I know what you’re going to say. “He’s making NFL predictions eleven weeks into the season? Isn’t that sort of cheating?” But here’s my premise. The NFL is a mess right now. It’s been a strange season with as much going on off the field as on. What happens in September and October is nowhere near as important as what happens in November and December. And, my pre-season picks – none of which I felt certain enough about to even post in these pages – have long since crashed and burned. So why not have another go at it in mid-season?
There are six weeks left in the regular season, followed by three weeks of playoffs, a bye week and then the Super Bowl. So counting the post-season, week eleven is, in fact, the middle of the NFL season. Anyone that believes making predictions about the final eleven weeks is far easier than making predictions before week one hasn’t been paying attention to the 2014 NFL season. But I watch ESPN sometimes, and the talking heads on that network don’t seem to get it right any more often than I do. Everybody’s got an opinion. They have a TV network through which they can peddle theirs. I have a blog. It’s my right to speak out, and your right to ignore me. That’s the American way.
We’ll go division by division beginning with the NFC, and I’ll do my best to get this right so that you can feel comfortable placing a few educated bets with the boys in Vegas – or at least your next door neighbor if the Vegas lines are busy.
NY Giants (3-7)
Philadelphia and Dallas are both going to the playoffs. If Tony Romo stays healthy, I think Dallas wins the division, and The Eagles are a wildcard. I’m not certain how far backup QB Mark Sanchez can take The Eagles. But I believe Philly reaches the post-season either way. The Giants are out, and Washington might want to take a good long look at Colt McCoy the rest of the season because I think it’s clear that Robert Griffin III was a flash in the pan. He’s peaked, and even if he hasn’t, he’s a guy whose body is going to betray him every time he gets hit in the open field.
Green Bay (7-3)
Green Bay will win the North over Detroit, and I have Detroit as the other wild card team in the NFC. Chicago and Minnesota are out, but I expect Minnesota will continue to improve while The Bears will likely make Chicagoans look forward to the baseball season.
New Orleans (4-6)
Tampa Bay (2-8)
This division is this year’s laughingstock, and it seems entirely likely that the division champ will probably sport a losing record at season’s end and still get to host a playoff game. But I feel safe is predicting that no team from this division has even a prayer of winning a playoff game. I think The Saints schedule the rest of the way slightly favors them to win it over The Falcons. But they must beat Atlanta when the two go head-to-head again since Atlanta won the first matchup. And people keep looking at Carolina QB Cam Newton and asking if he’s healthy. I don’t know if he is or isn’t. But I’m convinced that Cam Newton, like RG III has peaked. Newton hasn’t come close to playing at the level he played at a year ago, and given Carolina’s rep as a defensive-minded football team, I doubt we’ll ever see from Cam Newton what was expected of him when he came out of college. I expect Tampa to continue to improve under Lovie Smith, but they’re a couple of years away from contending.
San Francisco (6-4)
St. Louis (4-6)
I have believed all year in the Arizona Cardinals, and even though they lost starting QB Carson Palmer to an injury for the rest of 2014, they’ve proved they can win with backup Drew Stanton. Their schedule the rest of the way is very tough, but given that winning just three of their last six should guarantee them the division title, I think they’ll get it done. The 49ers, and Seahawks, I believe, will both be watching the playoffs from home this year. Neither team seems to have enough to make them serious post-season contenders this year. The only way either of them gets in is if Detroit, or Philadelphia has a meltdown and vacates the wild card spot I’ve appointed each of them. St. Louis continues to confound everyone by playing great one week, and awful the next. But look for them to excel in a spoiler role the rest of the way.
New England (8-2)
NY Jets (2-8)
New England wins this in a walk – as they usually do. The Dolphins have improved, but I think their head coach is clueless, and will find a way to cost his team a post-season birth. Buffalo is doing what they always do – contending the first half of the season before collapsing the second half. And The Jets will be looking for a new head coach soon, and maybe a new quarterback as well. Time to clean house there. The great Rex Ryan experiment has failed.
If you listen to ESPN, this is the best division in football. I’m here to tell you it isn’t. This is my “home” division, and I see all of these teams pretty regularly. All four of them are average. All have looked, at times, like Super Bowl contenders this season. All have looked, at times, as if they couldn’t beat an amateur playground team made up of kids who got cut from their high school teams. My pick to win it is Pittsburgh, with Baltimore the runner-up. I don’t trust Cincinnati or Cleveland, and I don’t think either of them will make the playoffs. Neither team is consistent – especially at the quarterback position. And that will make a difference at crunch time.
This one will go down to the wire, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Houston overtake The Colts. But I don’t think they will. Both teams have pretty soft schedules the rest of the way. They play one another once more – in Indianapolis, and that’s why I’ll give the edge to The Colts – in spite of their suspect defense, and the total lack of a rushing game. But I see Houston as a wild card team with a possible 10-6 finish. Tennessee and Jacksonville are both years away from contending, so I look for The Colts and Texans to dominate for the next few years in the AFC South.
Kansas City (7-3)
San Diego (6-4)
Denver is beginning to look far less dominant than they have thus far in the Peyton Manning era, but I think they’ll hang on and win the AFC West. Kansas City will be dogging them every step of the way, and I have them as the other AFC wild card team. San Diego will be the best AFC team not to make the playoffs this year, and as for Oakland, they have two chances to win a game the rest of the way – against the inconsistent Rams in St. Louis, or the Bills when they visit Oakland. If they fail in both cases, they’ll likely be the second NFL team to post an 0-16 mark in the past ten years. And the interim coach will be fired along with his staff, and The Raiders will start all over again next year and probably finish last again. The best thing that could happen to the city of Oakland is for the Raiders to make the rumored move to San Antonio, Texas where they won’t even be noticed in a state that has franchises in Dallas and Houston.
I think the favorite to get to the Super Bowl right now is Green Bay in the NFC. I hate to pick against Arizona, but Drew Stanton, as well as he’s played, is not Aaron Rodgers. That gives The Packers the edge. In the AFC, nobody impresses me more than The Patriots, and the prospect of a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl looks appetizing to say the least. I also don’t believe we’ll see either Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson on the field again this year, but it wouldn’t surprise me if both are playing for other teams next season. And I’m one of those who thinks Jim Harbaugh will, in fact, exit the 49ers job. He might take the Michigan job since that’s his alma mater. But if he really wants another NFL challenge, how about The Raiders? If they don’t make that move to San Antonio, Harbaugh could stay in the NFL and in the bay area in that job. It’d be a good fit. He’s as crazy as the Davis family, and most of Raider nation, too.
It has been, as I said, a strange year in the NFL. The best thing I've seen on an NFL football field this year was the New England Patriots Cheerleaders sporting Cincinnati Bengal Devon Still's #75 jersey when the Bengals travelled to Foxboro to play The Patriots in support of Still's daughter who's been fighting cancer. It was a reminder that there is something still positive left in the NFL - even if only on the sidelines.
That’s my last word on the NFL in these pages for 2014. There was some off-season noise in Major League Baseball this morning, and that reminded me that spring training is just a few months off, and the winter meetings less than a month away. If you’re going to spend time with a sport, there’s none better than baseball.