Events have conspired for the past couple of years to shield me from the embarrassment of my NFL team record predictions for the upcoming season. So, to refresh everyone’s memory, here is how this goes:
I predict the record of every team in the NFL for the 2013 season.
I leave the predictions up on the website.
Sometime in the dreary days of January or February of 2014, I go back and grade myself on the accuracy of my predictions.
I then stand back and allow readers to throw rotten veggies at me for the stupidity of my predictions.
Allow me to lay down a few markers at the beginning of this sure-to-be-embarrassing endeavor:
1. An injury to a key player can change a team’s fortune overnight.
2. In a more subtle way, a rash of injuries to one position on a team can have a deleterious effect on a team’s record. It would be an unusual team indeed that could sustain season-ending injuries to five offensive linemen and still have a successful season.
3. When – not if – I am wrong in my prediction for a team that has an unusually successful season in spite of my prediction, I do not owe that team, its coaches, its owner or its fans any sort of apology. What I owe them and anyone else who reads this stuff is my admission that I got it wrong. I will not be happy doing that, but I will do just that.
Before I get to the predictions, let me suggest to the NFL moguls an idea that might be useful somewhere down the road. If all of the talking and negotiating to reduce the number of meaningless Exhibition Games comes to nothing, here is an idea to make them serve a minimally useful purpose:
Have the first two games officiated by “Replacement Refs”. If the league did this for the truly meaningless Exhibition Games, they might have a few replacements that would actually exhibit a bit of competence should they be needed to fill in for injured “Real Refs” during a season.
Giving the “Rookie Refs” – to use a less pejorative label – the first two games would allow the “Real Refs” to get two meaningless games under their belts before the “Real Refs” have to do Real Games right after Labor Day.
Let me start in the AFC West. Here are my projected records for the teams there:
San Diego 5-11
I might have had the Broncos with 13 or more wins had not Von Miller earned himself a 6-game suspension. I am not worried at all about the Broncos ability to score points; their problem is stopping the “other guys” when the “other guys” have a top-shelf offense. The loss of Miller for 3/8th of the season is not what the Broncos need. I really like watching the Broncos on offense not just for Peyton Manning’s play but also for the play of their offensive line. Those guys are good!
Some folks have the Chiefs as the “worst-to-first” team this year. I think they will do much better with Alex Smith at QB than they did last year, but I do not see them as a team north of .500 and contending for a playoff spot in mid-December. The Chiefs early schedule (first 6 games) is not overwhelming so they could start out looking like gangbusters.
I think the Chargers are going to be a bad team this year. They will be on national TV twice (Week 1 against the Texans and Week 6 against the Colts); those games should demonstrate to fans why the Chargers are not going to be “flexed” by NBC for an extra appearance on nation TV as a SNF game in December.
The Raiders stunk last year and they are going to stink again this year. [Aside: In my first draft for these predictions, I had the Raiders at 1-15 for the year.] Forget looking at the schedule; look at the depth chart. They had 4 QBs in training camp looking for the guy that would lead the team. Those 4 QBs are in alphabetical order:
Might I suggest that the QB position just might turn out to be a weakness for the Raiders in the 2013 season and just leave it at that…?
Moving on to the AFC South, here are my predicted team records:
I think the Texans are a solid team and I like them better than the Colts who over-achieved just a bit last year. The Texans have a tough early schedule facing Baltimore, Seattle and SF on successive weekends in September and early October. The Texans get a breather in November with Arizona, Oakland and Jax on successive weekends.
What the Colts must do is to improve their defense – particularly their run defense. They gave up more than 100 yards per game on the ground last year; if they do that again this year, they are not likely to make it to .500 for the season.
The Titans gave up the moral equivalent of 30 points per game last year – and so they used their first pick to draft an offensive guard. The owner says that the team has to improve if Mike Munchak is to keep his job; if he does not find some defenders who can stop the “other guys”, Munchak will be looking for work in January.
The Jaguars will just stink. Yes, Maurice Jones-Drew is back in action but that will not be nearly enough improvement on offense because the defensive secondary last year was awful and looks to be about the same this year. The NFL schedule-makers must have decided to get the “2013 Lack-of-Interest Game” between the Jaguars and the Raiders out of the way early; those two awful teams meet in Week 2. The loser of that game will be on the clock with the overall #1 pick in the draft come April 2014.
Moving on to the AFC North, here are my projected team records:
The key to the Bengals’ season is the continued development of Andy Dalton at QB and Dalton’s ability to forget how miserable the Bengals’ offense was in their playoff loss to the Texans last year. If you want to look at Andy Dalton in a historical perspective, consider this extraction from NFL metadata:
Dalton is the 9th QB in the NFL since the merger of the NFL and the AFL to start in a playoff game in each of his first two seasons in the league. That sounds great until you look at the previous 8 QBs to do that. Once you look at that list, you have to wonder which side of “great divide” Andy Dalton will land on…
“The Good Guys” are: John Elway, Joe Flacco, Dan Marino, and Ben Roethlisberger. Not too many young QBs in the NFL would mind having their name on a list with those guys.
“The Not-So-Good Guys” are: Pat Haden, Shaun King, Bernie Kosar, and Mark Sanchez. Let me say ever so politely that none of those guys needs to hire someone to write him a Hall of Fame acceptance speech any time soon.
I think the Ravens will suffer a twinge of “Super Bowl Hangover” particularly because they turned over so much of their roster from last year. I think the defense will be OK, but losing so many good receivers (Boldin and Pitta) puts the Ravens in the position where they are “accumulating injuries” at a specific position.
I think the Steelers are not nearly as good on paper as they seemed to be last year but the Steelers always seem to grind out a bunch of wins that look beyond their reach on paper. If they went 7-9 instead of my projected 9-7, I would not be gobsmacked.
The Browns were awful last year but they played a lot of rookies. Now the new coaching staff comes in and finds a bunch of young guys on the roster who have actually seen the field on Sunday afternoons. The Browns will not approach .500 because they have 6 games against their division opponents and could easily lose 5 of those 6 games. Moreover, the Browns have a 6-game stretch starting in November that sees them playing Ravens, at Bengals, Steelers, Jags, at Patriots, Bears. That is not a cakewalk.
Here is how I see the AFC East coming down:
New England 12-4
The Patriots are not the juggernaut they have been in recent years; but in this division, they are still the “tall dog”. Yes, I know all about the players they have lost from last year’s team and how many of them were pass-catchers. The Pats will not be as good as they have been in past seasons; but in this division, they do not need to be. I think they will go at least 5-1 against division rivals.
The reason I do not have the Dolphins with a better record is that their schedule outside the division is very difficult. After opening on the road at the Browns, their next 4 games are at Colts, Falcons, at Saints, Ravens. The Bills provide a brief respite before the Pats and Bengals appear on the dance card. The Dolphins may be a better team than they were last year, but it would not be a total shock to see them standing at 2-6 at the halfway mark in the season.
I do not care who the Jets’ QB is this year; the team will not be very good even if Rex Ryan is right that he will field a “shut-‘em-down defense” for 2013. I think the single most positive thing that Jets’ fans can look forward to for 2013 is that the team will not suffer the ignominy of another butt-fumble. Some argue that playing Geno Smith with a weak supporting cast could damage his future and those folks point to David Carr, Tim Couch and Rick Mirer as examples. At the same time, recall that Terry Bradshaw and Peyton Manning started out with BAD teams and suffered ignominious early seasons in their careers. Maybe the Jets ought to find out what kind of QB Geno Smith might eventually be?
The Bills will not be any good this year. They have a new coach and a new system and a new QB who is no better than the mediocre QB (Ryan Fitzpatrick) that they have had there for the past couple of years. The opening day QB is still in question due to injuries sustained in the Exhibition Season. The Bills signed Matt Leinart and supposedly talked to John Beck about their QB position. Leinart played in a preseason game and stunk so badly they cut him immediately The careers of Matt Leinart and John Beck to date show that they fit an old description:
Neither one can play dead in a John Wayne movie.
Moving over to the NFC, let me start in the NFC West:
St. Louis 8-8
The absence of Michael Crabtree will make the Niners’ passing game less potent than it was last year even with the acquisition of Anquan Boldin but their OL and their running backs are top-shelf. If Joe Staley and Mike Iupati stay healthy on the left side of the OL, this might be a dominant unit. Last year, the Niners had the luxury of having Alex Smith on the bench to back up Colin Kaepernick just in case Kaepernick got nicked running the ball. This year, the back-up is Colt McCoy who is serviceable but not as good as Smith was.
The Seahawks shocked the world last year and might do it again this year and go 14-2. Their defense is their calling card and Russell Wilson does more than just “manage a game”. The Seahawks are a good football team. The Seahawks have a tough 5-game stretch in November/December where they play at Falcons, Vikings, Saints, at Niners, at Giants.
I think the Rams are a team on the rise with Jeff Fisher at the controls. Last year against the NFC West, the Rams were 4-1-1; if they can equal that record in 2013, they will have a winning record.
The Cardinals have a new coaching staff and a new QB in Carson Palmer. My prediction of 6 wins assumes that Palmer still has some gas in the tank despite his inability to carry the pathetic Oakland Raiders’ roster on his shoulders to a decent record for the past year and a half. However, I still do not think the Cards can sniff a .500 record.
Moving to the NFC South, here are my predicted records:
New Orleans 12-4
Tampa Bay 6-10
I think the Saints will be a whole lot better with Sean Payton back in charge of things and with “Bountygate” in the rear-view mirror. Rob Ryan takes over the defense this year and if he can keep his gambling nature under control and not blitz more than half the time, the Saints can be a very good team. If Ryan blitzes the lights out, take note and bet the Over in lots of Saints games.
The Falcons almost went to the Super Bowl last year. They have a passing attack that should give opposing defensive coordinators plenty of headaches with Matt Ryan throwing to Julio Jones and Roddy White on the outside and to Tony Gonzalez on the inside. Adding Stephen Jackson as a RB will help too. What the Falcons need to improve is their defense – particularly their rush defense.
The Panthers will return to playoff contention if indeed Cam Newton continues to mature between his ears as well as with his body. If you believe in momentum carrying over from one season to another – [by the way, I do not] – then you should like the fact that the Panthers won their last 4 games in 2012. The Panthers’ defense – particularly the secondary – was porous last year and has to be a lot better this year to reach the record that I have predicted here.
Tampa Bay needs Josh Freeman to show that he is worth keeping in the starting QB role. If he plays well in his contract year, the Bucs could be better than my prediction here; if Freeman goes into a “Free-fall”, the Bucs might go 3-13. Why the Bucs do not have a fearsome passing game with Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams at WR is not clear to me. Darrelle Revis is there to shore up a weak pass defense and should make it better than it was last year.
For the NFC North, here is how I see it working out:
Green Bay 12-4
I like Green Bay to win this division comfortably. They play in a mediocre division and the team is balanced and solid. The loss of Brian Bulaga at OT is definitely a concern, but I think the Packers can overcome it. The Packers start the season with three tough games, at Niners, Redskins, at Bengals.
The Bears should see improved offensive play under the Marc Tressman system. People have referred to Tressman as “The Quarterback Whisperer”; if he can get his message through to Jay Cutler and get Cutler’s play to equate to the level of Cutler’s arm, the Bears will be OK.
The Vikings have the best runner in the game and a solid offensive line. They also have a QB in Christian Ponder who needs to be far more productive this year than he has been to this point in his career. Also, the Vikings pass defense needs improvement. I just cannot see the team at .500.
The Lions did not have Calvin Johnson on the field for 2 Exhibition Games with a “knee bruise”. If Johnson is healthy all year long, the Lions can be better than 5-11; if he cannot go, the Lions might be 2-14. Adding Reggie Bush makes for good headlines, but the Lions will not go far based on their running game; they need to throw the ball a lot and that means they need Calvin Johnson on the field all the time. Last year the Lions lost 3 games in which they scored 30+ points and 1 game where they scored 40+ points. That is not easy to do…
Finally, in the NFC East:
The Redskins need to keep RG3 healthy to be 10-6 and be in the playoff mix again this year. The Washington media love to contend that Mike Shanahan was a genius in taking Kirk Cousins in the same draft at RG3 because Cousins is “clearly the best back up QB in the league”. That is clear to people whose job demands access to “inside Redskins info” but not quite so clear to neutral observers. The Redskins’ fortunes will rise and fall with the play of their secondary; there are no great players back there; in fact, some of those guys cannot cover a corpse with a bedsheet.
The Giants have to improve their pass defense to achieve this kind of a record in 2013; that unit was disappointing at best last year. As of the time I am writing this, Jason Pierre-Paul is on the “PUP List” but reports say he is close to coming off that list. The Giants need him to be healthy and productive in rushing the passer. The Giants’ offense is solid; I think the team improves its record this year.
The Cowboys are not going to make the playoffs again this year; I do not see them making the .500 level either. People say that changing the defense from the blitz-happy Rob Ryan scheme to the more tranquil Tampa 2 scheme run by Monte Kiffin will change the fortunes in Dallas. Sounds good, but I would like to see it on the field. The Cowboys’ OL is not a good unit and that means that Tony Romo will have to make some plays in helter-skelter mode. That is not how Tony Romo functions at his best.
The Eagles are the mystery team of the NFL this year. Will Chip Kelly’s offense revolutionize the way teams play offense in the NFL – or will it be a flop the way Steve Spurrier’s “Fun ‘N Gun” was a flop? Obviously, I do not know the answer to that question, but here is what I do know:
The Eagles’ defense last year stunk.
The Eagles were horrid at tackling last year and if you cannot tackle the guy with the ball, you cannot hope to win a lot of games.
Nothing in Chip Kelly’s coaching pedigree says that he can cure a team’s defensive woes.
So there you have it. Here is how the playoffs will look:
In the AFC:
Wild card teams will be Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Byes will go to Denver and New England
Division winners, Cincy and Houston round out the field.
In the NFC:
Wild card teams will be Seattle and Atlanta
Byes will go to Green Bay and San Francisco
Division winners, Redskins and New Orleans round out the field
Let the real games begin…
Finally, here is a comment from NFL Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant as reported by Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press:
“Football is football. The secret is to get the best players. Most coaches can win with the best players. It’s up to the team to get the best players.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………