Every year, approximately half of the playoff teams from the previous season fail to get back to the postseason, despite the fact most writers and analysts predict a much larger chunk of them to return.
Obviously, this is because we fear looking completely stupid. But I’ve been there, done that. I have three new division winners in my 2010 predictions, and am guessing — yes, it’s all pretty much educated guessing — that four 2009 playoff teams will fall short of January football this time around.
I suppose that’s still relatively conservative. Last year, five teams weren’t able to return to the playoffs. But there was a new winner in five of the eight divisions.
So I suppose in making my predictions, I’m also predicting that things won’t be shaken up as drastically as they’ve been in recent years.
Of course, I’m probably very, very wrong.
But don’t completely throw this whole piece out the window based on my generally bad prognostication abilities. After all, I did go against tall odds and took the Saints to go to the Super Bowl last year.
1. Miami Dolphins (10-6)
2. New York Jets (10-6)*
3. New England Patriots (8-8)
4. Buffalo Bills (2-14)
Notes: I’m hoping that some unknowns step up on defence for the Dolphins. The Jets are good, but they’ll face challenges in the passing game. The Patriots are no longer special.
1. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)
4. Cleveland Browns (6-10)
Notes: Picking the Ravens to win the division has nothing to do with the Steelers, who I think will still be very good. It has everything to do with the Ravens, who are better than Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger or not.
1. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
2. Tennessee Titans (11-5)*
3. Houston Texans (9-7)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)
Notes: I am concerned about the Colts’ offensive line and feel the Titans aren’t getting close to enough credit. That said, I can’t pick against Indy in the division.
1. San Diego Chargers (10-6)
2. Oakland Raiders (7-9)
3. Kansas City Chiefs (6-10)
4. Denver Broncos (5-11)
Notes: With all those distractions, I’d love to pick the Chargers to finish out of first place for the first time since 2005. But the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos just aren’t ready yet.
1. Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
2. New York Giants (10-6)*
3. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
4. Washington Redskins (6-10)
Notes: I think the Giants are a more balanced and experienced team than Philly.
1. Minnesota Vikings (11-5)
2. Green Bay Packers (11-5)*
3. Detroit Lions (6-10)
4. Chicago Bears (6-10)
Notes: This will be the division battle of the year, again. I have concerns about the Vikings and Packers, but I have more concerns about the Packers (offensive line, secondary).
1. New Orleans Saints (11-5)
2. Atlanta Falcons (8-8)
3. Carolina Panthers (7-9)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13)
Notes: This Saints team will not start 13-0. I also can’t see the Michael Turner holding up over a 16-game season for Atlanta.
1. San Francisco 49ers (10-6)
2. Seattle Seahawks (7-9)
3. Arizona Cardinals (7-9)
4. St. Louis Rams (3-13)
Notes: In 2010, the Cardinals become the third-best team in a division that the 49ers win by default. In 2011, the Cardinals become the worst team in a division that the 49ers win because they’re a Super Bowl contender.
AFC wild-card: (3) Dolphins def. (6) Jets; (5) Titans def. (4) Chargers
NFC wild-card: (6) Giants def. (3) Vikings; (5) Packers def. (4) 49ers
AFC divisional: (1) Colts def. (5) Titans; (2) Ravens def. (3) Dolphins
NFC divisional: (1) Cowboys def. (6) Giants; (2) Saints def. (5) Packers
AFC conference championship: (2) Ravens def. (1) Colts
NFC conference championship: (1) Cowboys def. (2) Saints
Super Bowl XLV: Ravens 26, Cowboys 24
For years, the Ravens have been making contact with the nail, but they’ve been bending and twisting it left and right. In 2010, they’ll hit it on the head. Finally, this is a team with a beautiful blend of power (Michael Oher, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs), speed (Ray Rice and Donté Stallworth), reliability (Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason), veteran leadership (Ray Lewis and Ed Reed), pocket presence (Joe Flacco) and coaching (John Harbaugh).
The knock on the Ravens is that the secondary is subpar, but Lardarius Webb will be back soon, Ed Reed will be back by mid season, and Fabian Washington and Dawan Landry are better than they’re given credit for. In reality, there isn’t a team in the league with as much balance as Baltimore. They’re dangerous on both offence and defence and they have the ability to put points on the board.
If not for their current injury conundrum and a very tough early schedule, I’d have them pegged to win 13 or 14 games. Instead, they’ll settle for 11 and a Lombardi Trophy. That’ll come partly because the Cowboys are going to crack under the pressure of hosting the Super Bowl at their new stadium, and partly because the Ravens are mentally strong enough to bust into Arlington and shock America’s Team.
MVP: Peyton Manning, Colts
Yes, I realize how easy this pick is, but Manning will once again dominate despite a so-so offensive line, a so-so offensive backfield and a decent defence.
Offensive Player of the Year: Ray Rice, Ravens
Move over, Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson. Rice will lead the league in rushing.
Defensive Player of the Year: Patrick Willis, 49ers
DeMarcus Ware will be great, but he’ll lose sacks to Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Jahvid Best, Lions
Never mind Ryan Mathews and C.J. Spiller, the stars are aligned for Best. And don’t forget Dexter McCluster.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Brandon Graham, Eagles
He’ll have a ton of sacks starting from the get-go in Philadelphia.
Comeback Player of the Year: Wes Welker, Patriots
If he’s even 80 percent of the player he was in 2009.