There are always some surprises.

That’s what makes prognosticating the final results so damn fun. It’d be a massive mistake to stick with the status quo from ’08. You have to go out on a limb, even if the odds of selecting the right limb aren’t ultimately very good.

Every year, about half of the division winners change, even if that’s not what is expected. I don’t go nuts, but I’m still predicting that we end up with three new division winners and four new playoff teams in 2009.

My biggest risk is my Super Bowl prediction, where I have two non-playoff teams from ’08 meeting for all the marbles.

AFC East
1. New England Patriots (14-2)
2. New York Jets (8-8)
3. Miami Dolphins (8-8)
4. Buffalo Bills (7-9)

Notes: I really like the Jets, but the whole rookie coach-rookie quarterback thing is scaring me off a bit.

AFC North
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
2. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)*
3. Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)
4. Cleveland Browns (2-14)

Notes: The Bengals should be much improved, but they’re in the wrong division at the wrong time.

AFC South

1. Tennessee Titans (11-5)
2. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)*
3. Houston Texans (9-7)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)

Notes: The Texans are being over-picked. Can you really say they’re even close to the Titans and Colts, personnel-wise?

AFC West

1. San Diego Chargers (13-3)
2. Denver Broncos (5-11)
3. Kansas City Chiefs (3-13)
4. Oakland Raiders (3-13)

Notes: And I feel as though I’m being a bit generous to the Broncos, Chiefs and Raiders. I’d be shocked if San Diego lost a division game.

NFC East

1. New York Giants (12-4)
2. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
3. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
4. Washington Redskins (6-10)

Notes: Could the Cowboys and Eagles incidentally cross each other out? They’re both good, but there aren’t a lot of breaks on either team’s schedule.

NFC North

1. Chicago Bears (10-6)
2. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)*
3. Green Bay Packers (10-6)*
4. Detroit Lions (4-12)

Notes: This entire division has been re-tooled. Cutler, Favre, Rodgers — I can see ‘em duking it out all year. I originally didn’t have Green Bay — which has just gone through a major defensive transition — keeping up with the Bears and Vikes, but a fantastic preseason has changed my mind.

NFC South

1. New Orleans Saints (11-5)
2. Atlanta Falcons (9-7)
3. Carolina Panthers (8-8)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13)

Notes: The Falcons and Panthers have more talent than 9-7 and 8-8, but their schedules are murder and both are having some serious issues on defence.

NFC West

1. Arizona Cardinals (9-7)
2. Seattle Seahawks (7-9)
3. San Francisco 49ers (7-9)
4. St. Louis Rams (3-13)

Notes: Last year’s experience helps the Cards, but with Seattle’s offensive line in ruins and San Francisco probably still a year away, Arizona gets the division regardless of what it does.


AFC wild-card: (3) Steelers 13, (6) Ravens 10; (4) Titans 27, (5) Colts 23
NFC wild-card: (3) Bears 26, (6) Packers 23; (5) Vikings 20, (4) Cardinals 17

AFC divisional: (1) Patriots 31, (4) Titans 24; (3) Steelers 24, (2) Chargers 21
NFC divisional: (1) Giants 27, (5) Vikings 20; (2) Saints 38, (3) Bears 21

AFC conference championship: (1) Patriots 30, (3) Steelers (27)
NFC conference championship: (2) Saints 31, (1) Giants 24

Super Bowl XLIV: Patriots 30, Saints 27

The Patriots win their fourth Super Bowl of the decade … all by three points. The Saints, clearly, are my surprise team of 2009, which isn’t overly shocking when you consider how freakin’ good that offence is. The NFL’s all about points now, and a borderline defence can get the job done. In the past, New Orleans didn’t have that defence. Now, they do. With the addition of Jabari Greer, Darren Sharper and rookie Malcolm Jenkins in the offseason (plus the return of promising young corner Tracy Porter from injury), I expect New Orleans’ defence to hold things together while the offence runs rampant with a healthy Marques Colston, a healthy Reggie Bush and a healthy Jeremy Shockey.

The Awards

MVP: Tom Brady, Patriots
He’s the NFL’s best player and he’s on the NFL’s best team. What more do you want?

Offensive Player of the Year: Drew Brees, Saints
When you consider that Brees did what he did last year with Colston, Bush and Shockey all missing good chunks of the season, it’s scary to think what he’ll do this year.

Defensive Player of the Year: LaMarr Woodley, Steelers

If the Pittsburgh defence does what it did last year (which I think it will), the award has to go to a Steeler. I think Woodley surpasses James Harrison and Troy Polamalu to become the team’s top defensive player in ’09.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Chris “Beanie” Wells, Cardinals
I think Indy’s Donald Brown could put up a fight, too, but I see Wells getting a lot more reps in Arizona, helping to revive that running game.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Aaron Curry, Seahawks

The stars seem to be aligned for the No. 4 overall pick, who’ll start in Seattle’s linebacker corps after a great preseason.

Comeback Player of the Year: Brady

How do you not give it to Brady if he wins the MVP coming off of major knee surgery? Another quality candidate could be San Diego’s Shawne Merriman.