NFL '09: Predictions from a Cracked Crystal Ball

The mainstream media carneys are all making fools of themselves with their predictions so I figure it's time for me to do the same.  Here, then are my picks for the NFL playoff field.

Longtime readers know, I'm the advocate of the "Fantastic Four" theory of prognostication.  As I've demonstrated in numerous posts the past five seasons, there are two trends in the Era of Parity. First, the playoff field churns roughly 50% from year to year.  That means that around six of the teams which made the playoffs last year won't repeat. 

The second, and more interesting stat involves the NFL's rebound factor. This decade an average of four teams per season which had losing records the previous year make the playoffs the following year. Thirty four teams have made this jump since 2000.  Look at last year's field.  Miami went from 1-15 to 11-5; Baltimore from 5-11 to 11-5; the Panthers from 7-9 to 12-4 and the Falcons jumped from 4-12 to 11-5.

And this happens every year. Since I've been touting this loser-to-winner streak, I'm going to find at least three more teams to make the jump.  This requires a leap of faith on my part;  how, for example, could anybody last year logically predict that the Dolphins would improve ten games?  Here, then, the picks

Loser to Winner in bold; new playoff team with *

AFC Field

 

  • New England, 1st East*
  • Baltimore, 1st North
  • Pittsburgh, 2nd North
  • Cincinnati, 3rd North*
  • Tennessee, 1st South
  • San Diego, 1st West

 

NFC Field

 

  • Philadelphia, 1st East
  • Dallas, 2nd East*
  • Green Bay, 1st North*
  • New Orleans, 1st South*
  • Seattle, 1st West*
  • Arizona, 2nd West
The AFC has been the more stable conference and I'm keeping it that way.  Four of last year's playoff teams return, with New England riding Tom Brady back into the postseason.  I have Baltimore taking that one step forward and getting ahead of Pittsburgh, though the Steelers will remain a force.  Ravens OC Cam Cameron ran an offense with training wheels for Joe Flacco last year.  The run-to-pass ratio was a crazy 58-42 tilt towards the run.  Cameron is a very capable OC who guided Philip Rivers and San Diego to 14 wins in '06.  He's opened things up considerably for his QB this year.

The crazy team from that conference is Cincinnati.  Do I have a logical reason?  No.  That's the point.  I do see some positives.  That team scored almost no points last year and should take a big jump with Carson Palmer back under center.  They also played hard for DC Mike Zimmer through all sixteen games.

In the NFC this looks a lot like '07, with the Seahawks, Packers and Cowboys jumping back into the playoffs.  I saw Seattle twice this summer and see a team poised for a rebound. The coaching change fiasco of '08 is behind them. They have some solid draftees.  Aaron Curry looks like a player, as does Max Unger (shakes head).  Most important is health;  I don't know if another team suffered most games lost to injury last year than the Seahawks. They have their QB back, a solid D-line and T.J. Houshmandzedeh upgrades the WR corps.   I give Arizona the last NFC spot, just ahead of the Falcons and Giants.

I like the Packers in a jumbled North.  I'm not sold at all on Brett Favre, who fades in November and December.  Chicago is giddy over Jay Cutler, but who are his receiving weapons?  The Chicago secondary also needs to be refurbished.

In the East I have two words -- Plaxico matters.  The Giants were 1-3 in the division after Plaxico Burress was lost last year and went 0-3 against the Eagles and Cowboys in December and January, averaging just 11 points in those contests.  Both opponents stacked eight men at the line of scrimmage to slow the run, blitzed Eli Manning like crazy, and dared his receivers to beat them. They never came close.

New York is hoping for big production from 2nd year wideouts and rookies like Hakeem Nicks.  To me, counting on rookie receivers to carry your passing attack is like counting on the lottery to pay your rent.  It can happen, but the odds are not in your favor.  

So there you have it, according to form.  Six new playoff teams and three loser-to-playoff teams, with an 8-8 Saints team also making the jump into the winner's ranks.

Your turn.
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