Every year, I tell myself I’m not going to bother making predictions for the upcoming NFL season.
A smarter man would recognize that as the only wise course. Because a smarter man would realize that he doesn’t even know on the eve of a new season what’s likely to happen in the second week of September, let alone the first week in February.
But no one has ever accused me of making smart choices. And, you know, in Paul Simon’s words, “who am I to blow against the wind?”
Once again, though, I’m not predicting final records. That’s just too far out there. (Plus, if I were gonna try that, I’d have to sit down with pen and paper and work through every team schedule, cross checking and considering things like consecutive road games and bye weeks and trips to London. I’d go off the edge. For real.) So I’ll give a range of how many games I think each team is likely to win. Gives me more chances to be right, which makes it all the more embarrassing when I come up wrong. And I’ll come up wrong most of the time.
Still reading? (What’s wrong with you?) Here we go.
New England Patriots, 12-15
The Patriots won 12 games in 2013 with an all-new offense (that still managed to score the third most points in the league) and a defense that started strong before losing a starter a week to injury. Give the young receivers a full year of working with the GOAT and add a few pieces to that offense, and pair it with a healthy and improved defense, and I’m not sure how you anticipate fewer wins. There’s going to be a loss in there somewhere. And three or four other games that could go either way. So it’s all about how many of those fall to New England.
Miami Dolphins, 5-10
You can’t win football games if you can’t keep your quarterback upright. If Miami’s retooled O line can do that, I think Ryan Tannehill can carry the team to the threshold of the post-season. If they can’t, it’s going to be a very long, very ugly season.
New York Jets, 6-9
The Jets aren’t different in any meaningful way than the team they were in 2013. And if you’re standing still, all you can do is hoe the ball bounces your way more often than it has in the past. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t.
Buffalo Bills, 4-6
The offense may have taken a step forward. Or it may not have. But the D has taken a step or two back. And an atmosphere of uncertainty about the franchise’s future isn’t likely to help a team with so many unanswered questions.
Cincinnati Bengals, 11-13
Let’s assume that the Bengals stay healthy this year. And let’s assume that Andy Dalton continues to track upward and Giovani Bernard get even better. That would point to results even better than Cincy delivered in 2013, wouldn’t you think?
Baltimore Ravens, 8-11
The Ravens certainly can’t have a more frustrating season than they experienced in 2013. And they’ve put themselves in a position to make life easier for Joe Flacco by employing some tough two tight end sets. But they’re going to need to turn their running game around if they want to get Flacco real room to operate. And you have to wonder if age is about to catch up with their defense. I won’t be shocked if the Ravens are the AFC North champions or if they enter the stretch with a shot at a first-round bye. But neither will I be surprised if they land at 8-8 and miss the playoffs for a second straight year.
Pittsburgh Steelers, 6-8
It’s all well and good to talk about committing to the run on offense, but that’s a tough philosophy to hew to if you consistently find yourself trailing by double digits. I think the Steelers are a year away from turning it around.
Cleveland Browns, 5-7
The Browns could be one of those teams that loses nine games by a grand total of 27 points. Which is to say, they have a defense. It would be helpful if they had an offense to go with it.
Indianapolis Colts, 11-14
There are exactly two questions facing the Colts this season. Is their defense good enough to prevent them from consistently coming up on the wrong end of slugfests? And is their O line solid enough to keep Andrew Luck on his feet? If the answer to one of those questions is yes, the Colts are an elite team. If the answer to both of them is yes, look out.
Tennessee Titans, 8-10
Conventional wisdom says the Titans are as good as Jake Locker makes them. I understand that sentiment, but I’m not sure I completely agree with it. I don’t think the Titans can succeed if Locker is lost, or if his season ends up in the tank. And I understand that there are unanswered questions on D. But something tells me this team is going to hang around in a lot of games and potentially steal a few victories. Add that to a handful of decisive wins and they may threaten for a post-season berth.
Jacksonville Jaguars, 4-6
The biggest question I have about the Jaguars is, will they show some patience and work toward the future, or will they get desperate and throw Blake Bortles to the wolves.
Houston Texans, 3-5
Bill O’Brien might get this team turned around. But it’s not going to happen instantly.
Denver Broncos, 10-13
Have the Broncos put Super Bowl 43-8 in the rearview? Can they get back and fully erase the awful memory? In order: Probably, yes, and probably not. Denver’s veterans aren’t going to dwell on that big loss. But neither, I think, are they going to be able to use it to motivate their way past a hangover. The Broncos have a tougher schedule to contend with in 2014 than they did in 2013. They’re aging and increasingly appear injury prone. I think they’re in a tough spot. My guess is, they play just well enough to win the AFC West title (though maybe not; see below), but not well enough to earn a first-round bye. And they’ll go no further than a Divisional Round visit to Indianapolis or Cincinnati come January.
San Diego Chargers, 9-11
The Chargers have an opportunity to steal the show in the final act of Peyton Manning‘s career. San Diego finished 2013 as a dangerous team. If they can cobble together a passing offense this year, they could end up with a chance in week 15 to put the Broncos away and carry the AFC West. I think we’re looking at an interesting fight, and I won’t be at all surprised if the Chargers get the decision.
Kansas City Chiefs, 7-9
I didn’t think we’d see 11 wins from the Chiefs last season. I was wrong. This year, I think they’re a weaker team than they were last. And they’re facing a tougher schedule. So once again, I’m looking for fewer than 11 wins. That’s pretty straightforward, right?
Oakland Raiders, 2-5
The Raiders actually seem to be headed in the right direction for the first time in … when was Gruden the coach, again? But they’ve got a brutal schedule, so don’t look for them to travel terribly far in the right direction this year.
Philadelphia Eagles, 10-12
Chip Kelly has built a team that’s poised to consistently qualify for the playoffs and fail to advance to the Super Bowl. Just what you were looking for, right Philly fans?
New York Giants, 7-9
The determining factor in whether the Giants or the Racists finish second in the NFC East race will be which offense is able to put up more points, because neither defense appears likely to stop a thing. Since New Jersey at least has a chance to keep its quarterback healthy through the season, I guess I like the Giants’ chances slightly better.
Washington Racists, 7-9
See above. Not much of a D means it all depends on how many points you can put up. If RG3 stays healthy, the Racists are a solid bet for second place in the division. If not, they’re not. And the smart money says not.
Dallas Cowboys, 4-6
If you tune in to watch the Eagles destroy the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, expect to hear the announcers talk a good bit about the Cowboys new or interim head coach. Because Jason Garrett will be unemployed by then.
Green Bay Packers, 10-13
The Packers were easily the weakest division champion in football last season. But that should change this year, as long as Aaron Rodgers can stay healthy. And if the Green Bay D is as much improved as it appears, the Packers should even be able to contend for a first-round bye.
Chicago Bears, 8-10
The Bears look to me like a somewhat better team than the one that finished 8-8 and challenged for the division title last season. They’re not good enough to succeed in the playoffs, but they could potentially be good enough to qualify for one extra game.
Detroit Lions, 7-9
I know the Lions are loaded with talent, but I have my doubts about Jim Caldwell as a head coach. We’ll see.
Minnesota Vikings, 3-5
Are you expecting much out of the Vikings this season? I know I’m not.
New Orleans Saints, 12-14
On paper, this looks like a better squad than the one that grabbed a wild card slot at 11-5 last season, got the better of the NFC East champions, and advanced to the Divisional Round, where they were knocked out by the eventual Super Bowl champions. So they should be good for 12 or more wins, right? Probably. They face somewhat stiffer competition in their division this season with the Falcons on the rebount. But as long as they can keep Drew Brees upright, the division should be the Saints’ to lose.
Atlanta Falcons, 8-12
There’s little chance, barring a really insane run of bad luck, that the Falcons of 2014 will be anything like the injury riddled Falcons of 2013. The question, though, is, how unlike last year’s 4-12 squad will they be? It all comes down to the fact that football games are still won and lost in the trenches. The Falcons have enough talent at the skill positions to completely reverse their win/loss ratio from last season. But that won’t quite get them there if they don’t show some improvement on the offensive and defensive lines. If they’ve got things figured out up front, the Falcons could take the division (and should land in the playoffs as a wild card at the very least). If they haven’t, they’re a .500 team and a threat to make the big leap in 2015.
Carolina Panthers, 6-8
At the start of the preseason, the big question was whether the Panthers could keep Cam Newton healthy enough to give the team a chance to repeat as division champs. Three games into the preseason, we had an answer. It wasn’t the one Panthers fans wanted to hear. That’s not the way you start a successful season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 3-6
I like Lovie Smith. I suspect that if ownership doesn’t get in his way, Lovie will turn the Bucs into contenders in the NFC South in a season or two. But there remains work to be done.
Seattle Seahawks, 10-14
I know it’s fashionable to predict that its San Francisco’s turn to win the NFC West. And I’m hardly going to tell you that can’t happen. Free agency took a bit of a toll on the Seahawks, even if it was a somewhat lesser toll than is often seen with Super Bowl teams. This is a tough division, too. And even with St. Louis taking a crushing blow with the loss of their quarterback late in the pre-season, the NFC West remains a division full of crushing Ds with the potential to alter a team’s season in any given game. Plus, I still believe that as smart and talented as Russell Wilson may be, eventually an undersized quarterback’s height is bound to catch up with him. But I’m not sure any of that matters. I think the the Niners are going to take this thing, they’re going to have to do it without the defending champs taking a step back. Should be interesting to watch.
San Francisco 49ers, 10-13
As long as the Niners pass rush is able to get to opposing quarterbacks consistently, they should be in good shape to challenge Seattle for the division title. They’ve got the offensive weapons to put up a lot of points. The only potential problem is that they may have to score a lot, because their secondary isn’t likely to stop much of anything. Playing in most divisions, the 49ers would look like a 12-win team easy. But the NFC West makes that tougher to achieve. That said, even at 10 or 11 wins, the western division champ is going to be the team to beat in the NFL playoffs.
Arizona Cardinals, 9-11
I’m looking for more of the same from the Cardinals. Good. Sometimes great. Bruising along the defensive front. And maybe good enough that the NFC West sends three teams to the post season. Or maybe they miss by that much. Again.
St. Louis Rams, 4-7
The Rams D will keep them in games. And maybe they’ll get some good bounces. But I think we all know that the Sam Bradford injury was the end of the season for St. Louis.
Ah, hell. While I’m making a fool of myself … .
1. New England
5. San Diego
1. New Orleans
2. Green Bay
5. San Francisco
Wild Card Playoffs
San Diego defeats Denver
Cincinnati defeats Tennessee
San Francisco defeats Philadelphia
Seattle defeats Atlanta
Indianapolis defeats Cincinnati
New England defeats San Diego
Green Bay defeats Seattle
New Orleans defeats San Francisco
New England defeats Indianapolis
New Orleans defeats Green Bay
Super Bowl XLIX
New England defeats New Orleans
And there you have it. The 2013 NFL season just as it won’t happen.