Why do we love predictions? In the sports world, they’re almost never right and they have zero impact on what will actually transpire. But every year, hundreds of football publications and websites and 22-minute talking head shows predict the outcome of the upcoming NFL season. And millions, including you and I, take the bait.
I think we do it because we want to see if our team or our player is getting enough respect. I feel as though the majority of sports fans have an inflated impression of how good the teams and players they cheer for are, thus inspiring them to flood prediction columns to tell the prognosticator how much he’ll regret leaving his team out of the Super Bowl and his quarterback out of the MVP column.
And while most of us, despite our best intentions and our hours of research and thought, are blind squirrels, we find nuts once in a while. One year before predicting almost everything completely wrong, we did put the Saints in the 2009 Super Bowl. And we’ll remind you of that fact any chance we have, at least until we find our next nut.
The real tricky thing about these predictions is that you have to throw one of the sports world’s most repeated clichés out the window. The best team doesn’t always win, especially in professional football. We’ve said time and again that the Eagles are the most talented team in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean that we think they’re going to win the Lombardi Trophy in Indianapolis next February.
We’re thinking about more than just talent level. Who might be in line to have luck on their side this year, especially when it comes to injuries? Who didn’t have a lot to get acclimated to in a shortened preseason following a long lockout? Half of the division winners change from year to year — who’s primed to emerge, despite what logic might indicate?
We’re trying to predict things that are based greatly on a series of completely random developments. But it’s a hell of a lot of fun to do and the people seem to like it. So why stop now? Here are the official GLS predictions for the 2011 football season…
1. New England Patriots (13-3)
2. New York Jets (10-6)*
3. Miami Dolphins (9-7)
4. Buffalo Bills (6-10)
There’s something about the Jets’ offense that bothers me, and I don’t think they’re any better on defense. It wouldn’t surprise me if Miami made a strong push for the wild-card spot that I’m giving to the Jets. The Patriots are heavy favorites and, barring some major injuries, should cruise to the division title.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)
2. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)
3. Cleveland Browns (4-12)
4. Cincinnati Bengals (3-13)
The gap between the Steelers and Ravens widened significantly in the offseason, but either team could still have all of their hopes dashed if the offensive line falters. The top seed in the conference could hinge on what happens when the Steelers host the Pats in Week 8.
1. Houston Texans (10-6)
2. Indianapolis Colts (8-8)
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)
4. Tennessee Titans (6-10)
Peyton Manning’s little cervical issue changes everything. With Manning, the Colts will have a lot of trouble with the improved Texans. Without him, they are clear underdogs. In this prediction, I’m assuming No. 18 misses a few games. But even if he plays for much of the season, I’m still giving Houston its first ever division title.
1. San Diego Chargers (11-5)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)*
3. Oakland Raiders (7-9)
4. Denver Broncos (5-11)
San Diego has fixed its special-teams problems and will have Vincent Jackson from the get-go. That’ll be enough to put them over the top, but the Chiefs are only getting better on both sides of the ball.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)
2. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
3. Washington Redskins (6-10)
4. New York Giants (5-11)
No way Dallas, Washington or the Giants keep up with Philadelphia. The Eagles will win some games in world-rocking fashion, but there’s still no proof that they’re built for success in January.
1. Green Bay Packers (13-3)
2. Detroit Lions (8-8)
3. Chicago Bears (8-8)
4. Minnesota Vikings (5-11)
The Packers won the title last year despite injuries to several key players. Those guys are back in 2011, making the Pack the on-paper favorite to win it again. The Lions and Bears will battle it out for second place, but neither has the talent to threaten the major players in the NFC.
1. Atlanta Falcons (12-4)
2. New Orleans Saints (11-5)*
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)*
4. Carolina Panthers (3-13)
Speaking of the major players, three of them reside in the NFC South. The Falcons improved in the offseason and should once again take the division, while the Saints are healthy again and the Bucs continue to emerge.
1. St. Louis Rams (9-7)
2. Seattle Seahawks (6-10)
3. Arizona Cardinals (6-10)
4. San Francisco 49ers (6-10)
The Rams should have won this division last year. This year, they’re more mature and have added some key veteran contributors. The Seahawks, Cards and Niners are three of the worst teams in football.
AFC wild-card: (3) Chargers def. (6) Chiefs; (4) Texans def. (5) Jets
NFC wild-card: (3) Falcons def. (6) Buccaneers; (5) Saints def. (4) Rams
AFC divisional: (1) Steelers def. (4) Texans; (2) Patriots def. (3) Chargers
NFC divisional: (1) Eagles def. (5) Saints; (3) Falcons def. (2) Packers
AFC conference championship: (1) Steelers def. (2) Patriots
NFC conference championship: (3) Falcons def. (1) Eagles
Super Bowl XLVI: Falcons 17, Steelers 14
It’s so easy to forget about Atlanta. Maybe it’s because they haven’t done much winning historically, but that’s part of the reason I believe it could be their turn. A 13-3 team went out in the offseason and got significantly better in the two areas where it struggled in 2010. The passing attack (and the offense in general) will be sharper with top pick Julio Jones complementing Roddy White, and the pass rush will benefit greatly from free-agent acquisition Ray Edwards.
Franchise quarterback Matt Ryan is coming into his prime and so are his most important peers on offense and defense.
This is a wide-open season, as most of them are nowadays. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Eagles, Packers, Steelers, Patriots, Chargers or Saints take Lombardi home, but it feels like it might be the Falcons’ turn.
MVP: Tom Brady, Patriots
I wanted to give this to Philip Rivers or Matt Ryan or Ben Roethlisberger or Aaron Rodgers, but I couldn’t think of a reason why Brady would experience a drop-off in 2011. The guy was ridiculous last year, and he’ll be ridiculous again this season. He hasn’t thrown an interception in the regular season since last October, and he might have even more support from his offensive peers this time around.
Offensive player of the year: Philip Rivers, Chargers
It’ll either be Brady or Rivers, but I get the feeling Rivers will put up better sheer numbers than Brady. I mentioned in my Chargers team preview that if Antonio Gates stays healthy and Vincent Jackson rebounds, Rivers could make a serious run at Dan Marino’s single-season passing yards record. If that happens, he’ll be in line to take home this award.
Defensive player of the year: Clay Matthews, Packers
Matthews was the league’s most dominant defensive player before a stress fracture in his shin slowed his production in the latter part of the 2010 season. Healthy again and entering his prime at 25, Matthews should take home the hardware this season.
Offensive rookie of the year: Julio Jones, Falcons
The Falcons essentially gave up six draft picks, including two first-rounders, in exchange for the former Alabama star. Jones is electric, and the No. 6 overall pick has already surpassed expectations in training camp and the preseason. He’ll have plenty of opportunities in a superb offense with Roddy White and Harry Douglass attracting defenders.
Defensive rookie of the year: Von Miller, Broncos
The No. 2 overall pick has been the favorite to take home this award since the day he was drafted. A tremendous preseason only helps his cause. That said, keep an eye on Buffalo’s Marcell Dareus.
Comeback player of the year: Elvis Dumervil, Broncos
Two years ago, he led the league with 17 sacks. Then he tore a pectoral muscle and missed the entire 2010 campaign. If he can adjust to playing end in a 4-3 defense again, Dumervil should have another monster season with Miller bringing the heat on the other side.