Super Bowl dead-week weekend is coming up, and I'm not feeling inspired by the latest Bode Miller comments that have ski officials' panties in a bunch, Michelle Kwan's audition skate for the Olympic team -- ooh, the suspense! -- the big Wally Szczerbiak-Ricky Davis trade or, sorry tennis fans, the Australian Open.
I'm missing football, wishing the Big Game, as advertisers that don't pony up the fees call it, were coming up.
So I feel like embarrassing myself by revisiting my predictions from this season's NFL previews, which were divided into one for the NFC and one for the AFC, a clever organizing scheme if I may say so.
This won't be pretty. First, let's see what I had to say about the Super Bowl teams.
The Seahawks and Rams both look to me like six- to eight-win teams that with a few breaks and lucky bounces could ride a soft schedule to a 10-6 record, with 9-7 being plenty good enough to win this division.
Actually, seven wins would have been enough to win the NFC West for the Seahawks, but everybody else would have had to top Seattle's conference-best 13-3 record. The Rams did win only six, though, and, as predicted by me and everybody else, coach Mike Martz did not survive a second down year.
The Steelers are bound to take a step backward. In today's NFL, nobody goes 15-1 because they're good enough to go 15-1. They go 15-1 because they're good enough to go 13-3 and they get a couple of breaks. That's what happened with the Steelers last year.
OK, better. The Steelers did take a step backward, at least in the regular season, going 11-5 and winning a wild-card spot. It's not unreasonable to think Pittsburgh might have gone 13-3 if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had stayed healthy. He missed four games, two of which were bad losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens. But that's still a step back, and part of going 15-1 is getting the break of staying healthy.
I think [Roethlisberger will] struggle more than he did during the regular season last year, but not as much as he did during the playoffs. The Steelers will ride their rugged defense to a playoff spot.
Stee-rike 2. Roethlisberger was better this season than last, and he has been better still in the playoffs. The Steelers rode their rugged defense to a playoff spot, all right, but they also rode their offense.
But I'm taking a flyer on the Ravens winning the division.
Ow! Why didn't I stop talking? Out on strikes and I'm just getting started.
I did go on to say that if the Ravens were lousy the Bengals had plenty of offense to take that playoff spot, which they did by winning the division, and that their defense would keep them from serious title contention, which it did.
I think I meant division title contention, but let's all just close our eyes and hold hands and pretend I meant NFL title contention.
Just as the NFC East comes down to "Can anyone catch Philadelphia?" the AFC East is a matter of "Can anyone catch New England?" Only in the AFC East, there are actually some candidates.
Well, no, there weren't. And the NFC East emphatically caught Philadelphia despite this golden pronouncement:
Parity says the Eagles can't go to the NFC Championship Game for a fifth straight time, never mind the Super Bowl for the second. But I can't find anybody else in the conference good enough to pick, and I think the Eagles, like the Patriots, have figured out how to handle the forces that drive teams toward the middle.
If I'd looked a little harder, I could have found nine teams in the conference better than the Eagles, three of which were in the NFC East, where the Eagles finished in the cellar.
Speaking of the cellar, that's where I predicted the Chicago Bears would finish in the NFC Central.
The Bears will play solid defense and lose a lot of low-scoring games. If Kyle Orton is a revelation at quarterback, they could be a surprise, but I think this'll be a take-your-lumps year for him.
The Bears played great defense, won a lot of games and were a surprise, without Kyle Orton being a revelation at quarterback.
And the cellar is also where the Arizona Cardinals finished in the NFC West.
They [the Seahawks and Rams] both got plenty of breaks last year to go 9-7 and 8-8, so maybe we should look elsewhere for the division champion. Like Arizona?
Uh, yeah. No.
So let's see, in the NFC, two of the teams I picked to finish last in their division won it, and one team I picked to win its division finished last. The only thing keeping me from such an embarrassment in every division is that the New Orleans Saints were as bad as I thought they'd be and finished last in the South.
Let's go the AFC and see what damage I did there beyond those stellar New England -- I picked a division winner! -- and Pittsburgh picks.
The AFC champion will not emerge from the West.
Hey! Whoa. Got something right. Just barely, and in the midst of saying the AFC West would be "slop," the Broncos would finish third and miss the playoffs -- they won the West and went to the AFC Championship Game -- Jake Plummer would not shed his mistake-making ways -- he did -- and the San Diego Chargers would win the division. They didn't.
But still. One thing right. The AFC champion did not emerge from the West. You heard me. Uh-huh.
The Colts are good enough to earn that home field and good enough to beat the Patriots.
Both true, if it please the court. The Colts did earn home-field advantage and they did beat the Patriots, though that was in the regular season and I was referring to the playoffs. They didn't get the chance in the playoffs because they got bounced by Pittsburgh while the Pats were being bounced in Denver.
I picked the Colts to go all the way, a pick that looked pretty good for 14 weeks, not so good for the next three, and terrible after that.
There were plenty of other bad picks, like the Buffalo Bills to win a wild card (they went 5-11), the Miami Dolphins to win five games, tops (they went 9-7), and the Minnesota Vikings to win the NFC Central if their defense could just improve from lousy to decent. (It improved from lousy to half-decent, and they lost the division by two games.)
And I mean I'm just skimming the surface. But why end on a sour note?
The Packers are done.
Hey! Got another one right!
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Pizza odds now 1-in-133 [PERMALINK]
Football Outsiders author Michael David Smith writes that I underestimated the odds of an 86-yard touchdown pass in Thursday's column based on this year's games.
A pizza company is offering a free pie to anyone who registers if one of the quarterbacks in the Super Bowl throws a game-record 86-yard touchdown pass next Sunday. There have been 266 games played so far this year and three plays of 86 yards or more, so I wrote that such a play has happened roughly once every 89 games.
But as Smith, a Detroit Lions fan, notes, one of those 86-plus-yarders didn't go for a touchdown. Joey Harrington of the Lions hit Marcus Pollard for precisely 86 yards, but Pollard didn't score. He was tackled at the 5 and the Lions, being the Lions, had to settle for a field goal three plays later.
So it looks like the odds of winning that pizza are down to 1-in-133.
And by the way, I learned on a visit to Football Outsiders a few minutes before my deadline that the Outsiders are also revisiting their preseason predictions. They probably got more than two things right.
Previous column: The Ron Artest trade
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