The pre-season is over, and we’re hours away from the kickoff of the 2009-10 NFL season, but most logical people would say that it’s too early to try to predict how the divisions will shake out four months from now.  Sure, it’s easy to predict that the Pittsburgh Steelers will finish better than the Detroit Lions, but predicting the records of each of the 32 teams?  That’s tougher.

That’s what I do every year.

I don’t simply guess at what their records are going to be, though.  I’m far too scientific for that.  I like to look at each of the 256 games, make predictions in each of them, and then find out how their records would fare if I was 100% correct.

I will admit ahead of time that I am a bit of a “homer”, so the Redskins invariably do better each year in my pre-season predictions than the team does.  I try to account for that before I finalize my predictions and I go back and give them a loss in at least one or two of the games for which I initially gave them a victory.

Because experience tells me that outcomes for divisional games have little to do with the quality of the teams involved, I tend to predict that teams will defeat their divisional opponents in home games.  In the three years I’ve been doing this, I very rarely predict that a team will completely sweep their division, nor get completely swept by their division.  I didn’t do it with the Indianapolis Colts or the New England Patriots, nor will I do it with the Oakland Raiders or Detroit Lions.

After 90 minutes of taking my best guesses, here is how the various divisions shake out.

NFC East

Win Loss Home Away
Washington Redskins 11 5 8-0 3-5
New York Giants 10 6 6-2 4-4
Philadelphia Eagles 8 8 8-0 0-8
Dallas Cowboys 4 12 3-5 1-7

Yes, the predictions from this division will most likely be the downfall of my predictions, but here’s how I came up with it:

  1. The Washington Redskins did really well early in the year last season, getting to 6-2 before their offensive line fell apart and they started turning over the football more. With their young wide receivers making bigger splashes and upgrading their defense with the huge addition of Haynesworth, they should be an improved team. In his second year as head coach, Jim Zorn should be better, and I doubt he’s going to lose the games which should be the easier parts of their schedule like they did last year. They should beat the Lions in Detroit and the Rams in DC. Trips to San Diego, Atlanta, and Carolina should be rough this year, as well as the yearly treks to Philly and New York. I’m predicting a sweep over Dallas, just because I think the Skins are going to sweep one of the NFC East teams this year, and the Cowboys should be the bottom of the pack.
  2. New York Giants lost Plaxico last year and looked average afterwards. I’ve seen how Burress could take over games and make all the big plays that the Giants need to win. They won’t have him at all this season, nor will they have Derek Ward, who was a huge part of their running game last year. In addition to divisional games, I think it will be tough for the Giants to play in New Orleans and Minnesota, as well as tough games when they host Atlanta and Carolina.
  3. Philadelphia Eagles are going to suffer from the bad football karma they got from picking up Michael Vick AND drafting another Wide Receiver early in the draft and continuing to ignore the fans pleas to get rid of McNabb in exchange for Kevin Kolb. Losing their defensive coordinator in the off-season could very well have a significant impact as well. Traveling to Carolina, Chicago and Atlanta will be rough on the Eagles, in addition to the tough task of going to the west coast to face the Chargers and the Raiders (who aren’t particularly tough, but any time an East Coast team goes to the West Coast, it provides a tough task).
  4. Dallas Cowboys won’t be able to replace the production that they lost when Terrell Owens left town… and I hate the Cowboys, so I gave them less wins than they’ll probably get. There’s no real analysis that I can come up with to explain why some of the Cowboys’ record will be sub-50%.

NFC North

Win Loss Home Away
Chicago Bears 12 4 8-0 4-4
Minnesota Vikings 10 6 7-1 3-5
Green Bay Packers 9 7 7-1 2-6
Detroit Lions 3 13 3-5 0-8
  1. Chicago Bears improved their greatest need from last year by adding Jay Cutler at Quarterback. They host Pittsburgh and Philly, both of which would be tough road games. Their travel schedule includes a stop in Seattle which shouldn’t be as tough as teams have found the Pacific Northwest in previous seasons, though they will probably stumble as they enter Baltimore, Atlanta, and Minnesota. Apart from that, the Bears shouldn’t have too tough of a time reaching the playoffs, with games against Detroit (twice), Cincinnati, Cleveland, San Francisco, and St Louis.
  2. Minnesota Vikings road schedule includes Cleveland, Detroit, St Louis, and Arizona – all of which are winnable games. They are lucky to host their games against Baltimore and the New York Giants, but their running game will have to be in top shape along with a passing game that doesn’t make too many mistakes (we’re looking at you, Favre) if they want to get to the playoffs, and that’s assuming that their defense is as good as it should be.  I still see the potential for Favre to get replaced late in the year by Sage Rosenfelds, who seems perfectly capable of conducting the offense to a playoff berth in Minnesota.
  3. Green Bay Packers visit Pittsburgh week 15, and then take on the NFC Champions from last year – Arizona in week 17.  They host Baltimore, but I don’t see them winning that game.  Green Bay’s passing game and rushing game could be really good this year, but their division is tight, and their defense will have to be up for the task if they’re going to do well against the Bears and the Vikings.
  4. Detroit Lions didn’t win a game last year, but I still don’t think they’re terrible.  Everything I’ve seen from Matthew Stafford makes me think that once he gets comfortable in the offense, he could become a Pro Bowl QB – especially if his two RBs turn out to be quality (which I think they will) and the TE that Detroit drafted in the first round was deserving of that draft pick.  The Lions need to figure out a way to be good on defense before they’ll ever be in the playoffs again, no matter how many stats the offense racks up.

NFC South

Win Loss Home Away
Carolina Panthers 11 5 8-0 3-5
Atlanta Falcons 11 5 8-0 3-5
New Orleans Saints 10 6 7-1 3-5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5 11 5-3 0-8
  1. Carolina Panthers with their two-headed beast running attack should look great this year – especially if their passing game steps up and is productive.  I’m really looking forward to watching when they host Minnesota, which could be a true test of how the Panthers’ defense can play.  If their defense doesn’t play well this year, they could easily be the third-ranked team in this division.
  2. Atlanta Falcons need to prove that Matt Ryan’s success last year wasn’t a fluke.  Their running game gets a year older, but they added Tony Gonzalez, so if Ryan can be efficient, they could easily stay within striking distance in most of their games.  Visiting New England could end up in a loss, as could their west coast trip to San Francisco. They host Chicago, Washington and Philly in games they should be happy to be playing down in Hot-lanta.  They should also be counting their blessings that they don’t have to play Minnesota – a luxury that the Carolina Panthers don’t have.
  3. New Orleans Saints could very well be tops in this division – as they aren’t too far removed from playing in the NFC Championship game.  I need to call up my friend who is a fan of the Saints and see what he thinks about their defense, because New Orleans’ offense shouldn’t be a problem whatsoever.
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a team who, year after year, I under-rate and they end up surprising me.  They have question marks at QB / RB / WR, and I don’t believe their defense is going to be anything to write home about.  They aren’t going to go winless, but I don’t think they’ll sniff an 8-8 record.

NFC West

Win Loss Home Away
Arizona Cardinals 11 5 7-1 4-4
San Francisco 49ers 8 8 7-1 1-7
Seattle Seahawks 7 9 7-1 0-8
St Louis Rams 1 15 1-7 0-8
  1. Arizona Cardinals probably won’t make it to the Super Bowl again this season, but regardless of whether or not Kurt Warner plays all 16 games (which I think he won’t), they should have enough pieces in place to win the division.  Their running game should be improved from last year, and their passing game should be good (although not as good as last year) with the weapons they have their (they could easily throw it to any of 5 options in a 4 WR set with a RB running a route from the backfield).  Their non-divisional road schedule is mixed with some tough games (Chicago, Tennessee, Giants) and very winnable games (Detroit and Jacksonville).  Their home schedule looks rough, hosting Indianapolis, Carolina, and Minnesota.  I still think they’ve got enough juice to be the NFC West representative – though they might find themselves having to battle on Wild Card weekend, because I don’t see a way for them to end up with a first-round bye.
  2. San Francisco 49ers are going to start putting together a quality team thanks to Mike Singletary as the head coach, but they don’t have the pieces in place just yet to win the division back.  They should probably be better than the Seahawks, but they have a rough non-divisional road schedule which has them visit Indy (loss), Philly (loss), Minnesota (loss), Houston (loss) and Green Bay (loss).  They could’ve used Crabtree in their offense this year, but he wouldn’t have been the answer even if he had signed.
  3. Seattle Seahawks have the benefit of playing in the Pacific Northwest in front of a crowd who loves to be the “12th man”, wreeking havoc on east coast teams especially.  They added TJ Houshmandzadeh in the off-season, and although he could very easily catch 100 passes, the fact that Seattle added Edgerrin James to their offense tells me that they’re probably going to have a tough time with their running game.  If Nate Burleson can stay healthy, Seattle could rack up some stats late in games (provided Hasselbeck’s arm holds up just fine), but I don’t think Jim Mora Jr needs to be too concerned with the playoffs this year, unless his defense is surprisingly excellent – which I highly doubt.
  4. St Louis Rams have been a lower-pack team for quite a few years in a row now, and they might want to consider doing something drastic to get back on track.  They’re in a very winnable division, and yet they can’t seem to turn their luck around.  Losing Torry Holt is not a good thing, and I can’t remember any significant additions they made this year on either side of the ball.  Though my prediction of only 1 win is probably not giving them enough credit, I would be very surprised if they got more than 4 wins given their schedule.

AFC East

Win Loss Home Away
New England Patriots 13 3 8-0 5-3
New York Jets 9 7 7-1 2-6
Miami Dolphins 6 10 5-3 1-7
Buffalo Bills 5 11 4-4 1-7
  1. New England Patriots fans don’t have anything to fear.  Last year showed that you can lose one of the NFL’s top players in Tom Brady and still play with some of the best teams in the league.  If Randy Moss and Wes Welker both play up to their potential, the Tom Brady lead Patriots should be back int he playoffs.  Losing Richard Seymour could be rough on the squad, especially considering some of the other players who aren’t on the squad anymore from last year’s campaign.  Were the Patriots to have a couple of their offensive OR defensive roleplayers injured early in the season, Belichek’s ability to find diamonds in the rough will be tested… and I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out.  With Gostkowski on my team, I’d be happy if the Patriots drove down field and kicked field goals all the time, and something tells me that they could find a way to make that their gameplan and still manage to be in the hunt for a wild card berth, if not the entire division.
  2. New York Jets have a rookie head coach, a rookie Quarterback, a good running game (Jones and Washington) and a bevy of wide receivers who appear to all want to fight for the #2 job (none of them seem to want to be the #1, though).  Having to visit the Patriots and Indy should easily rack up two losses for the squad no matter how good their defense ends up being, and playing host to Carolina (and the Patriots) should easily give them at least one more loss.  For some reason I just don’t see a divisional title in the cards for the J-E-T-S this season, but that’s partially in part to the AFC North.  It’s not out of the question, though, because it’s likely that if Sanchez can prove to be a good NFL QB, New York’s green & white squad could rally around him after suffering through Brett Favre last season.
  3. Miami Dolphins made considerable waves last year by implementing the Wild Cat offense, catching teams off guard and putting together some wins.  I’m not sure that it can have the same level of success this year, but if Chad Pennington can stay healthy, he could help Miami be competitive, but I don’t think they’ll reach the 8-8 mark this season.
  4. Buffalo Bills added Terrell Owens and Aaron Maybin this off-season, but losing two of their starting offensive linemen is going to be a considerable step back.  They might put up some decent stats from time to time and be competitive in most of the games they play, but I don’t see it leading to too many victories, and they should easily be the last placed team in the AFC East.

AFC North

Win Loss Home Away
Baltimore Ravens 13 3 8-0 5-3
Pittsburgh Steelers 13 3 8-0 5-3
Cincinnati Bengals 5 11 5-3 0-8
Cleveland Browns 4 12 3-5 1-7
  1. Baltimore Ravens lost to the Steelers three times last year, probably in part due to a rookie quarterback faced with a defense who played phenomenally well (some describe it as “historic”).  Flacco was good enough last year to take the Ravens deep into the playoffs, and I think he will improve this year.  Apart from the Chargers, Patriots, and Steelers, the Ravens should do very well en route to a playoff berth.
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl last year, and I’m not sure what’s going to slow them down this year.  I predicted two divisional losses this year (don’t ask me why I think the Bengals are going to upset them, because I’m not even sure), and I also think that the Chicago Bears have what it takes to beat them in the regular season as well.  Apart from that, the Steelers are most likely going to have one of the top 4 defenses in the NFL this year, along with one of the best running attacks if Willie Parker and Rashad Mendenhall can stay healthy.
  3. Cincinnati Bengals have some people picking them as a sleeper team this year, and although I don’t buy it, I wouldn’t be extremely surprised if they won 3 or 4 more games than I predicted.  Palmer and OchoCinco need to be on the same page, and Chris Henry needs to stay out of trouble.  I don’t recall who they have at Running Back, but I would be surprised if that person (Cedric Benson, I believe) gets anywhere close to the Pro Bowl, though 1000 yards rushing shouldn’t be out of the question – especially if the passing game is as good as it should be.  The defense isn’t where it needs to be for the Bengals to do any better than a record of 8-8, but I doubt they’ll even get there.
  4. Cleveland Browns have two mediocre quarterbacks, a superstar wide receiver in Braylon Edwards who had a rough season last year, a trio of running backs who are all decent but none of them are great.  Their defense could be decent if their offense gets into gear, but don’t bet on it.

AFC South

Win Loss Home Away
Indianapolis Colts 14 2 8-0 6-2
Houston Texans 9 7 5-3 4-4
Tennessee Titans 7 9 7-1 0-8
Jacksonville Jaguars 2 14 2-6 0-8
  1. Indianapolis Colts biggest loss in the off-season is probably head coach Tony Dungy, though his replacement seems to be competant (time will tell).  Most would consider the loss of Marvin Harrison to be a huge blow to the Colts’ odds of getting another Super Bowl ring, but with Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark still there, they should do just fine – especially if Anthony Gonzalez and WR3 can step up and get the job done.  They visit Baltimore, which should be rough, but hosting Seattle, the Patriots, Jets and 49ers should help their cause, as should visiting Miami and the St Louis Rams.
  2. Houston Texans are on some people’s list to win an AFC wild card spot this year.  Hosting New England should be rough, but they stand a better chance than if they had to travel up to Boston to play.  When Seattle comes to Texas, it’s a game that the Texans need to win as a somewhat even contest.  Other must wins are when they visit St Louis and Cincinnati.  When the Texans travel to Arizona, their performance against the Cardinals (which I have marked as a probable loss for Houston) could indicate how strong the Texans could be if they make it to the playoffs.
  3. Tennessee Titans had a great run last year, but I’d be very surprised if it happens again.  Kerry Collins as their starting QB?  I don’t see that as a great formula for long-term success (I was surprised it lead to success last year), and I don’t tend to think that Vince Young (without a reality / attitude adjustment) is going to be the answer either.  They franchised their Tight End Bo Scaife, and then they drafted another Tight End… leaving Alge Crumpler as their 3rd stringer at the position.  That doesn’t seem like a winning formula to me, especially when you consider that they lost Haynesworth to Free Agency and basically only picked up Nate Washington at WR.  Visiting the Steelers, Jets, Patriots and Seattle makes for a tough road, and having to host the Cardinals and Chargers means that they have a lot of playoff contending teams on the schedule.  I don’t think their running game is going to be as potent this year, and even if it is, I don’t see it accumulating as many victories this season.
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars are not a team I think very highly of, as can be obviously determined by looking at the final record I predicted for them.  I really like Torry Holt, but I’m sure there’s a reason the Rams released him and a team better than the Jaguars didn’t pick him up.  Jones-Drew is a capable back, but how’s the offensive line?  Gregg Williams-coached defenses can have roller-coaster type production – great one year and terrible the next.  Which will it be for the Jags? I’m guessing that things don’t fall into place this year.

AFC West

Win Loss Home Away
San Diego Chargers 13 3 8-0 5-3
Denver Broncos 4 12 4-4 0-8
Kansas City Chiefs 4 12 3-5 1-7
Oakland Raiders 4 12 4-4 0-8
  1. San Diego Chargers have the luck of the draw, getting to host games against east coast teams Baltimore, Philly, and Washington, all of which could very easily be wins for the Blts.  Despite probably losing three tough road games (Pittsburgh, Giants, Titans), San Diego shouldn’t have as tough a time when visiting Cleveland and Dallas.  Shawne Merriman’s potential legal troubles could play a role in the Chargers’ success this year, but they proved in last year’s campaign that they can win without him.
  2. Denver Broncos have plenty of troubles facing them this year – integrating Kyle Orton in at QB after Jay Cutler forced his way out of town, Brandon Marshall looking as though he doesn’t want to suit-up in the Mile High City anymore – but none of their problems are potentially as big as the tough mid-season stretch of games on their schedule: Patriots, Chargers, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Washington, Chargers, Giants, Chiefs, Colts.  In that nine game span, I could see them winning TWO… if they’re lucky.
  3. Kansas City Chiefs have the luxury of playing in Arrowhead Stadium, which many consider to be a difficult place to play, but with away games this year at Baltimore, Philadelphia and washington, their schedule doesn’t help them at all.  With the Giants and Steelers set to come to town, the Chiefs are going to need all the homefield advantage they can muster when they host the past two Super Bowl Champions this year.  If Matt Cassel is a great quarterback instead of a guy who put decent talent to work in a great system with a great supporting cast, the Chiefs might find their way into second place this year, but I challenge you to name two of their receivers.  He would’ve benefitted from Tony Gonzalez, had KC not traded him to the Falcons.  It seems like a rebuilding year, and eventually the Chiefs are going to be tough again… but not this year.
  4. Oakland Raiders made a potential blunder by drafting Heyward-Bey early in this year’s draft, and although he is a potential playmaker with great speed, he’s not what the team needed.  The addition of Jeff Garcia seemed promising, but they cut him when rosters had to go down to the 53-man limit.  It just seems like another year of problems for the Raida’s, especially with their trade for Richard Seymour not working out as they might’ve hoped – as he apparently doesn’t have any plans to show up in Oakland!  Their defense would be markedly better with him on the squad, but it still won’t solve their offense’s problems.

Playoffs

This is the part of the picking that I always dread, because once it’s down to 6 teams left in a conference, anything can happen.  After the regular season ended last year and we knew for sure who those 6 teams in the NFC and AFC were going to be, I took my best guess and came nowhere close to being correct in the NFC, and I believe I only had one of the AFC title game participants correct (the Ravens).  Still, I’ll give it a shot.

AFC Title Game:
Baltimore Ravens defeating the Indianapolis Colts

I think the Ravens have enough on both sides of the ball to get back to the Super Bowl, and although I’d like to say that Peyton Manning could lead Indy back to the Big Game, I’m still questioning what the team is going to look like with the changes in the coaching staff.  Last year, the Ravens were quite possibly the 2nd best team in the NFL, and I’m not sure what has changed to make any significant decline in that fact.

NFC Title Game:
Chicago Bears defeating the Washington Redskins

Sure, the pick of the Washington Redskins being in the NFC Championship is probably just a homer pick, but I’m not alone in that prediction.  If the defense holds up, they could be one of the top 5 in the NFL, and the passing game has enough weapons to be a top 10.  With the addition of Jay Cutler in Chicago along with Matt Forte and some decent wide receivers, I think the Bears are going to put together a great season lead by their defense, taking them all the way to the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl

This is such a crap-shoot, but my pre-season predictions would be incomplete without it.

Baltimore Ravens defeating the Chicago Bears

I think that if the game ends up being Ravens vs Bears, that the Ravens will be proficient enough to squeak out a victory, showing Jay Cutler to be human in the process.  It could easily go the other way, but I am a believer in karma in some circumstances, and I’m not a huge fan of how Jay Cutler’s situation played out in Denver… and although most of the blame is probably due in part to the Denver coaching staff / front office, Cutler could’ve handled himself better, too.

After a couple weeks of the regular season, I’ll revisit these predictions and see if any of my opinions have changed.