Making predictions before an NFL season usually results in one and only one thing: looking stupid. More than any other league, the NFL is close to impossible to predict, given there will always be four or five teams that completely surprise us. Who thought the Chargers would miss the playoffs last year and the Chiefs would make it? How many people thought the Bucs would have the sixth best record in the NFC? Did anyone with common sense really predict the Raiders to go 6-0 in the AFC West last year?
Most people's predictions look like clones of the previous season. I'll use some knowledge of football history to predict turnover in teams.
For all the talk of turnover, the AFC has been pretty consistent with a majority of the teams they send to the playoffs. Over the past three years the Jets, Colts, Patriots, Steelers, Chargers, and Ravens have pretty much steered the conference, with only the Dolphins, Chiefs, and Titans snatching up a playoff run each in that three year span.
Out west I feel completely confident predicting the Chargers. I love their schedule, and I think this is the year that they land the one seed again.
Up north I think the Browns have a chance, but they'll fall short to the Ravens who will finally get a playoff home game for the first time since 2006 (pretty crazy for a team that has played seven games since that divisional round loss to Indianapolis in the '06 playoffs).
Down south I feel confident eliminating Tennessee and Jacksonville, and as of this moment in time I honestly believe Peyton Manning will be ready to go week one, if he is I'm riding the Colts to another division title, if he's not than I think this may be the year the Texans break away. The Texans defense is somewhat improved, but look out for the Colts defense to be vastly improved.
Finally, the east could be a three team race this year. I don't love New England's off season moves, but I love their head coach and think that the Dolphins and Jets don't have it to overtake the Pats just yet.
For the AFC wild cards I like the Browns and the Texans. I know it sounds outrageous but if you look at their schedules, they're pretty favorable. If Peyton Manning is injured for a significant time, I'd put the Jets in the wild card with the Texans winning the division.
WILD CARD WEEKEND
Colts/Texans over Browns
Patriots over Jets/Texans
Colts/Texans over Ravens
Chargers over Patriots
Chargers over Colts/Texans.
So that's where I stand on the AFC. I've got the San Diego Chargers finally breaking through, in an AFC title game that will undoubtedly stage two hilarious head coaches.
Turnover in the NFC is constant. In 2010 only the Saints, Packers, and Eagles repeated as playoff participants, as opposed to the AFC's Patriots, Jets, Ravens, and Colts. In 2009 only the Cardinals, Vikings and Eagles repeated as playoff participants. In 2008, same song different chorus with only the Giants returning to the playoffs. In 2007 the Cowboys, Giants and Seahawks returned to the playoffs, and in 2006 only the Seahawks, Giants, and Bears returned to the playoffs. Do you get where this is going? Usually three teams return to the playoffs in the NFC, with the exception to the rule being less than three, not more.
Out west I like the Rams. I think the best quarterback will win this division, so it should come down to Arizona and St. Louis. I think the Rams have the defense, but I won't be shocked if the Cardinals return to the playoffs.
Up north, I think the Packers will return to the playoffs, but health will play a large part in the puzzle. The hunger for a ring isn't there, and last year they took a beating. I think Minnesota will be back, the Lions will be solid, and the Bears are destined for last place in the division.
Down south I love the Saints and hate the Falcons chances. The Bucs will trend south, and the Panthers will be a top five pick.
Finally, out east I'm not buying the Eagles, but I'm buying the Cowboys instead. I love the fact that it's been a quiet offseason for Dallas, with the team getting ready for the return of Tony Romo. The Cowboys were hot at the end of last year, and I think that'll carry over into a division title.
The Eagles will make the playoffs as a wild card and they'll be that third repeat team in the playoffs, while either the Vikings or Lions will be the sixth. Gun to my head right now I'll take the Vikings.
WILD CARD WEEKEND
Eagles over Rams
Packers over Vikings
Cowboys over Eagles
Saints over Packers
Saints over Cowboys.
I think that the Saints get back to the Super Bowl and Drew Brees has the ultimate chance in NFL history to get revenge. I think that the Saints will beat the Chargers and the NFC will win their third straight Super Bowl.
Here's where I think the awards will stand:
Comeback player: Tony Romo
Coach of the year: Leslie Frazier
Offensive player of the year: Adrian Peterson
Defensive player of the year: Ndamukong Suh
NFL MVP: Philip Rivers
Super Bowl MVP: Drew Brees
Other bold predictions:
AFC Pro Bowl QB's: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers... BUT the game ends up being played by Colt McCoy, Matt Schaub, and yes... Tim Tebow.
NFC Pro Bowl QB's: Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees... But the game ends up being played by Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, and Matthew Stafford.