When it rains it pours. Mere days after the always melancholy end to the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s corridor we call “The Holidays” the beginning of the end is here for football. Just a couple more college games remain, and the NFL regular season has concluded. The playoffs and Super Bowl will be fun and interesting in all likelihood, and knowing that football will pack it in just about a month from now and we’ll be entering into the darkest days of the sports calendar…those cold February days when Nascar hasn’t yet begun, golf is still two months away from The Masters, and college basketball hasn’t quite heated up…makes one want to savor every remaining snap of the pigskin. But before we get into that mode let’s take a moment to look backward. Before the season began I predicted the records of every team and the order of finish in each division. It’s time to see how I did and where I hit & missed. I think the easiest thing to do is to examine the league division by division. I will then assign myself a letter grade. Please don’t hesitate to comment, whether it be on my brilliance and pigskin savvy, or my complete and utter ineptitude.
A couple of hits and one big miss. The Cowboys & Eagles both finished 11-5, and I had both at 10-6. Not bad. I did say that Dallas was overrated. Since they won the division I suppose I owe someone in the Lone Star State an apology. Washington finished dead last as I predicted, although I generously gave them a record of 7-9 while they actually finished 4-12 then fired their coach. Word is that Mike Shanahan is on his way to fix the mess, but as I said in my preview I believe the issue with the Redskins is incompetent ownership, and I am not sure anyone can do much about that. Where I was way off was with the New York Giants. I thought they’d go 13-3 and once again be a title contender. Instead they went 8-8. Oops.
Final Grade = C+
Nailed it. Predicted the order of finish…Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit…right on and was only slightly off on the records. The Vikings went 12-4 just as I said, Green Bay was one game better than my 10-6 prediction at 11-5, Chicago finished 7-9 which was only one game worse than I predicted at 8-8, and Detroit improved upon last season’s winless record with 2 wins…2 less than what I foresaw. I said I didn’t buy into the Jay Cutler hype in Chicago, and I was spot on. Final Grade = A-
Ehhh…not so good. I didn’t give this division enough credit and I gave them too much credit, if that makes any sense. I did have New Orleans finishing on top, but at 9-7. Instead they made a darn fine run at an undefeated season before finally closing out at 13-3. I had Carolina at 9-7 edging out Atlanta at 8-8 for second place. I was sort of close…just reverse the positions and the records. I said specifically about the Panthers “they have tough out-of-conference games against Miami, New England, and the Jets, plus they start the season against Philly, Dallas, and Atlanta. That may be 6 losses right there”…..and they did in fact lose all 6 games. I mused about the Falcons inability to sustain success and how they tended to follow up playoff seasons by going backward. In 2008 they went 11-5 and were a wildcard team…in 2009 they finished 9-7 and out of contention. I rest my case. And I said Tampa would finish in last at 8-8, but they finished last at 3-13.
Final Grade = C
Another division where I had the general idea but was a bit off on some of the details. Arizona finished atop the division at 10-6 just as I said. I’ll give myself a little pat on the back for that one. Once again I had 2nd & 3rd reversed, as San Francisco was the runner up, winning two more games than my 6-10 prediction. Meanwhile, Seattle slipped to third at 5-11, four games worse than I thought. St. Louis finished dead last not only in the division but in the whole NFL, winning only one game. I said they’d win five. My bad. I wonder how hard receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh is kicking himself for leaving Cincinnati and signing with Seatttle?? Final Grade = C+ (based largely on nailing the Cardinals record…otherwise the grade would be worse)
Overall NFC Grade = B-
I am not happy with the actual results of this division in relation to my predictions, but I am satisfied with the general direction of my vibes. I realize that makes very little sense, but allow me to explain. Before the season everyone seemed to be saying two things: the Patriots will run away with it and the Bills will probably not do very well. But I said “not so fast my friends” (the only semi-meaningful contribution of Lee Corso to the universe). Turns out I was right. I said that things felt kind of off in New England and that they were “in for much more of a dogfight in their division than most folks seem to believe.” The Patriots did end up winning the division, but by only one game. They finished at 10-6, exactly as I predicted. Yay me. I said that the Dolphins would finish 11-5 and win the division, but that was way too optimistic. Instead they finished 3rd at 7-9. Bill Parcells won’t be happy with that. Maybe next year. I predicted the Jets to finish 2nd, and indeed they did…at 9-7, one game worse than I thought. And I gave Buffalo a record of 4-12, while they actually finished 6-10. This was a very muddled yet competitive and interesting division all season, just as I foresaw. I can’t give myself a great grade because the numbers just don’t back it up, but my general sense of things was almost spot on. Final Grade = B-
Here’s where it gets ugly. I said this about the Cincinnati Bengals back in September: “I’m not sure even the re-animated corpses of Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry combined could polish this turd.” I then said they’d finish 8-8 and 3rd in the division. To say I was wrong would be an understatement along the lines of “President Obama is somewhat lacking in his affection for capitalism”. The Bengals went 10-6 and won the division. Second place and 10-6 was what I had in mind for Baltimore, and they did exactly that only at 9-7. Cleveland didn’t disappoint me, as I had them finishing dead last at 6-10 and they were a game worse at 5-11. But my biggest blunder was with my Pittsburgh Steelers. I just couldn’t take the blinders off. I should have known that recent history indicates Super Bowl teams often struggle the following year. Actually I did know it…I just ignored the facts. I proudly proclaimed that the Steelers would win the division at 11-5 and said “I get the sense that Mike Tomlin won’t let his team become unfocused, so to be honest I’m not all that concerned. I am predicting another banner year for the black n’ gold.” How very wrong I was. I was only two games off on the actual record, as they went 9-7. But numbers can be deceiving. The Steelers did lose focus and suffered embarrassing losses to Cleveland, Kansas City, and Oakland…three of the worst teams in the league. Even given the surprising turnaround in Cincinnati, if the Steelers would have won just two of those three games they’d be division champs. I’d like to say I’ll learn from this experience and not let my man love for my team cloud my judgment in the future, but we’ll see. Final Grade = D+
I am beginning to sense a trend. I seem to be okay with choosing division winners and bottom dwellers, but have an issue with 2nd & 3rd place. I guess the old crystal ball needs a little fine tuning. The Indianapolis Colts were even more dominant than usual, and fared much better than I predicted even though I did have them in first place. I said they’d go 10-6 and they went 14-2. They too made a good run at an undefeated season, losing two games only because they pulled starters in fear that they might get hurt. I foresaw Jacksonville finishing last and they did, with the exact 7-9 record I predicted. I thought Houston would be good and just miss the playoffs at 9-7, and that’s exactly what they did. However, I mentioned that I didn’t think Matt Schaub was the answer at QB, and he proceeded to lead the league in passing yards, completions, yards per game, and passing attempts. I guess he’s better than I thought. My downfall was the Tennessee Titans. I thought they’d finish 2nd at 10-6. Instead they started the season 0-6 before rebounding to finish in 3rd place at 8-8. Vince Young is back at the helm behind center, and they did close out the campaign going 8-2, so maybe next year they’ll be competitive again. Final Grade = B
Damn near perfect. I nailed the order of finish…San Diego, Denver, Oakland, Kansas City. The Chargers went 13-3, one game worse than my prediction. I got Denver’s 8-8 record exactly right, which is remarkable considering they started off a very hot 6-0. I still can’t figure out what they accomplished by running Shanahan out of town. Oakland was predictably bad and I hit their 5-11 right on the money. Jamarcus Russell might be playing in Canada next year. Kansas City went 4-12, one game better than I thought. I grant you that this was probably the easiest division to figure out because everyone knew San Diego would be good and that both the Raiders and the Chiefs figured to be pretty awful. Still, I have to say I did rather well.
Final Grade = A
Overall AFC Grade = B-
So I give myself an overall grade of B-. I didn’t make any pre-season proclamations about the playoffs or the Super Bowl, but now that the field is set I have to say that the AFC looks like it comes down to Indianapolis and San Diego. Maybe this is finally the year for the Chargers. In the NFC I like Minnesota, New Orleans, Green Bay, and Arizona. I know that doesn’t narrow it down all that much, but there truly is parity there. A Chargers-Cardinals Super Bowl might not frost the cupcakes of east coasters, but that may very well be the matchup.