2017-18 NFL Predictions

Never forget one of the NFL’s longest standing tenets: it’s hard to repeat success. Obvious, right? Well when the defending champion New England Patriots are favored to win every game this season, it can be hard to forget. With seemingly (key word) no strong competition in the AFC, the Patriots seem to have yet another easy path to the Super Bowl. They have already begun sending their season ticket holders tickets to the AFC Championship game! Can you blame them? They’re a great team with a QB that has shown no signs of slowing down despite reaching 40 years of milage last month. They make winning look easy. Too easy. And this is why they won’t win the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. In fact, I don’t think they’ll make it there. When a team makes winning look as easy as they do in the NFL, something isn’t right. This year will be a true test of how hard it truly is to repeat success in the NFL. My official predictions are in the image below along with some notes:

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Extra Points:

-Ben Roethlisberger may be getting up there in age (and may retire after this season), but his offensive corps is as electric as ever. Defensive concerns still remain, but don’t forget that this team won seven straight to end the season last year and actually ended up top 10 in points allowed. This is still a really good team and yes, they have what it takes to beat the Patriots.

-My NFC side looks awfully familiar to what it was last year as far as teams go and this is where I expect to have the most issues. The NFC is full of teams looking to bounce back (Eagles, Panthers, Bucs, etc.) and is constantly surprising the league with the playoff outlook. Despite my predictions, don’t be shocked if the NFC looks vastly different than last year.

-I say it nearly every year, but this has to be the year Aaron Rodgers makes it to another Super Bowl. He’s just too good not to get another chance. If the Packers disappoint this year (i.e. lose in first round of the playoffs or worse), I would fully expect coach Mike McCarthy to be out of a job after the season. Rodgers was so close last season and I think he has unfinished business this year.

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The Final Four: Non-Football Rankings and Predictions

All 32 teams started off with a chance in early September, even the Browns and Titans. Now 28 are irrelevant. Despite all four lower seeds winning in the first round of the playoffs, we’re left with the top four teams in the NFL battling for a spot in Super Bowl 50. After a week of review and analysis (from others), the only thing that remains to be seen is who will play on February 7th. There’s a bunch of numbers and rankings we could look at to make a well-informed prediction, but it can be tough to actually find what matters. On the eve of Championship Sunday, I’m here to do just that. Here’s what could very well decide the fate of this NFL season:

Which mascot would win in a fight to the death? 

Ah the ol’ classic. There’s often no better way to predict who has an edge than using the essence of the team. A team’s mascot is its heart and soul; it drives their playing style. We’ve got a diverse group of mascots left and here’s how they stack up:

  1. 368px-Carolina_Panthers_logo_2012.svgCarolina Panthers: This is a no-brainer. A panther is a natural born killer, forced to survive by killing its prey. The aggression and agility of a panther is no match for the other three mascots.
  2. New_England_Patriots_logo.svg.pngNew England Patriots: A human mascot is always a strong contender. Humans are cunning and resourceful, using their mental ability to exploit any weakness it can find in an opponent. Where the Patriot (Revolutionary War solider) falls behind is in its weaponry. Relying on a slow-loading musket would cost a Patriot dearly if he misses his first shot against a panther. One miss and you’re forced to rely on melee weapons (knife, sword) to take him out. More than possible against a bronco or cardinal, but a panther? Sorry, but I’ll take the carnivore.
  3. 1280px-Denver_Broncos_logo.svg.pngDenver Broncos: A bronco is aggressive by horse standards, known for bucking if untrained. Beyond that, I don’t see much of an advantage that a bronco could find against a panther or patriot. Even the matchup with the cardinal is a tough call, but I default to the bronco for its size.
  4. Arizona_Cardinals_Logo.pngArizona Cardinals: You can make the cardinal look as angry as you want, but it’s still just a bird. Not only that, but a cardinal, as far as I’m concerned, is one of the least threatening birds I’ve encountered. Never have I felt intimidated or even startled by a cardinal. This is an easy choice for last place. Better luck next category.

 

Best-looking head coach

This category was shamelessly stolen from the Around the NFL podcast, but for good reason. You can’t respect a leader who isn’t good looking, that’s just a universal fact. Let’s take a look at these guys:

  1. 11_Kubiak_News.jpg Denver Broncos–Gary Kubiak: He’s 54 but looks to be in the best shape of his life. Gary’s got a classic, clean-shaven look that emanates leadership on the sideline, yet he could just as easily play the aloof-but-tough Dad in a feel-good sitcom. I get a Kevin Costner vibe from Gary and it works.
  2. 9503754_G.jpg Carolina Panthers–Ron Rivera: Thanks to the Dan Le Batard show, I will now forever see Ron as “the guy who wears a lei for his entire vacation in Hawaii.” If you can get past that, Ron is actually a decent looking guy. He owns the look with his trademark photochromic lenses and reminds you he was a former player with his tough build.
  3. arians.jpg Arizona Cardinals–Bruce Arians: Ron is hardly the only one with a signature look. Bruce dons the thick frames and always a hat of some sort. Some have described him as a typical “Guess Who” character, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. To me, he comes off as the lovable curmudgeon we can all learn to love with enough time.
  4. billbelichick.jpg New England Patriots–Bill Belichick: Bill has often been likened to a Sith Lord or even the Emperor Palpatine of a New England empire that just won’t die. Although this parallel is found primarily for the Pats’ reign of terror, Bill’s old and tired look fits perfectly with that of an evil leader.

 

Coolest Names

This is quite possibly the most competitive category of them all. All four teams have great names to offer. We can only hope at least one of them makes a major splash this Sunday.

  1. 368px-Carolina_Panthers_logo_2012.svgCarolina Panthers: Like I mentioned before, this was no easy choice, but I am still confident that the Panthers deserve the top spot here. Star Lotulelei and Fozzy Whittaker headline a deep, deep name roster for Carolina. Included in this depth is Kony Ealy, Bene Benwikere, Amini Silatoli, and Kawann Short. Perhaps the cherry on top is that the face and leader of the franchise is Cam Newton, an easy and relatable name fit for a movie star quarterback.
  2. Arizona_Cardinals_Logo.pngArizona Cardinals: Guys like DJ Swearinger and Ifearnyi Momah made this a close race for 1st. Alani Fua, Tyrann Mathieu, and Calais Campbell are all names I envy myself, but they just don’t have quite the spark the Panthers’ names did.
  3. 1280px-Denver_Broncos_logo.svg.pngDenver Broncos: Denver owns quite a few great names as well, just not quite enough that see the field. Shiloh Keo, Darius Kilgo, and Brock Osweiler are all fantastic names, but they are 2nd string or worse. Shoutout to a great starter-backup tandem in Ty Sambrailo and Michael Schofield (Prison Break star) at left tackle. And we can’t forget Aqib Talib and Demaryius Thomas, classic names for NFL stars.
  4. New_England_Patriots_logo.svg.pngNew England Patriots: They may place 4th, but the Pats can be proud knowing that they quite possibly employ the best name in the entire NFL: Ishmaa’ily Kitchen. This wonderfully weird name carries an otherwise sparse roster of names. LaAdrian Waddle, Rob Gronkowski, and Dont’a Hightower cannot be overlooked, however.

 

Best Uniforms

If you look good, you play good. Another NFL reality. It’s why Jacksonville and Tennessee have struggled to reach the playoffs for so long. These teams have to be doing something right if they’ve made it so far, but whose threads can carry them all the way?

  1. Patriots_12uniforms.pngNew England Patriots: Silver and navy blue is a tough color scheme to work with, but the Patriots pull it off amazingly. The jersey gives off a classic look while also looking modern. I love the red border around the letters and along the leg. Some might find the overall look boring, but I see a timeless uniform that’s easy on the eyes.
  2. NFCS-Uniform-CAR.PNGCarolina Panthers: Tough pick here for 2nd, but I’m a sucker for the lightning blue and black combination. It may look a little “arena-footbally” at times, but the bright blue highlights on the arms and legs really light up the team. I could do without the weird stripes on the helmet that end halfway down the back. This uniform could’ve easily been botched by trying too much, but they made it fit. The classic number font keeps it from getting out of hand.
  3. Broncos_uniforms.pngDenver Broncos: Another good color scheme here but too many awkward parts hold it back. The stripes that curl down the leg and come to an end just look out of place. The suddenly-ending collar is also odd. Still, the bright orange is a fun, modern look for Denver and the number font isn’t too wacky for me to have a problem.
  4. Ariz_Cardinals_uniforms.pngArizona Cardinals: Easy choice for last place here. These unis are just plain boring and uninspiring. They suffer from the same problem Denver does with the weird leg stripe. The primary problem, however, is the bland color scheme and the way it’s presented on the jersey. No other color besides red and white make an appearance on the primary uniforms and that’s a problem. The blacks alternates, however, are gorgeous. Make this slick look the primary and Arizona shoots up to the top.

Well we broke down these teams in just about every way possible, now it’s just time to form a prediction. The Panthers found an edge in many of these categories but I can’t go against myself. I picked the Cardinals and Patriots to meet in Super Bowl 50 before the playoffs began, so that’s who I am sticking with here.

Patriots 24, Broncos 21

Cardinals 28, Panthers 21

 

2015-2016 NFL Predictions

Time for the Super Bowl matchup we’ve all been waiting for? Or will somebody new finally make it click?

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The Super Bowl XLIX Champion New England Patriots kickoff the season tonight at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers. With that game quickly approaching, I figured now would be as good a time as any to finally release my predictions for the 2015-16 season.

I believe accountability is important, so we’ll take a quick look at how I did last year. I correctly tabbed five division winners, two of the final four playoff teams, and one of the two Super Bowl contenders. My big risk of predicting the 2-win Texans to rebound and make the playoffs fell just short (needed just one more win). Not terrible considering how difficult the NFL is to figure out. Having said that, the below predictions are 100% correct. Calling them predictions is actually inaccurate and borderline offensive. This is prophecy.

-First, by division (*playoff team):

NFC East: 1. Eagles* (10-6) 2. Cowboys* (10-6) 3. Giants (7-9) 4. Redskins (5-11)

NFC North: 1. Packers* (13-3) 2. Lions (8-8) 3. Vikings (6-10) 4. Bears (4-12)

NFC South: 1. Saints* (10-6) 2. Bucs* (9-7) 3. Falcons (8-8) 4. Panthers (6-10)

NFC West: 1. Seahawks* (12-4) 2. 49ers (7-9) 3. Cardinals (6-10) 4. Rams (6-10)

AFC East: 1. Patriots* (13-3) 2. Dolphins* (10-6) 3. Jets (6-10) 4. Bills (5-11)

AFC North: 1. Ravens* (11-5) 2. Steelers* (10-6) 3. Bengals (7-9) 4. Browns (6-10)

AFC South: 1. Colts* (11-5) 2. Texans (8-8) 3. Jaguars (3-13) 4. Titans (3-13)

AFC West: 1. Broncos* (12-4) 2. Chargers (8-8) 3. Chiefs (6-10) 4. Raiders (3-13)

Playoffs:

NFC Wildcard: (5) Cowboys over (4) Saints, (3) Eagles over (6) Bucs

AFC Wildcard: (4) Colts over (5) Dolphins, (3) Ravens over (6) Steelers

NFC Divisional: (1) Packers over (5) Cowboys, (2) Seahawks over (3) Eagles

AFC Divisional: (1) Patriots over (4) Colts, (2) Broncos over (3) Ravens

NFC Conference: (1) Packers over (2) Patriots

AFC Conference: (1) Patriots over (2) Broncos

Super Bowl 50: (1) Packers over (1) Patriots

Packers

 

 

 

 

An easier guide:

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 3.58.56 PM

Notes:

-It’s finally time for the Packers-Patriots matchup we’ve all been looking for for the past five or so years. They both have consistently been on top, appeared in and won Super Bowls, and have the tools to get back there for Super Bowl 50. New England lost some key defensive talent in Vince Wilfork and Darrelle Revis, but they should still be able to beat the AFC playoff teams that have bigger issues. Green Bay suffered a devastating loss with Jordy Nelson going down for the year with an ACL tear, but still have a strong enough WR corp that 2014 MVP Aaron Rodgers will do plenty with. He’ll still have Eddie Lacy behind him, who’s expected to be one of the best backs of the year. The defense Green Bay had last year was decent enough to bring them inches away from the Super Bowl. So close. So close they were basically in  the Super Bowl. Even without Nelson, Green Bay can snag the best record in the NFC, grab home field advantage throughout the postseason, and avoid playing in godforsaken Seattle. It will be enough to down the Seahawks (who still look fantastic) and deny the Patriots a chance at repeating. Doesn’t it feel like Rodgers will win one again anyways?

-I try to take a big risk every year (usually involving a major turnaround of some sort) and this year that risk is Tampa Bay. I covered the uncanny ability of a cellar-dweller to be able to turn it around and make to the playoffs the next season, and the Bucs have the makings of a team that can do it. Don’t get me wrong, a lot has to go right. Ultimately determining their success will be rookie Jameis Winston. I believe Winston is a QB who feeds off confidence. If the Bucs can string some wins together–even against bad teams–his ceiling will grow exponentially. He can take this team to the playoffs, but the success needs to come early. Tampa has Tennessee, New Orleans, Houston, Carolina, and Jacksonville as its first five games. They can realistically win three or four of those. If they do happen get off to a 4-1 start, watch out. They’ve got fantastic young talent in Gerald McCoy and Mike Evans that could really help Winston ride that confidence train. If they struggle early, however, I could just as easily see this team crash and burn to a 4-12 record.

-There’s a few teams that could really break out, but I just have a hard time buying in. Minnesota has been slowly developing a quality team for a while now and hope Teddy Bridgewater can shake off rookie struggles and find sophomore success. The Rams traded QBs to get Nick Foles and could have one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Texans, Bills, and Jets are all expected to have fantastic defenses as well, but I just can’t shake their QB issues. One of these teams will very likely make me look like a fool by season’s end, but I just don’t feel confident pulling the trigger on any of them right now.

-I believe this will be Tom Coughlin’s final year as the Giants’ head coach. While New York’s offense should be solid (“should” has been a trouble spot for them recently), the defense just looks pitiful. Another losing record might be in the cards for the Giants and if it is, expect Coughlin to “resign” and allow New York to move in a new direction. Prove me wrong, Giants (please).

Super Bowl XLIX: The Prediction

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The New England Patriots are the best team in football. Yet somehow, calling Seattle the second best team seems unfair to them. It’s really that close.

 

Fans, experts, or whoever else will talk all they want about how Seattle “shouldn’t even be here,” but I really don’t want to hear it. I don’t care how close Green Bay came to catching an onside kick. I don’t care how 99 times out of 100, the prayer of a pass from Russell Wilson wouldn’t have been caught for a two-point conversion. And I don’t care how the flip of a coin never gave Aaron Rodgers a chance in overtime. I really don’t care because the harsh reality of the NFL is that most games are close. It’s so useless to argue what “could have been” when we have plenty of reality to deal with.

All that matters is that Seattle is here. Whatever they had to do to get here, they did it. We can argue all day about who was the “better team,” but history doesn’t care about the better team. History only knows winners. And it’ll know the winner of Super Bowl XLIX, whether that turns out to be the better team or not.

So who wins?

After watching Seattle dominate the Super Bowl last year, proving me and many others embarrassingly wrong, and seeing them come back from the dead in the NFC Championship, they seem like the team that just can’t lose. I have a hard time even picturing them losing in my head. I was ready to witness it with my own eyes two weeks ago. Finally! But instead I watched every last piece required for them to stay alive fall into place. As it happened, I convinced myself that this team won’t lose. I’ve settled down since then but still, does this team die?

They didn’t always look so unbeatable. We may forget that their playoff hopes were in doubt at 6-4, following a 24-20 loss to Kansas City. Since then, however, they’ve won every game and have only allowed over 20 points one time: last game against Green Bay, the best offense in the NFL, to whom they allowed 22. It should be ok to assume that Seattle’s defense will play a decent game at the very least, though nothing is certain in the Super Bowl.

That’s how Seattle wins. They create turnovers and great field position for the offense and let Russell Wilson’s offense walk away with a win after scoring just 21-24 points. So all they need to do is keep Tom Brady at bay, force them to kick field goals, and they should win, right? It’s exactly how they did it against Green Bay. Five made field goals may be a great individual stat for a kicker, but it exposes the offense as failures in their one job: get the ball in the endzone, not just the redzone.

One makes $14 million a year, the other hasn't reached a seventh digit. The differences hardly end there between Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.

One makes $14 million a year, the other hasn’t reached a seventh digit. The differences hardly end there between Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.

Luckily for New England, they aren’t the Packers. Not only do they lead the NFL in getting to the redzone, but they also lead in TDs scored once they get there, something Green Bay couldn’t seem to do. The only problem is that Seattle leads the league in opponent redzone attempts. To make it simple, Seattle doesn’t let teams into the redzone, but if they do, it’s New England that has an edge.

That will be the matchup everyone is watching, Tom Brady vs. Seattle’s defense. With weapons like Gronk, Julian Edelman, and Brandon LaFell, Tom Brady should be able to get there at least a couple times. It might be ugly, but he’ll get there. If they can limit the field goals to less than two and make one of those a touchdown, that might just be enough to win. When their opponents score 23 points or less, Seattle is 13-0. But when teams can break that 24-point barrier, they’re 1-4.

That makes the other matchup that much more intriguing: Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch vs. New England’s defense. How many points will they need? People love to focus so much on the dominant Seattle defense that they overlook a grossly underrated Pats defense. When you think about the Seahawks D, you think about big hits causing fumbles and amazing plays in the secondary to get interceptions. Reality is, however, that both are pretty average in generating turnovers, in fact New England had more in the regular season (25) than Seattle (23). Don’t let the blemishes in NE’s schedule distract you from the fact that they allow just 2.1 touchdowns per game and are top 10 in stopping the run. Marshawn Lynch won’t be completely shut down, but he’ll have a hard time being able to get any 20+ yard runs. They’ve only allowed two all year.

So who will it be? The team that doesn’t die or the team that wins in so many different ways? Before the playoffs kicked off, I had these two teams playing in Super Bowl XLIX, with New England winning. I’ve been correct up to this point, so I’d be a fool to change now, right? There’s a reason I chose New England to beat Seattle a month ago. Outside of Seattle, the Seahawks aren’t the same team. They are still great, but not quite the same. In such a close matchup, this may be the difference.

It really is as close as it gets for me with this game. It reminds me of last year when I felt exactly the same way. I was positive we were about to watch one of the best Super Bowls ever. Unpredictability isn’t always a good thing. Either way, this year offers us a second chance. And I have to believe this year will be different, in more ways than one.

The better team doesn’t always win, but when the dust settles in Super Bowl XLIX, the winner will also happen to be the better team.

 Patriots 24,
Seahawks 21

As 2014 ends, NFL powerhouses remain on top

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After a crazy NFL season with plenty of surprises, the familiar teams are still the ones to beat.

As the defending champion Seahawks dropped to 6-4 after losing to the Chiefs, it looked as if this year was a little different. Seattle wasn’t the same dominant team. From our view, Seattle’s eyes ought to be locked on one of the two NFC wildcard spots because the 9-1 Arizona Cardinals were running away with the division. Something similar was happening to Green Bay, who had come accustomed to undeniable success in the past few years. They had owned their division since 2011 but now the Lions, of all teams, were on track to their first ever NFC North championship. Furthermore, Detroit was owning the entire NFC, occupying the #1 seed for the majority of the season.

Over in the AFC, New England was cruising. Even so, they couldn’t get rid of the murmurs of a potential run from Miami after seeing them win three straight. Denver was not short of division challengers either, as both the Chargers (tied for first) and Chiefs (2nd) refused to go away early.

It was finally time to see some “different” teams thrust into the spotlight.

*Sigh* Maybe next year.

When the dust settled, we were left with the same big boys we started with. New England and Denver shook off pesky division foes to clinch division titles and with it, the top two seeds in the AFC. The Chiefs, Chargers, and Dolphins all failed to even make the playoffs.

After holding on to the #1 seed for nearly the entire year, dreaming of finally having a meaningful influence in the postseason, Detroit failed to turn that dream into a reality. They once again fell to the big bully Packers, who took the NFC North for the fourth straight season and the #2 seed. As for that #1 seed, the 11-3 Cardinals were ready to pounce. A game away. But somehow, some way, through too many Cardinal QB injuries and Russell Wilson running wild, it was once again the Seahawks who not only stole the NFC West, but the #1 seed for the second straight year. Forget a wildcard spot, they had their eyes on the top seed the entire time.

And so here we are, left with Seattle, Green Bay, Denver, and New England atop the NFL, heading into the postseason. And that is where many of those fallen teams regain hope, as they should. Unlike the regular season, which has a way of balancing itself out over the course of 17 weeks, the postseason is much less forgiving. You’ve heard the stories about the 10-6 Giants and Ravens ending hot streaks with the trophy. As long as you can win and survive, as ugly as it can look, you can win the Super Bowl.

Having said that, I lack faith in a cinderella-esque run this year. I see the four big boys meeting in their respective conference championships, where the final result becomes a crap shoot.

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Seattle is the hottest team in the NFL heading into these playoffs. They’ve come a long way since being 6-4, not allowing over 14 points to any team since mid-November. Their top ranked rushing attack pounds the ball down your throat with Marshawn Lynch and converts crucial 3rd downs with Russell Wilson scrambles. Oh and they have home field advantage throughout the playoffs, where they haven’t lost since Week 6. Although the first Green Bay-Seattle matchup didn’t go well, a rematch in the NFC championship would be a dream, where I could see either team winning. The edge goes to Seattle there in their home field. Were it in Lambeau, I’d go the other way.

In the AFC, dethroning the Patriots is a tall order. Their only home loss came last week, when New England sat some of their starters to play it safe. It won’t necessarily be an easy road for the Pats, likely having to meet Indy, Denver, and/or Pittsburgh on the way, but I have no reason to believe they should lose to those teams.

In the Super Bowl, both teams lose their edge from being at home. There, it comes down to who can win one game. It’s tough as heck to pick against Seattle, who has looked nearly unbeatable lately, but I’m going with the consistent winning formula of the New England Patriots. Since Week 4 after getting crushed by KC 41-14, the Pats have bounced back to be one of the most consistently dominant teams in the NFL. Seattle or Green Bay winning wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Given the road New England faces and their ability for a number of different players to step up, I like their chances.