I keep repeating and adding to this line every year I write this prediction blog, but it should be said, at least 5 new teams have made the playoffs for 14 straight seasons! Perhaps an even more amazing stat: A team has gone from worst to first in 8 straight seasons!
2003- Carolina and Kansas City
2004- Atlanta and San Diego
2005- Chicago and NY Giants
2006- Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Baltimore
2007- Tampa Bay
2009- New Orleans
2010- Kansas City
And in 2001 Chicago and New England both pulled the trick, with the Pats winning the Super Bowl with some backup QB named Brady. In 2000 New Orleans did it. In 1999 the Colts did it and the Rams did with with a backup QB we had never heard of named Kurt Warner on the way to becoming the greatest show on turf and winning the Super Bowl.
So 11 of the last 12 years it’s happened and 3 times the team has gone onto win the Super Bowl.
There will be surprises, it’s just identifying them that’s tricky. Last year I called for Atlanta and Kansas City (worst to first) to both win their divisions, and nailed it. Here are my picks, with some thoughts as to what went into them below.
AFC EAST NFC EAST
New England 12-4 Dallas 10-6
Miami 9-7 NY Giants 9-7
NY Jets 9-7 Philadelphia 9-7
Buffalo 4-12 Washington 6-10
AFC NORTH NFC NORTH
Baltimore 12-4 Green Bay 11-5
Pittsburgh 10-6 Detroit 8-8
Cleveland 7-9 Chicago 7-9
Cincinnati 3-13 Minnesota 5-11
AFC SOUTH NFC SOUTH
Houston 10-6 New Orleans 14-2
Indianapolis 9-7 Atlanta 10-6
Tennessee 8-8 Tampa Bay 10-6
Jacksonville 3-13 Carolina 3-13
AFC WEST NFC WEST
San Diego 11-5 St. Louis 10-6
Kansas City 8-8 San Francisco 8-8
Denver 6-10 Seattle 6-10
Oakland 4-12 Arizona 5-11
My first time through evaluating teams individually I had the league going 16 games under .500. I obviously took a half glass empty approach. So I went back to determine where those 8 additional wins would go. Atlanta and Tampa Bay got 3 of the wins. I have questions about each, but I think each should be better this season, and the NFC South will have three playoff teams, as it almost did last year. I think the Cowboys will play more like the team of 2 years ago and edge out the Giants and Eagles in the East. All 3 teams have offensive line problems that worry me, but like the Cowboys to be a worst to first story this year. The Rams defense was much better last year, and I think will improve more this year and be the reason they get to double-digit wins. The Packers will win the division this year, and the Bears will fall back behind the Lions, but Detroit isn’t quite ready for the playoffs with their shaky secondary and questionable short-yardage running game.
The Patriots had the fewest turnovers in the league last year, followed by the Chiefs. Both will regress, but KC moreso. The Jets won a lot of close games last year, and a tougher schedule will catch up to them this year. The Texans are ready to take over the South and are my worst to first pick times two. The Colts are tough to project, but the decline was coming with or without Peyton. The AFC North should take advantage of a soft schedule this year. The Browns have a chance to be a bigger surprise than I have them, but the turnover in staffs and lack of a big-play WR holds them back in my eyes. The Jags and Bengals might be the two worst teams in the league. The Raiders aren’t far behind. The Dolphins will surprise and edge out the Colts and Jets for the final playoff spot.
Wild Card: San Diego over Miami, Houston over Pittsburgh, Dallas over Tampa Bay, Atlanta over St. Louis
Divisional Round: San Diego over Baltimore, New England over Houston, Green Bay over Dallas, New Orleans over Atlanta
Championship Round: New England over San Diego, New Orleans over Green Bay
Super Bowl: New Orleans 31, New England 27
I love the Saints additions on the defensive front of Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers. Those beasts up front will make the linebackers look better than they are (I do like Vilma, but the rest are suspect). The secondary should be one of the best in football with 3 outstanding corners, and one of the best safety duo’s in football. Getting Olin Kruetz at center gives them best interior offensive line in the league which combined with a healthy Pierre Thomas, rookie Mark Ingram, and free Darren Sproles they’ll be much improved running the ball. Drew Brees is going to have another huge year, and cut back on his interceptions because he won’t be forced to pass as much. I think New Orleans will stand head-and-shoulders above the field this year.
MVP: QB Drew Brees, New Orleans
Coach of the Year: Sean Payton, New Orleans
First Coach Fired: Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville
Defensive Player of the Year: LB DeMarcus Ware, Dallas
Breakout Stars: WR Kenny Britt, WR Dez Bryant, S Malcolm Jenkins, QB Matt Stafford, RB LeGarrette Blount
Offensive Rookie of the Year: WR Julio Jones, Atlanta
Defensive Rookie of the Year: DE Robert Quinn, St. Louis