King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Readers and media experts agree: This NFL season will look a lot like the last one. Are you people nuts?

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America’s football prognosticators have gone soft! They’ve turned chicken, timid, yellow. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that there is one thing the people in this great and divided country can agree upon: which teams are going to win the eight divisions in the NFL this season. America is a nation united in the idea that pretty much the same teams that won the NFL’s division titles last season are going to do it again.

The problem here is that this never happens. Since the NFL entered the “Wait, I’ve been away for a year and now you’re telling me that what team won the Super Bowl?!” era in 1998, exactly four division champions from the previous year have won the same division again. And now readers of this column and media “experts” across the land are predicting that six division champs are going to repeat this season alone.

Folks, last year is over. You need to get behind some new teams.

From 1998 to 2001, there were six divisions, and in those four years, two defending champs won their division again, the 1999 Jaguars and the 2001 Raiders. The divisions were realigned in 2002, so we’ll throw out that year. In 2003 two of the eight defending champs repeated, the Eagles and Packers, and the Packers only did it because the Vikings tanked their last game at Arizona.

Here’s how you, the readers of this column, and the 28 media “experts” whose picks I’ve collected think the list of NFL division champions is going to look 17 weeks from now:

NFC
West: Seattle Seahawks
North: Minnesota Vikings
South: Carolina Panthers
East: Philadelphia Eagles

AFC
West: Kansas City Chiefs
North: Baltimore Ravens
South: Indianapolis Colts
East: New England Patriots

Look familiar? It should. That’s how the season ended up last year, except for the Rams winning the NFC West and the Packers winning the NFC North, the latter thanks to the Vikings’ pratfall in the desert.

And there isn’t even any controversy here. The only team that failed to get more than twice as many first-place votes among readers as the next team in its division was the Chiefs, who pulled in 61 percent of the vote to the Broncos’ 31 percent. That’s as close as it got. The Panthers only got 51 percent of the vote, but the Falcons, Saints and Buccaneers split the rest of the vote in the NFC South, with none of them cracking 20 percent.



Eighty-six percent of you picked the Patriots, 85 percent the Eagles, 84 percent the Seahawks and Colts. I mean, you’re sure about this stuff.

The media experts — see the next item for a list of the experts consulted — were even more in lockstep. All 28 picked the Seahawks to win their division, and 27 took the Patriots. Every team the experts picked to win more than doubled any other team in their division, with the Titans coming closest, 8.5 votes to the Colts’ 18.5. (There were a couple of split votes among the media experts, in one case because the picks were extrapolated from predicted records, and in one because the picks were the result of a staff vote that came out tied.)

The only disagreement between this column’s readers and the media experts came in one of the four wild card picks. Here’s how you all think that’s going to go:

NFC
Readers: Green Bay Packers, St. Louis Rams
Experts: Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints

AFC
Readers and experts: Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans

There was little controversy in the AFC. Nobody else got much voting action from either camp. At least a few readers cast at least a wild card vote for every team in the conference, but the experts failed to cast a single vote for one team in each division, the Dolphins, Browns, Texans and Chargers.

The NFC was a little more interesting. The Packers were the clear choice of both readers and experts as the best nonchamp in the conference, but while readers had the Rams comfortably ahead of the Saints, who were just ahead of the bunched-up Falcons, Buccaneers, Cowboys and Redskins, the experts mostly ignored the Rams and Cowboys, just barely picking the Saints over the Redskins for that last playoff spot. The Falcons and Bucs also got some votes.

But do you see what’s happened here? Both readers and media experts are predicting, overwhelmingly, that the AFC playoffs are going to look exactly the same in 2004 as they did in 2003. Readers are also saying that five of the six NFC playoff teams from last year will be back, with the Vikings replacing the Cowboys. The experts think that will happen and that the Saints will replace the Rams. So readers have 11 of 12 teams returning to the playoffs, and the experts have 10 of 12.

In the “Come on, quit messing with me and tell me who really won the Super Bowl” era, the most teams that have returned to the playoffs from one year to the next is seven, in 1998 and 2002, a year we can use for this purpose because while the divisions realigned, the playoffs stayed constant at 12 teams. The average number of playoff teams in the last six years who were in the playoffs the year before is 5.7. Last year four teams were repeat performers.

Not to give away my own picks, which I’ll reveal Thursday, the day the Colts and Patriots open the season in New England, but I wonder where the love is for the Cowboys, who were 10-6 last year and still have genius coach Bill Parcells. If you’ll remember, the Cowboys were supposed to struggle last year, and the Parcells magic would take effect in Year 2. That’s this year. Are you, readers and experts, really thinking that Quincy Carter was the key last year?

And I wonder where the love is for the Redskins, who have Joe Gibbs back as coach. Parcells in Dallas and Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati improved their teams mightily in their first year last season. Shouldn’t the replacement of failed experiment Steve Spurrier with Hall of Famer Gibbs count for something?

And what about the Falcons, who went 3-1 once Michael Vick came back from injury last year, or the Jets, who were division champions two years ago and fell to 6-10 last year with stud quarterback Chad Pennington on the sidelines?

Where’s the love for the Bills, who were on their way to the Super Bowl after two games last year — remember? — but then drove into a ditch and now have a new coach? Remember how the Jaguars finished strong last year and everybody said, “Watch out in the next season for those teams that finish strong”? Nothing.

I’m not saying I think all of these teams are going to succeed. I’m just saying I’m surprised nobody seems to think that. You have to take some fliers when making your NFL picks, and everybody’s earthbound.

Lastly, there’s the Super Bowl. Readers and experts seem to agree that an AFC team is going to win it. Readers picked AFC teams over NFC teams 63-37 percent when naming their Super Bowl winners, while 19 of the 24 experts who picked a winner picked an AFC team.

You disagree on the specifics, though. Nearly half of the readers, 49.5 percent, think the Colts are going to win the AFC title, and 33 percent of you think they’re going to win it all. The Pats were a distant second (16.5 percent) as AFC champ. The Eagles, at 43.3 percent, are your overwhelming choice for NFC champ, with the Vikings (11.1 percent) second. Only 19.1 percent of you think the Eagles are going to win the Super Bowl.

The experts agree the Eagles are going to win the NFC, 10 of the 24 picking them, with seven taking the Seahawks. But the typists and chatterers are unimpressed by the Colts, giving them only three votes to win the AFC and two to win the Super Bowl. The Patriots are the experts’ choice, with 11 AFC title votes and eight Super Bowl votes. The Chiefs are second, with seven and six.

One last thing I want to mention: Only one media expert picked the Titans to go to the Super Bowl, and that expert also picked them to win it. But the expert is Don Banks of Sports Illustrated, who in this column’s media contest last year was the most accurate prognosticator. Plan accordingly.

Here now, for ease of end-of-season ridicule, are your predictions and those of the experts. Any reader who gets every single pick right, division champs, wild cards, Super Bowl winner and loser, will get a prize at the end of the year, value to be determined but almost certainly zero:

READERS

NFC
West: Seattle Seahawks
North: Minnesota Vikings
South: Carolina Panthers
East: Philadelphia Eagles
Wild card: Green Bay Packers, St. Louis Rams
Champion: Philadelphia Eagles

AFC
West: Kansas City Chiefs
North: Baltimore Ravens
South: Indianapolis Colts
East: New England Patriots
Wild card: Tennessee Titans, Denver Broncos
Champion: Indianapolis Colts

Super Bowl champion: Indianapolis Colts

EXPERTS

NFC
West: Seattle Seahawks
North: Minnesota Vikings
South: Carolina Panthers
East: Philadelphia Eagles
Wild card: Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints
Champion: Philadelphia Eagles

AFC
West: Kansas City Chiefs
North: Baltimore Ravens
South: Indianapolis Colts
East: New England Patriots
Wild card: Tennessee Titans, Denver Broncos
Champion: New England Patriots

Super Bowl champion: New England Patriots

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Who are you calling an expert? [PERMALINK]

I used the picks of 28 media “experts” to compile my media consensus. I define a media expert for the purpose of this exercise as someone writing for what could reasonably be considered a national publication, whose NFL predictions I can find with a minimum of effort. Actual expertise is not required, but usually is present.

All of them picked division winners, but not all of them picked wild card teams and Super Bowl winners and losers. I gave two points to each team for a first-place vote, one to each team for a wild-card vote, then ranked them by division. The Super Bowl votes were straight up one expert, one vote.

Here’s a list of the experts.

From ESPN.com, I chose the 11 prognosticators whose photos ran on the predictions page, ignoring Web producer types, no offense to them. The 11 were: Len Pasquarelli, John Clayton, Joe Theismann, Tom Jackson, Merril Hoge, Sean Salisbury, Randy Mueller, Mike Golic, Mark Schlereth, Eric Allen and Sal Paolantonio.

I also used the picks of Brian Baldinger of Fox Sports, Cris Carter of Yahoo Sports, and Jim Buzinski and Cyd Ziegler Jr. of Outsports.com. Three Sporting News senior writers weighed in: Dan Pompei, Paul Attner and Vinnie Iyer.

From Sports Illustrated I used the magazine’s picks, as well as those of Peter King, Dr. Z (Paul Zimmerman), which I extrapolated from his power ratings, and Don Banks. From CBS.SportsLine.com came senior writers Pete Prisco and Clark Judge.

I used the picks of Gregg Easterbrook, NFL.com’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback, who expresses them in the form of haiku. Extrapolating from projected records, I took the picks of the 2004 “Brassey’s Pro Football Forecast,” the book that used to be “Pro Football Prospectus.” One of the authors of that book this year was Aaron Schatz, a founder and frontman for Football Outsiders.com. I used his picks and the site’s staff consensus, no offense to the other individuals on staff, who also made picks.

Previous column: Death to placekicking

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