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.
Jeff Tannehill: “Winning!”
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Although I’m generally only interested in Canadian football, I couldn’t help but chime in…
1. Broncos (13-3) – This is the division in which TEBOW was able to get 8 wins.
2. Chiefs (9-7) – Because if they finish 8-8 or better the Niners’ conditional pick for Alex Smith becomes a second rounder. Go Chiefs!
3. Chargers (5-11) – Manti Teo has once again finds himself in a relationship that will probably work out for a year or so before ending in bitter disillusionment.
4. Raiders (2-14) – They prove themselves too inept to get Clowney or Teddy Bilgewater. To honor Al Davis, they take some really fast guy who sucks at football and wouldn’t have been drafted until the third round.
1. Patriots (12-4) – Free Aaron Hernandez! Anybody? No? Too soon? How much longer will the Hooded One rage against the dying of the light?
2. Dolphins (10-6) – They are blessed because Colin Kaepernick deigned to wear a hat with their logo.
3. Bills (2-14) – T’was ever thus.
4. Jets (1-15) – The Tony Soprano principle, wisdom from time immemorial: shit runs downhill. This is where it all ends up.
1. Bengals (11-5) – Who believes in the Red Rifle?
2. Steelers (10-6) – Their fat dirtbag of a quarterback continues to defy logic and karma and win games.
3. Ravens (8-8) – Oh yeah that’s right! He’s fucking Joe Flacco! (UNHAND MY LOMBARDI TROPHY WRETCHED FOWLS!!!)
4. Browns (7-9) – This is the fate that befalls those who fill the qb position by drafting a 40-year-old ginger.
1. Texans (12-4) – Much like their namesake they sound big and imposing, but when you actually see them, you realize how much they suck. Lucky for them, they are the least sucky team in the suckiest division.
2. Colts (8-8) – Andrew Luck, you’ll never take that next step until you lose that weird neckbeard.
3. Titans (6-10) – Appropriate that this team is named after once-powerful entities who were defeated, deposed, and banished to the underworld.
4. Jags (0-16) – In 2011, sports pundits widely predicted that with the 7th pick in the draft the 49ers would pick a promising young stud from Missouri, and they were not talking about Aldon Smith. I go to sleep every night thanking God Blaine Gabbert is not our qb.
1. 49ers (14-2) – Justice demands no less. Going forward, I wouldn’t take any other player in the NFL over Kaep. Our defense is still very good. Our running game is great. Our coaching is great. Our draft class looks really good. And having a kicker will add about 3 points a game to our scoring right off the bat, since Akers was good for at least one miss a game. This team easily could have won the last two super bowls. They are better and deeper this year, even with the Crabtree injury. This is the best team in the league.
2. Rams (10-6) – They kept Sam Bradford over RG3, at like 3 times the price. Ouch. On the other hand, they got a ton of high draft picks and have been crushing it in recent drafts, and a are well coached team.
3. Seahawks (10-6) – Our name is the Seattle Seahawks, team of teams! Look on our roster, ye mighty, and despair!
The party line on the Seahawks last season was that they stumbled out of the gate, then found their rhythm in the second half of the season as their rookie qb gained confidence, before morphing into one of the best teams in the league. Now they’re generally considered the favorite in the NFC, and Russell Wilson is being picked as a likely MVP candidate.
Let’s take a closer look. The legend of the Seahawks began when famous shitty sports/pop culture writer Bill Simmons picked them to win the Super Bowl, mostly based on the fact that Russell Wilson is a charismatic guy. Because Simmons doesn’t know shit about football, and because it would generate a lot of chatter, he cast this crazy prediction out onto the interwebs, and it achieved its desired effect.
They lost to the Cardinals, who ended up being atrocious. They handled the Cowboys, but that was no mean feat. They should have lost to the Packers (a team the Niners dominated, on the road no less) if not for the famous Fail Mary play (which is now frequently cited in Russell Wilson lore as an example of his ability to perform in the clutch). They then lost to the Rams. The Panthers were within a yard of beating them. They got two quick lucky last minute touchdowns to steal a win from the Pats (a team the Niners were utterly dominating on the road before their defense fell apart when Justin Smith got injured). Then they lost to the Niners by 8, but the Niners ran the ball down their throats the entire second half, and that game was really not that close. Then they lost to the crummy Lions, a team the Niners dominated. At that point, they could have easily been 1-6 and all but eliminated from playoff contention. We’d be hearing a very different story about this team today.
But then they started playing better. They beat the Vikings, a team the Niners lost to. They beat the Jets (not impressive at all). They lost to the Dolphins, a team the Niners beat. Then they beat the Bears (a team the Niners dominated) in overtime, also not very impressive. Around this time, Bill Simmons issued a mea culpa on his choice of the Seahawks to win the Super bowl. The Seahawks were considered a good team at home, where they have an undeniable advantage, but a lousy team on the road.
Then they went on their tear. They dropped 50 spots on the Cards, Bills, and 40 on the Niners. During this time, Russell Wilson had phenomenal games that helped boost his stats. Obviously, the only meaningful victory there was the one over the Niners. The Seahawks deserve credit for pummeling the Niners, but that game was a general shitshow for the Niners, who never really showed up in the first place. They had just flown across country for the emotional game against the Packers in which Justin Smith was injured. A blocked fg, interception in the endzone, Mario Manningham tore his ACL and lost a fumble on the play…. Anyway, this is the game that solidified the Seahawks in everyone’s mind. They closed out the season with a close victory over the Rams. Simmons didn’t try to claim he still thought the Seahawks would win it all, but he looooooved reminding everyone of his pick.
In the playoffs, an injured Robert Griffin got his Redskins out to a 14-0 lead on the Seahawks before he became more injured because he plays for idiots, and then became even more injured in one of the more gruesome and infuriating moments of the season. The Seahawks came back and won, but I don’t think they would have had RGIII only stayed somewhat injured. Then the Seahawks went on to play the Falcons, who jumped out to a 20-0 lead before nearly collapsing. Wilson played extremely well as he led the furious comeback, but the Falcons’ defense really sucks. Anyway, the legend was at this point firmly entrenched, and Simmons looked like a genius, never to be doubted again.
The Seahawks had a pretty big offseason, acquiring big name guys like Percy Harvin, Antoine Winfield, Michael Bennet and Cliff Avril. This put everyone into a frenzy, and the Seahawks nominally became the team to beat in the NFL. But Harvin is injured, and Winfield is not on the team anymore. Bennet and Avril are good, but do they justify all of this hype? I don’t think so. They’re good enough to get double digit wins, but I’m not convinced that Pete Carroll is a good enough coach, that Russell Wilson is as glorious as everyone thinks he is, and that this team is good enough on the road to be a true contender. We’ll see.
4. Cardinals (7-9) – What’s the over/under on Carson Palmer surviving this season?
1. Giants (11-5) – This team is the stuff of my nightmares.
2. Redskins (10-6) – Forgive them, Black Jesus, for they know not how to coach.
3. Cowboys (9-7) – I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Tony Romo has a statistically fantastic season that is totally overshadowed by a ghastly turnover that forecloses the playoffs.
4. Eagles (6-10) – I think the downfall of this team will be that Vick takes a vicious beating. Is this karma? If so, I wish they’d rename this team the Beagles.
1. Packers (11-5) – How can this team recover from what the Niners did to them last year?
2. Lions (10-6) – At the end of the Niners’ dark period, Mike Singletary heroically prevented a decent team from winning a horrible division and losing early in the playoffs. Had he failed to do so, he might have kept his job, and God might not have given us his only begotten Jim Harbaugh. Thank you Mike Singletary for saving us from Mike Singletary. This situation is pretty much the one confronting the Lions right now: the best thing that could happen to them is if they have a miserable season and little Jim Schwartz gets canned and they get a real coach. But Jimmy if you want to make Detroit just a little more depressing, here’s your game plan: max protection, shotgun, have Stafford hold it for like 5 seconds, then chuck it as far and as high as he can to Megatron. Repeat.
3. Bears (7-9) – I believe Justin diagnosed Mr. Cutler’s condition rather accurately.
4. Vikings (6-10) – Has Adrian Peterson become the Barry Sanders of his era? Stuck on a perpetually middling Midwestern NFC team with a qb with an effeminate arm, with no realistic expectation of making a serious playoff run….?
1. Panthers (11-5) – Lots of people talk about Cam Newton’s sophomore slump, but actually his numbers were pretty good, particularly in the second half of the season. He could still end up being the best of the young stud qbs.
1. Bucs (10-6) – I’m not a believer in Josh Freeman, but with that defense and running game they’re gonna be good.
3. Falcons (9-7) – Is this the team that crushed the Seahawks and Niners in the first halves of their playoff matchups, or the team that got crushed by those teams in the second halves of those games? Methinks the latter.
4. Saints (8-8) – Drew Brees throws 30 picks; Sean Payton puts out a bounty.
49ers over Broncos, 55-10. Because that’s what we do to the Broncos in the Superbowl.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed reading that. I’m so sick of the Simmons/Seahawks thing. And I love that you picked teams to go 0-16, 1-15, and 2-14. What a unholy triumvirate of suckitude!