Just for fun, and because I think I'm more able to research than some of the so-called professional prognosticators, here is my projection of the 2009 season. The record projections use the following format Overall (In the team's 6 games in their division, record in the 4 games against the first outside division, record in the four games against the second outside division, and then a projection of the remaining 2 games).AFC West (Division Rank 7): This is the easiest division to guess, which means it will probably see the most turmoil. Still, unless the Chargers are absolutely ravaged by injuries, I just don't see them losing it.
San Diego 10-6 (Div 5-1, NFC East 2-2, AFC North 2-2, Other 1-1): This is one of the clearest favorites in the NFL, but not because this team is without flaws. What's up with Merriman? How healthy can LT be? However, their division is wretched and they'll feast on their rivals. Last year, they finished 8-8 with a goodly amount of injuries and problems, and yet that 8-8 record seems to have been unlucky given the 27.4 points per game scored and the 21.7 ppg allowed. I see regression to the mean even with the questions and at least 10 wins.
Denver 7-9 (Div 3-3, NFC East 1-3, AFC North 2-2, Other 1-1): The SportsNation Broncos blog has a post that asks the question: Is this a 3-13 team or a 13-3 team? I have to say I think the former is more likely, though I do think this will be a middle of the road team. Orton is not a bad QB, but he's not great and is probably a slight downgrade to Cutler. Their most explosive player, Marshall, is busily exploding at management. Their defense was 30th last year allowing 28.0 ppg. They've tried to strengthen the defense, but I don't think we'll see them allowing any less than 23 ppg in 2009 and that won't be enough to carry an offense that I think will score a point less per game than last year and end up around 22 per game. In terms of record, I think this is the most volatile team in the division, but I think the 7-9 is a very optimistic projection.
Oakland 6-10 (Div 2-4, NFC East 1-3, AFC North 2-2, Other 1-1): This is a mediocre team, there's no doubt about it. The weaknesses on the offensive line and in the linebacking corps prevent the top-flight talent at RB and CB from reaching their potential. I do think there are some signs of improvement, notably in JaMarcus Russell at QB, but I just can't see this team improve their record significantly. I do see this team making a few big plays and catching lightning in a bottle in a couple of games to beat some vastly better opponents, but they'll lose a lot of games they could win.
Kansas City 5-11 (Div 2-4, NFC East 0-4, AFC North 2-2, Other 1-1) This team went 2-14 last year, and 5 wins is a major upgrade. I see some positives here, as I think Todd Haley is great fit for this team. They have some talent at QB now, and they've got some other offensive talent, though they may very well have the worst offensive line in the NFL. They will struggle on defense to learn the 3-4, but I do think we'll see some improvement and I predict they will win 4 of their last 5 games. However, the 5 wins reflect the fact that they're in a bad division and while this team is headed for better days, they won't be all that much better in 2009.
AFC South (Division Rank 4): I really struggle with this division, but I see four teams with major questions and I do not see an elite team.
Tennessee 10-6 (Div 4-2, NFC West 3-1, AFC East 2-2, Other 1-1): The Titans went 13-3 last year and their +141 point differential suggests this was not a fluke. However, I do think there will be some regression to the mean and I think the loss of Albert Haynesworth will hurt them. I see them averaging around 23-24 ppg, just like last year, but I see a significant increase to the 14.6 ppg allowed from last year and that will bring them down.
Indianapolis 9-7 (Div 3-3, NFC West 3-1, AFC East 2-2, Other 1-1): Peyton Manning is probably the best QB in the game right now, especially given Brady's injury questions. However, the Colts only averaged a middle of the road 23.6 ppg last year. I think they'll actually improve here, as I think they'll be deeper in their skill positions than most expect, but I don't see much more than 1 ppg improvement to put them around 10th in the league. However, I think they'll fall back a goodly amount on defense some from 18.6 ppg. Last year they had a +79 point differential suggesting that 12-4 was a moderately lucky record. I think they'll be a +40 or so team, suggesting the new record will be about right.
Houston 9-7 (Div 3-3, NFC West 2-2, AFC East 2-2, Other 2-0): This team was 8-8 last year with -28 point differential, suggesting they were a bit lucky. Still, I think they've got talent on both sides of the ball with Ryan, Williams, and Johnson and I see some improvement, especially since they got one of the easiest set of 2 random opponents in the Oakland Raiders and the Cincinnati Bengals.
Jacksonville 6-10 (Div 1-5, NFC West 2-2, AFC East 1-3, Other 1-1): Jacksonville was probably an unlucky 5-11 given the -65 point differential in 2008. However, any team whose fans are excited trading for Luke McCown at QB has problems. I think Jack del Rio is a great coach, but the Jaguars offensive line, while it has a lot of upside, is very young. I think they've made some improvements on defense, but not enough.
AFC North (Division Rank 2): This division will have a heck of a fight at the top, and a lot of bleah at the bottom.
Baltimore 13-3 (Div 5-1, NFC North 3-1, AFC West 4-0, Other 1-1): I really like the Ravens. They went 11-5 last year but that might have been unlucky given the huge +141 point differential. I think they'll see a bit of a drop-off defensively with age, injuries, and the loss of DC Rex Ryan, but not much. Their offense will improve and offset that however, given that I think Flacco will get better so I think the Ravens will be in the +135 point differential range again and that will at least give them 12 wins.
Pittsburgh 12-4 (Div 4-2, NFC North 3-1, AFC West 4-0, Other 1-1): The Steelers were a great team last year with a +124 point differential, but they were a bit lucky at times. Their defense will again be really good, but I do see a bit of a smaller offense. I think they'll have a great year, and I think they'd win most other divisions, but the Ravens will be a great team.
Cleveland 5-11 (Div 2-4, NFC North 1-3, AFC West 1-3, Other 1-1): I like Eric Mangini, and think the Jets pulled the plug there a bit soon, but neither Brady Quinn nor Derek Anderson fill me with confidence at QB. They scored 14.5 ppg last year, and I see nothing on this team to make me really think they'll do much better than that in 2009. They've got the makings of a decent offensive line, but their skill position players are either old (Lewis), disgruntled (Edwards), or mediocre (Royal). They've got some players on defense such as D'Qwell Jackson, and I think they'll again be middle of the pack on defense. Yes, Joshua Cribbs will create 20-25 points with good returns, but he about did that last year. I give them one extra win this year, but nothing more. I think their victory on 10 December against the Steelers in one of the games greatest grudge matches will give Baltimore the division.
Cincinnati 4-12 (Div 1-5, NFC North 1-3, AFC West 2-2, Other 0-2): Carson Palmer is a great QB, but he may very well be the Archie Manning of the early 21st century. I do think Mike Zimmer will improve this team, but they are a year away from seeing results. They were 30th in point differential at -160 suggesting their 4-11-1 2008 record might have been a little lucky. Dallas fans know Zimmer's a good 4-3 defensive mind, and their defense was in the middle of the pack so this should stay about the same, Their offensive line is still pretty bad, which in a division with Baltimore and Pittsburgh is a bad sign for Palmer. Nevertheless, they should score more than the amazingly bad 12.8 ppg like 2008, but I can't see them beating any of the good teams they'll face in 2009.
AFC East (Division Rank 6): I think the Patriots will run away here, and then there's not much.
New England 13-3 (Div 5-1, NFC South 3-1, AFC South 3-1, Other 2-0): This team went 11-5 without Tom Brady last year and their +101 point differential suggests that wasn't a fluke. They get Brady back, and they add Galloway and other talent around him. I suspect their offense will start a bit slowly as all the pieces start working together, but 30 ppg is not out of the question, 5 ppg more than last year. I do think the transition on their defense will hurt them some, losing Vrabel, Bruschi, and Seymour in the same year, but I do not see much of a drop-off overall. I suspect that the Patriots will lose a game they shouldn't early on, but I see a juggernaut at the end of the year.
New York 8-8 (Div 3-3, NFC South 2-2, AFC South 2-2, Other 1-1):The Jets went 9-7 last year, though they were a little lucky to get that. Last year they scored 25.3 ppg and I just cannot see them duplicating that with Mark Sanchez at QB. Their defense was slightly below average in 2008. This defense will get better as Rex Ryan is really really good, but it will take some time so I don't see any major change overall in their results. I do think they'll win a game or two at some point that they shouldn't, most notably I think they'll beat the Patriots once, but they just won't improve enough in 2009 to have a winning record.
Miami 7-9 (Div 3-3, NFC South 1-3, AFC South 2-2, Other 1-1): The Dolphins were one of the worst division winner in 2009 with only a +28 point differential. I really think Sparano is a fantastic coach, but 11-5 in 2008 was regression to the norm from the 1-15 in 2007 and I think we'll see another correction here. There's a lot to like in a Parcells-run organization, but the Wildcat won't surprise anyone and they won't get all the bounces in 2009.
Buffalo 7-9 (Div 2-4, NFC South 2-2, AFC South 2-2, Other 1-1): Did you hear that Terrell Owens signed with the Bills in the off-season? They were a 7-9 team last year with maybe a bounce taking this team to 8-8. Yet, this is a team going downhill. I think their offense will go downhill in 2009 because while Edwards is serviceable at QB and Evans and TO are nice outside, Lynch is essentially a league average RB that gets the ball a bunch and their offensive line will be mediocre at best. On defense, their 21.4 ppg will stay about the same. I see them winning a game they shouldn't where TO goes ballistic, but they'll lose a game or two because their strength will be in the vertical passing game, which may have some issues with Buffalo's weather late in the season.
AFC Overall: The AFC is filled with haves and have-nots. The Patriots, Ravens and Steelers are all great teams, and the Titans, Colts and Chargers could also go to the Super Bowl, but their overall division rankings are low because aside from these teams there is a lot of nothing. I'm not completely happy with my assessments here because I'm not seeing enough change from previous years, though I do have 2 new division winners. Nevertheless, I just do not see where any of the other teams have closed the gap enough on the cream of the crop.
AFC Playoffs Round 1: Pittsburgh def. Tennessee, San Diego def. Indianapolis
AFC Playoffs Round 2: New England def. San Diego, Baltimore def. Pittsburgh
AFC Title Game: Baltimore def. New England
NFC West (Division Rank 8): This division is definitely rank, and I see a lot of turmoil here, but not a lot of quality.
San Francisco 9-7 (Div 4-2, NFC North 2-2, AFC South 2-2, Other 1-1): San Francisco? What the hell am I thinking? Well, I'm thinking they have a QB in Hill good enough to win a few games in ugly fashion, some other talent on offense, and a defense that is getting better. They were 7-9 last year. I think Hill brings the offense up to about 23 ppg and I think Singletary glares at his defense enough to bring them down to 21.5 ppg allowed. That should be enough to win the worst division in football by far.
Seattle 8-8 (Div 4-2, NFC North 1-3, AFC South 1-3, Other 1-1): I think the Seahawks will rebound from a justifiable 4-12 record last year. I think they'll have a better offense than the 18.4 ppg from last year, probably around 21-22 ppg. I also think they will improve on defense. Certainly there seems to be more excitement about the defense from Seahawks fans, but I don't see them going from 24.5 ppg to dominating. I think they might get to 22ppg allowed, and if they do, they'll go 8-8.
Phoenix 7-9 (Div 3-3, NFC North 1-3, AFC South 2-2, Other 1-1): Super Bowl losers have recently struggled to get to the playoffs and 2009 will be no different. The team had a +1 point differential and won their division. +1! They were the epitome of 8-8 team who scratched out a few extra victories. Fitzgerald is an incredible WR, but they have to have a lot go lucky in 2009 to have a good record, and frankly a lot went lucky last year.
St. Louis 4-12 (Div 1-5, NFC North 0-4, AFC South 1-3, Other 1-1): Umm, they have to get better because of regression to the mean, right? But the OLine won't give the skill positions any time to work, the defense won't be any better with all the changes there, and I think this is one of Detroit's few victories.
NFC South (Division Rank 3): This was the only division in 2008 where every team had a positive point differential, but Tampa Bay's demise brings this division down.
New Orleans 11-5 (Div 4-2, NFC East 2-2, AFC South 3-1, Other 2-0): New Orleans will not lead the NFL in scoring this year, but I think that's because New England will be so good. On the other hand, I think their mediocre defense from 2008 will only improve a little bit. I suspect that New Orleans will again be around the +70 point differential like in 2008, but that's not enough to be the dominant team some people are predicting. They did get a break playing Detroit and St. Louis as the other opponents, and I think that will give them the division.
Atlanta 10-6 (Div 4-2, NFC East 2-2, AFC East 3-1, Other 1-1): I think Atlanta will actually be better than New Orleans with Ryan getting more experience and more targets. However, I don't think they'll be that much better and they don't have as favorable schedule as New Orleans, so I think they'll lose the division by virtue of having to play Chicago and San Francisco as opposed to St. Louis and Detroit for New Orleans.
Carolina 8-8 (Div 4-2, NFC East 1-3, AFC East 2-2, Other 1-1): They won the NFC South in 2008 with a 12-4 record but with a fairly pedestrian +84 point differential. I cannot point to anything in particular where they will be worse, except this year they play the Easts, and both will cause the Panthers some problems. I see them splitting with the other contenders in the South, but not doing as well outside of the division.
Tampa Bay 2-14 (Div 0-6, NFC East 0-4, AFC East 1-3, Other 1-1): Wow, how the middle of the road have fallen. Tampa and Detroit will be playing for the first pick, and I have no clue who will, um... win, that pick. Tampa Bay will struggle to score 14 ppg this year, and their defense will regress from 20 ppg allowed to something around 24 ppg. That, my friends, is a -160 point differential and that is a bad team in an otherwise good division.
NFC North (Division Rank 5): This is much like the NFC South, with 3 good teams and 1 wretched one. However, I think this division is just a little less powerful than the South. The records may not show it, however, as their outside divisions are the AFC North and the NFC West.
Chicago 11-5 (Div 4-2, NFC West 3-1, AFC North 2-2, Other 1-1): I think the Bears are almost as a good as Chicago fans think they will be. Cutler will be an improvement at QB, though the offense was very respectable at 23.4 ppg last year. 25 ppg is probably what they'll average in 2009. I think their defense will improve to about 18 ppg from 21.9 ppg because their healthier than they have been recently. That's about +100 point differential, which makes them a very good team.
Minnesota 11-5 (Div 4-2, NFC West 3-1, AFC North 2-2, Other 1-1): Losing on tiebreakers to the Bears will be the Vikings, who I think are definitely more talented overall, but just filled with issues. This is the team that has the most volatility I think. They could end up at 13-3, but I could see them imploding and going 7-9. Favre has to be a dramatic upgrade over Jackson at QB, and by dramatic I'm emphasizing the turnovers here. Jackson and Frerotte combined for a 3.8% interception rate with 4 fumbles. Favre had a 4.2% interception rate with 5 fumbles. Favre brings more big plays, but he brings them to both sides of the field. If he plays well and takes advantage of possibly the third best WR corps in the NFL, this team will score a lot. However, he will give up some points, and I think the defense will give up more overall in part because of Favre. Could they be great? Yes. But I'm not ready to think the Vikings will pillage the North in 2009.
Green Bay 10-6 (Div 4-2, NFC West 3-1, AFC North 2-2, Other 1-1): I think we have another good team here, but not enough better to beat the two favorites. However, they will be the beneficiaries if the Favre experiment dies a hideous death. The Packers were very good offensively with 26.2 ppg in 2008, and I see no reason why Rodgers will not continue to lead them to points, The defense should improve some from 23.8 ppg, but it will be later in the year when you see that happen because they're transitioning to the 3-4 and they have some square pegs in round holes. Again, I see some incremental improvement, but nothing earth-shaking, though if the Vikings and Bears allow the Packers to stick around while they learn the defense, they could rue the last part of the season.
Detroit 2-14 (Div 0-6, NFC West 1-3, AFC North 1-3, Other 0-2): When winning 2 games constitutes a good season, you know you have a bad franchise. I'm not a big Stafford fan, but they play the Rams, Browns, and Bengals, and I think they take two victories out of these three. They're 0 for their last 17, though, and don't play a team I'm predicting to have a losing season until their 7th game, meaning they will probably be 0-23 when the Rams come to town. Get your tickets now.
NFC East (Division Rank 1): Top to bottom this is the toughest division in football, and I don't think it's close. This is the only division that could have any of the 4 teams win it, and not because the main favorite implodes, like I'm predicting of the Cardinals in the West. Nope, each team would be at least a contender in every other division, though I believe the Ravens and Patriots are the best teams.
Dallas 11-5 (Div 3-3, NFC South 3-1, AFC West 3-1, Other 2-0): OK, I admit it, I'm a Cowboys fan, so this is possibly a homer pick, but I don't think so. People are asking about picking up TO's production, and I see that getting picked up by Williams, Bennett, and Jones. People are asking about depth. Well, there's no doubt that injuries could hurt the Cowboys, but injuries could hurt every team. Last year's Cowboy team scored 22.6 ppg, but I think they'll be up in the 28 range in 2009. Why the difference? Well, last year prior to Romo's injury the Cowboys were averaging 29 ppg and I think this is a better offense overall. We'll see the Cowboys dominate time of possession, and they'll score a lot. I would not be surprised if they end up the 3rd most prolific offense in 2009 behind the New England and New Orleans. Defensively, they averaged a mediocre 22.8 ppg against despite leading the NFL in sacks. I think that will improve dramatically as well. First, the Cowboys have a better secondary than they have ever had and I think Phillips is just waiting to unleash this defense. Last year they had 59 sacks, I think they'll get another .5 sacks per game and have around 67 or slightly more than 4 per game. I also think that in 2009 that will translate into more turnovers. Finally, with the offense controlling the ball more, their opponents will have fewer opportunities to score. Last year, the prognosticators said that the only thing that could stop Dallas was their own mistakes, and indeed the mistakes the Cowboys made contributed to a mediocre season. Last year, the Cowboys not only played poorly, the bounces that had gone their way in 2007 didn't. I think, however, some of those bounces will even out in 2009 and I think they will play more disciplined and at least break even on special teams.
New York 11-5 (Div 3-3, NFC South 3-1, AFC West 4-0, Other 1-1): New York has a great team. They're great in the trenches, they have, if not a great QB, a very good one in Manning, good RBs, and a very good pass rush. However, I don't think they'll score 26.7 ppg like in 2008 because their WRs don't scare anyone and their RB depth isn't as good without Ward. I think their defense will get a little better (from 18.4 to 17 ppg) because of Umenyiora to offset the offense meaning they'll again be a +120 point differential team. I think they fall back a game because I think they will go 3-3 in the division and I think they will have a few more injuries in 2009. The injuries, by the way, seem to have already kicked in here.
Washington 10-6 (Div 3-3, NFC South 3-1, AFC West 3-1, Other 1-1): I think that the Redskins will have a similar improvement in defense with the addition of Albert Haynesworth. I also think they'll improve some on the 16.6 ppg they put up in 2008, however, this depends on keeping Jason Campbell's confidence up and that may be challenging given that they always seem to be ready to push him out the door. Campbell's underrated because he doesn't put up huge TD numbers, but 6 interceptions and 0 fumbles in over 500 pass attempts mean he is exceptional at protecting the ball.
Philadelphia 8-8 (Div 3-3, NFC South 1-3, AFC West 3-1, Other 1-1): This is probably even more surprising than the Cowboys pick, but I'm not drinking the Eagles kool-aid in 2009. The death of Jim Johnson, one of the greatest defensive minds ever, will hurt their defense. Even worse from an on the field perspective is the loss of Bradley at MLB and Dawkins in the back. I think they will give up around 23 ppg, which is a huge drop-off from the 18.1 of last year. Essentially, I think Dallas and Philly trade points given up from 2008 to 2009 and I also see a decline on the Eagles offense. Their offensive line, despite the addition of Peters, is not quite as good in my opinion, and I don't think Westbrook will be near as explosive. Maclin and Jackson are nice WRs, and they'll make some big plays, but I think the lack of a running game will make McNabb a target. Plus, if McNabb starts slow, what will happen with Michael Vick? The Eagles play 3 easier games in weeks 3-5, but if they stumble against KC, Tampa, or Oakland this could deteriorate. Frankly, in the 2009 Eagles I see all of the turmoil that surrounded the 2008 Cowboys, and I don't know as the Eagles have the talent to overcome it any better than the Cowboys did, especially with the injuries.
NFC Playoffs Round 1: New York def. San Francisco, New Orleans def. Minnesota
NFC Playoffs Round 2: New York def. Chicago, Dallas def. New Orleans
NFC Title Game: Dallas def. New York
NFC Overall: This is a much harder conference to predict. I'm predicting 4 new division winners, which might seem unlikely until you realize that change is much more common than consistency. None of the 2007 NFC division winners and only 2 of the AFC division winners won in 2008. This is also the conference that my predictions will go out the window quickest with injuries, which will happen. If Manning, Rodgers, or Brees goes down, those teams are sunk. If you see a Ware, Peterson, Urlacher, or Willis get hurt, those teams will struggle. And that's not even talking about the mid-level players who we only know if they're on our team, such as Kyle Kosier's loss for the Cowboys last year. I cannot, however, predict those injuries well, so I'm going to just have to go on the other evidence. Oh, and the Cowboys over New York because I think the New York offense will be good, but I think the Cowboys will be great and while the Giants are touted to have a great pass rush, they only had 42 sacks compared to 59 last year, and while the return of Umenyiora will cut that gap, I think the Cowboys will be even better at that in 2009.
That being said, however, I'm not sure I can predict the Cowboys over the Ravens in the Super Bowl. I'll be rooting for it, but I think that the Ravens are better than Dallas. I will say this, though, if it does end up a Cowboys-Ravens Super Bowl, the Cowboys do have a puncher's chance because of their pass rush.