As with all sports, making a prediction before the season begins is a tricky process. Pre-season matches rarely reveal any substantive information about the teams, and are really only valid as a fitness assessment on key players. However, predictions can be made based on a number of criteria – last season’s performance, draft assessments, injury reports, schedule and so forth. Rather than a post on each one, this will set out my predictions for each division, and therefore the post season chances before a Superbowl prediction.
The bookies have Denver, New England, Houston and Pittsburgh as the four favourites, and by default the predicted divisional winners. Baltimore and Cincinnati are the next two shortest price teams, and therefore should be considered the initial selections for the wild card places. Looking at the Pythagorean data from last season, there seems no reason to expect anyone other than New England to win the AFC East. Denver are looking very solid for the AFC West, building on last season’s performance with a top grade QB bringing the team together. However, all divisional rivals should perform better in the upcoming season – but starting from such a poor season it is perhaps stretching things to expect them to challenge for the division or even a play-off spot. The AFC South is very confusing. Houston deserve their position as favourites, but arguably overachieved last season. The question is whether their end of season form was more indicative of their true level of performance, or was it a blip for an otherwise excellent team? Looking at their challengers, Jacksonville should improve, but will still be a <.500 team this season and no threat. Indianapolis ran Houston close last season, but massively over-performed on a Pythagorean basis and an 8-8 season is more likely. Tennessee might be the surprise package of this division, ready to pick up any points dropped from the divisional rivals. Good enough to secure a play-off place though? The AFC North always used to be dominated by Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but the dramatic improvement of Cincinnati adds more to the mix. Moving to this season, there is a distinct chance that the bookies have this right and that both wild card teams will come from this division. I have to give the division to Pittsburgh by the smallest margin, followed by Cincinnati and then Baltimore, but all to go to the post season.
So, to summarise, the divisional winners will be (in seeding order) New England, Denver, Houston and Pittsburgh. The wild card places will be taken by (in order) Cincinnati and Baltimore.
Taking the bookies as a starting point, the divisional winners would be San Francisco, Green Bay, Atlanta and NY Giants. However, Seattle are second favourites and New Orleans fifth favourites ahead of the Giants! Keeping it simple to start, the NFC North does look like Green Bay’s to lose. The Vikings had a good season, but any season built upon the phenomenal performance of one RB is always a risk. Injury, better defences, a drop of form; all of these will destroy the Vikings game. A return to the horrific 3-13 season (my loyalties may have been revealed there) is unlikely, but 8-8 is more likely. Detroit should perform significantly better, but still likely to finish <.500. Chicago are the dark horse, and whilst I think that GB have the slight advantage, probably in the head to head, their potential for post season qualification shouldn’t be ignored. The NFC East is likely to be between the Giants and Washington, and a lot will depend upon the fitness of RGIII as the Redskins QB. However, Washington did slightly over-perform last season, and so slightly under, so I would agree with the Giants as a pick for the division. Dallas are, well, Dallas are Dallas. There is still a question mark over the entire organisation’s ability to push through a championship season, and Romo is a very variable quantity. 8-8 last season, I see the same this season. Finally Philadelphia are a team that I have always had a soft spot for, but I still see them propping up the division. The NFC West looks dangerous. San Francisco narrowly missed the big prize last season and have a very solid team, Seattle were also solid with a good QB. These two will top their division – Arizona and St Louis have a little while to go before they can challenge for this division. But I feel that Seattle may just have the measure of the 49ers for the title. Atlanta certainly appear to be the team to beat in the NFC South. A good season last year petered out in disappointing fashion for the Falcons, and I think that will drive them on. I see that NO are well backed, but I don’t see it myself as it would take a big improvement from last season. 9-7 seems right for them, with Tampa and Carolina possibly hitting .500 seasons.
To summarise, the divisional winners will be (in seeding order) Green Bay, Seattle, Atlanta and NY Giants. The wild card places will be taken by (in order) San Francisco and Washington.
Just looking at the play offs as representing the strength of the teams as they appear at the moment. As such it can’t take into account momentum or late season performance; two elements that are vital in the drive to the Superbowl. For the AFC the expectation at this point has to be for Denver and New England to make it to the Conference game. I can’t see Pittsburgh or Baltimore getting through, and whilst Cincinnati have a chance of upsetting the apple cart I can’t see them going all the way. It just seems that Denver have the whole package moving forward, and I’d expect to see them beat New England to represent the AFC.
The NFL is very tricky, but I actually see San Francisco facing Seattle in the Championship game. And this time I think that Seattle will rule the roost – that may be tainted by my belief that teams that win the Superbowl, or even get to the final match, find it difficult to repeat the following season unless they are a country mile ahead of the opposition, and that isn’t the case this time.
So a match between Seattle and Denver will form Superbowl XLVIII in the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (a nice East coast venue for those of us watching in the UK!). And I see Seattle taking the win this time. Age will catch up with Manning whilst Wilson is just starting what should be a stellar career. The Seattle defence will control Denver, whilst the likes of Harvin will provide a threat that the Denver secondary can’t cope with. But it will be a close game!
Will this really be what happens? I very much doubt it! Injuries, off field antics, momentum; all will scupper some heavily fancied teams and no doubt some of those ‘lower’ teams will make a run for the post season (I am looking at you Detroit!). Will be interesting to see how these are looking at around week 8.