We’ve been running NFL team previews here for the last month at TheSportsNotebook, including projections on whether teams would hit their Las Vegas over/under number for wins. We’ve also had contributor Isaac Huss weigh in with key storylines and predictions for both the NFC & AFC, and then yesterday Isaac laid out why he thought the New England Patriots would win the Super Bowl. Now it’s time for me to jump in with my own final set of NFL predictions.
A couple notes on the picks. I made sure that the predicted W-L records did average out to 8-8 across the board, so it’s realistic. But if you read the individual team preview and then the final record, you may notice a discrepancy between my Over/Under prediction in those articles and the exact record predicted here. The reason is that I view the O/U number as more about range—set about a four-game window for where you think a team will fall and just pick what side there’s more room. For these, I’ll play my hunches as to who will get to their ceiling, who will hit their floor and then further adjust to make sure everything adds up to a .500 composite record for the league as a whole. So with that said, here we go. An asterisk is next to the two teams in each conference I’m picking for wild-card berths…
NY Giants (10-6)*
Green Bay (12-4)
Tampa Bay (8-8)
New Orleans (7-9)
San Francisco (10-6)
St. Louis (6-10)
NOTES: As you can see, I’m a believer that the effects of Bounty Gate are going to hit New Orleans hard this year and overall I think the balance of power has shifted back to the NFC, as I’ve got two 10-win teams, Chicago and Carolina, missing the playoffs, along with a 9-7 Dallas team. All three of these teams would be in the league’s best 12 overall though.
New England (11-5)
NY Jets (8-8)
Kansas City (9-7)*
San Diego (9-7)*
NOTES: Picking up the NFC Is Stronger Theme, there is no team in this conference that really stands out for me, and I hate myself for picking the Chargers to make the playoffs. But I’m even more convinced that the Steelers & Ravens—who’ve joined together to be the best rivalry in professional sports the last four years—are going to see their window close and that AFC North race will be a study in mediocrity. If it does work out that way, fans in the four cities can take heart—that’s how the NFC East was a year ago and we saw what happened with the Giants once they survived it.
1st-Round Playoff Games
(3)Philadelphia over (6)Detroit—the last teams these teams met in the playoffs was 1995 and the Eagles won 58-37. Not that crazy this time around.
(5)NY Giants over (4)San Francisco—another thriller to the road team in a carbon copy of the NFC Championship Games from both last year and 1990.
(5)Kansas City over (4)Cincinnati—suffice it to say this won’t be the matchup getting a lot of hype.
(3)Denver over (6) San Diego—can this finally get A.J. Smith and Norv Turner fired in San Diego?
2nd-Round Playoff Games
(1)Green Bay over NY Giants—Rematch Road doesn’t go as well for Eli and the Giants this time.
Philadelphia over (2)Atlanta—Overall I think the Eagles are a better team, but they finish with a lower regular season seed based on the presumption Michael Vick misses a few games. He’s healthy here and returns to his old stomping grounds to continue Atlanta’s playoff frustration.
(1)Houston over Kansas City—A raucous crowd at Reliant Stadium wills Matt Schaub to his first playoff win, after he was injured during last year’s postseason.
(2)New England over Denver—Peyton comes back to Foxboro and in a repeat of playoff losses in 2003 & 2004, again comes up short in the cold.
Conference Championship Games
Green Bay over Philadelphia–If both teams are at full health, this is an even-money battle, but the guess here is that Mike McCarthy figures out a way to piece together some pass protection over the course of the year and just enough of a running game to enable Aaron Rodgers to complete this two-game playoff run through the NFC East.
Houston over New England—If this matchup really comes to fruition(and since I’m picking such, it’s highly unlikely) this would be an incredible storyline. The Texans are clearly the more talented team. They’ll also have a coach who’s never won a championship and a quarterback who entered the season never even played in, much less won in a postseason game. Is it pointing out the obvious to say New England doesn’t have those problems? Yeah, probably. But it’s not obvious that Bill Belichick would have had an entire year to get rookies Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones integrated into his front seven. Still, I’ll give Houston the benefit of the doubt and say their time has come.
Green Bay over Houston—There’s no better tandem of playmakers than Rodgers on offense and Clay Matthews on defense, which is why I’m making this the third year in a row I’ve picked Green Bay to make the Super Bowl and the second straight I’ve picked them to win it.