough, physical defense, and I think Tavon Austin is going to make an impact on their offense. But the NFC West is so damn tough that I think they’re going to end up on the outside looking in.
Arizona, 6-10: I watched enough Raiders games over the last few years to say with confidence that Carson Palmer is not a good QB. So, how crazy is it that he is actually a huge upgrade for them? They’ve got a decent defense, and Larry Fitzgerald is still a superstar. All of this adds up to … them still being a last place team. The NFC West is brutal.
New England, 12-4 (First Round Bye): I really, really don’t like the Patriots this year. But the AFC is bad, and the AFC East is really bad. They get to 12 wins just by virtue of an easy schedule. And having Tom Brady doesn’t hurt.
Miami, 9-7 (Wild Card): Ryan Tannehill actually played reasonably well as a rookie. They got Mike “Where the Fuck is” Wallace to stretch the field, they’ve got good parts on defense, and they’re in a terrible division. After watching Hard Knocks last year, I don’t really believe in their coach, but I still think they’re a Wild Card team.
Buffalo, 5-11: The eternal rebuild continues.
New York Jets, 3-13: Watching this team is going to be like watching someone drown in the ocean.
Houston, 10-6: Great defense, pretty good skill position talent, but I don’t think Kubiak and Schaub have what it takes to take this team to the level of true contender. But they’re the class of arguably the worst division in football (the competition: every other division in the AFC), so you can rubber stamp their playoff spot.
Indianapolis, 8-8: Andrew Luck is great, and Ahmad Bradshaw and their offensive line improvements should give their offense a boost. But they MASSIVELY overachieved last year, and the defense is, well, not so good.
Tennessee, 5-11: When you miss on a QB high in the draft, it usually sets your franchise back a few years. Obviously, I’m not a Jake Locker believer.
Jacksonville, 3-13: See: Tennessee, RE: their QB. Worst team in football?
Cincinnati, 10-6: I originally picked them to go 8-8 and miss the playoffs, mostly just because they’re the Bengals. But they’ve got a great defense and A.J. Green. And with the Ravens losing so many guys from their championship team, the division seems ripe for the plucking.
Baltimore, 8-8: Are we really sure that Joe Flacco is the guy we saw in the playoffs, and not the guy we’ve seen the last few regular seasons? I’ll admit this pick is at least 10 percent Super Bowl bitterness. Okay, 20 percent.
Pittsburgh, 7-9: They’re really thin at the skill positions on offense, and Roethlisberger always gets hurt.
Cleveland, 6-10: Honestly, I like a lot of the talent Cleveland has, and I think they’d be a good sleeper pick … but Brandon Weeden. That’s not gonna get it done.
Denver, 13-3 (Homefield Advantage): They’ve had some injuries and the Von Miller suspension hurts, but they’ve got Peyton Manning and a lot of guys for him to throw to. Honestly, looking at their schedule, I had a hard time even finding three losses.
Kansas City, 10-6 (Wild Card): Every year there are one or two surprise teams that turn around abysmal seasons and shockingly make the playoffs. Sure looks like it could be K.C. this year: new coach, new QB, decent talent on offense and defense, had some bad luck with injuries last year, and when the Chiefs are good, they have a serious homefield advantage. Mark it down: K.C. is making the playoffs.
San Diego, 5-11: One of the worst teams in football. Only the fact that they at least have a decent QB keeps them out of last place.
Oakland, 4-12: Sorry, Juanito (my buddy is a diehard Raiders fan), but there’s not a lot to feel good about here. I love watching Darren McFadden, but the moment he gets hurt, and he will get hurt, this team is toast, because they’ve got nothing else. If Terrelle Pryor really is going to be their starting QB–well, that’s terrifying. They’ll be battling the Jags and the Jets in the Teddy Bridgewater/Jadeveon Clowney sweepstakes.
NFC Wild Card Round
Seattle over Atlanta, 38-27: A rematch of last year’s thrilling NFC Divisional Round game, except this time Seattle gets off to a good start and keeps building a lead in the second half, preventing any Matt Ryan heroics
Tampa Bay over Philadelphia 35-21: Philadelphia’s driving in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie, Vick throws a ball out into the flat … and it’s intercepted, with Darelle Revis going the other way with a game-sealing Pick-Six. Echoes of the 2003 NFC Championship Game.
NFC Divisional Round
Green Bay over Seattle, 21-17: Two seconds left; Seattle has the ball on the Green Bay 35 yard line. Russell Wilson drops back to pass, lofts a ball toward the end zone; Golden Tate rises out of a cluster of players … and gets crushed by Packers safety M.D. Jennings. The ball falls harmlessly to the turf. History, in this case, does not repeat itself.
San Francisco over Tampa Bay, 26-16: The Niners batter Josh Freeman and Kaepernick runs all over the Bucs defense.
NFC Championship Game
San Francisco over Green Bay, 45-31: The exact same score as last year’s Niners-Packers playoff game. History, in this case, does repeat itself.
AFC Wild Card Round
Houston over Kansas City, 21-10: The Chiefs won’t be able to move the ball against the Texans’ dominant front.
Cincinnati over Miami 20-13: Tannehill gets pounded by the Bengals D and loses the game … but he still wins at life.
AFC Divisional Round
New England over Cincinnati, 27-14: I’ve come this far with the Bengals against my better judgment, but you really don’t think I’m picking them on the road against the Pats, do you?
Denver over Houston, 24-17: Peyton Manning over Matt Schaub
AFC Championship Game
Denver over New England 27-24: We get the Brady-Manning matchup everyone wanted last year–maybe the last in their long and storied rivalry? I’ve always been in the Brady camp, but Manning’s got by far the better supporting cast this year, as well as homefield advantage in Denver, adding up to the Broncos going back to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLVIII
San Francisco over Denver, 35-20: The Niners’ defense plasters Manning, the Broncos can’t contain Kaepernick, and the Niners bring the Lombardi Trophy back to the Bay. And now I’ve horribly jinxed my favorite team. I need a drink.