Finally, the games begin.
Feels good, doesn’t it? The NFL forces OFFSEASON TIME down our throats, with daily headlines filled with stories both unnecessary and unavoidable. But the suspensions and arguments and Johnny Manziel nonsense? Replaced by actual football, starting tonight.
OK, more like supplemented with actual football. None of those stories will ever go away (we’re going to hear updates on Johnny Football for the next 20+ years, even if his professional football career flames out after two or three). But at least we’ll have wins, losses, ties, scores, stats, penalty flags and playoff races to help take our minds off all the clutter.
A year ago at this time, I threw together a whole mess of predictions … literally speaking. Regular season records and standings, plus how the playoffs would go. I had three of the four division winners in the AFC and four of the six playoff teams. My NFC predictions weren’t as sharp — 0-for-4 on division winners and only three playoff teams. As for my championship game predictions (Colts beat Ravens, 49ers beat Seahawks) … yeah, let’s just move on to the 2014 guesswork.
NFC West ***because we don’t have to start with the AFC East like all those other publications***
- Seattle Seahawks: 12-4 (2)
- San Francisco 49ers: 10-6 (5)
- Arizona Cardinals: 9-7
- St. Louis Rams: 7-9
The 49ers will definitely be without Aldon Smith for their first nine games, and NaVorro Bowman could easily miss that many. The Seahawks could start 9-0 — their toughest early road games are against the Chargers and Panthers. The Cardinals suffered two major losses to their defense — Daryl Washington and Darnell Dockett — otherwise I’d have them finishing ahead of the 49ers.* The Rams drafted Sam Bradford, and now Shaun Hill is starting.
*AHEAD OF THE NINERS?!?!
- Three straight years that ended with nauseating losses
- Half the defense is either old, hurt or suspended
- The early-season schedule is brutal
- Home field advantages are earned, not bought
You can dismiss two or three, but at least one of those potential problems will give the 49ers trouble in 2014. I don’t think the 49ers are going to go the way of the 2013 Falcons or Texans, but I have a hard time penciling in “12-4: this team is stizzacked” without feeling a little like a snake oil salesman.
- Green Bay Packers: 11-5 (4)
- Chicago Bears: 8-8
- Detroit Lions: 8-8
- Minnesota Vikings: 4-12
The Green Bay Packers are more than a little bit frightening with Eddie Lacy rolling into his second year, and their defense wasn’t as bad as advertised in that crazy-cold (but not as cold as advertised) playoff game against the Niners. The Bears are supposed to be pretty good now, but they didn’t tackle anyone last year. The Lions’ biggest offseason move was adding a wide receiver (Golden Tate), which is so hilariously Lions. The Vikings are starting Matt Cassel.
- New Orleans Saints: 13-3 (1)
- Tampa Buccaneers: 9-7 (6)
- Carolina Panthers: 8-8
- Atlanta Falcons: 5-11
People sure do love talking about ROB RYAN’S EPIC DEFENSE. It isn’t that great, but the Saints are stacked offensively as per usual and it’s going to be tough to stop Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and a strong set of receivers with this year’s emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding. The Bucs have a coach the players won’t hate and Lavonte David is a pretty obvious Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Hopefully the Panthers enjoyed two amazing quarters of playoff relevancy last year — the defensive front is strong, but Kelvin Benjamin isn’t enough to make up for what that offense lost. And this thought might come from watching “Hard Knocks,” but I get the impression that the Falcons still stink.
- Philadelphia Eagles: 11-5 (3)
- Washington Grudens: 7-9
- Dallas Cowboys: 6-10
- New York Giants: 5-11
What a trash division. The Giants offense is looking rather heinous, the Cowboys have an awful defense, and Washington’s defense may be even worse. We’ll see several shots of Chip Kelly smiling on the sidelines this season.
- Denver Broncos: 11-5 (2)
- San Diego Chargers: 10-6 (5)
- Kansas City Chiefs: 8-8
- Oakland Raiders: 5-11
The Wes Welker “Molly at the Kentucky Derby” suspension is funny to everyone but the Broncos, who face a pretty rough schedule. The Chargers came close to making the title game last year, and there’s no reason why they can’t get there this season. The Chiefs got a lot of fluky wins last year — they’ll fall back a bit. I’m giving the Raiders one extra win for realizing the Matt Schaub trade was a mistake earlier than expected, but the schedule is rude and the Raiders have a lot of new faces who happen to be old.
- Baltimore Ravens: 9-7 (4)
- Cincinnati Bengals: 9-7 (6)
- Pittsburgh Steelers: 6-10
- Cleveland Browns: 6-10
I’m not sure why I believe the Ravens will bounce back, other than the existence of John Harbaugh. The Bengals locked up Andy Dalton, which probably sent thousands of Cincinnati residents to the phones to buy season tickets. The Browns have some interesting pieces on defense, but the offense won’t scare anyone besides fans in Cleveland.
- Indianapolis Colts: 11-5 (3)
- Tennessee Titans: 6-10
- Houston Texans: 5-11
- Jacksonville Jaguars: 4-12
The Trent Richardson trade would’ve set the Colts back in any other division, but not this one. The Texans are starting Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Titans haven’t existed since Steve McNair was alive. The Jaguars have weird helmets and Toby Gerhart, and don’t be surprised if the helmets have a better year.
- New England Patriots: 12-4 (1)
- Miami Dolphins: 8-8
- New York Jets: 7-9
- Buffalo Bills: 6-10
I thought the Patriots would take a step back to 9-7 last year and win the division anyway; they went 12-4. The Patriots and the Colts are in awfully similar situations in their respective top-heavy divisions.
- Wildcard: 49ers over Packers; Eagles over Buccaneers
- Divisional: Saints over Eagles; Seahawks over 49ers
- Championship: Saints over Seahawks
- Wildcard: Colts over Bengals; Chargers over Ravens
- Divisional: Broncos over Colts; Chargers over Patriots
- Championship: Chargers over Broncos
Super Bowl: Saints over Chargers
If picking the Seahawks over the 49ers twice didn’t seal it, here’s a Super Bowl prediction that’ll guarantee this post gets no traction on social media (unless Drew Brees vs. the QB who replaced him in San Diego captures anyone’s imagination … *cricket noises*).
Hey, I can’t be like my fake uncle and keep picking the 49ers to face the same team in the Super Bowl every year (in my case, the Colts would replace the Bills).
While everyone else is focused on the 49ers’ drama, the Seahawks’ quest for a rare repeat and Peyton vs. Tom, this is how I feel like the games that count will play out. My prediction will be wrong. Probably egregiously so. But at least you read about something other than Manziel rolling up dollar bills in locker rooms, Roger Goodell playing a brand new gameshow called “Wheel of Suspension,” or the shower habits of Michael Sam for a few minutes.