There are several reasons that it is not uncommon to see NFL teams go from worst to first (or first to worst) in one season: (1) football is a violent game and one injury to a key player (particularly a star quarterback) can change the balance of power in a division; (2) the season is very short, so one NFL game carries the same impact in the standings as five NBA games or 10 MLB games; (3) games frequently come down to the last two minutes, so the difference between being 10-6 and 6-10 may literally be a few plays spread out over four games. The foregoing explains why Las Vegas has enough money to build bigger and bigger casinos and why it is silly to pretend to predict the exact records that each NFL team will compile during a season--it is tough enough just to figure out who will make the playoffs. With these caveats out of the way, here is how I expect the 2007 NFL season to go:
1) New England
2) New York Jets
* Everyone is talking about Randy Moss but the biggest story in New England will turn out to be the signing of Adalius Thomas, a defensive player who is so versatile he is like the blank tile in Scrabble or the Queen in chess. Bill Belichick, who I like to call the "mad scientist," has surely already gone into his (film) laboratory and concocted all kinds of ways to deploy Thomas so that he wreaks havoc on opposing offenses. New England's defense faded in the second half of the Patriots' playoff loss to Indianapolis last year but with a healthy Thomas that will not be a problem now.
* The Jets won their last three games to make it to the playoffs last season but I expect them to just miss the cut this year.
* Buffalo and Miami will each likely have sub-.500 records again.
1) San Diego
3) Kansas City
* San Diego fired Marty Schottenheimer after he led the Chargers to an NFL-best 14-2 record but failed to even make it to the AFC Championship Game. The Chargers will still be an excellent team but look for them to win less than 14 games and to again not make it to the AFC Championship Game.
* Denver figures to be in the Wild Card hunt, as does Kansas City; Oakland's team is still a disaster area.
2) Baltimore (Wild Card)
3) Cincinnati (Wild Card)
* A fully healthy Ben Roethlisberger will guide the Steelers back to the top of the division.
* Baltimore's 13-3 season seemed like a bit of an aberration but the Ravens will still earn a Wild Card berth.
* Cincinnati has a top of the line QB and just narrowly missed the playoffs last year; expect the Bengals to grab one of the Wild Card berths this year.
* Cleveland has improved its roster but is stuck in a very tough division. Look for Brady Quinn to be the starting QB by midseason; he will take his lumps but will also have some strong moments, including at least one 300 yard game.
* Indianapolis is too well coached and has too much internal leadership to experience any kind of Super Bowl hangover.
* Jacksonville and Tennessee are each likely to contend for Wild Card berths but I expect them to come up just short again.
New England will have the best record in the conference and will beat Indianapolis at home to earn yet another trip to the Super Bowl for Bill Belichick.
4) New York Giants
* While everyone focused on the Terrell Owens saga, two things escaped attention: (1) Bill Parcells' defense fell apart in the last month of the season; (2) this team was one botched kick away from making it to at least the Divisional Round of the playoffs. New Coach Wade Phillips will fix the defense and Owens, who played most of last season with a broken finger, will have one of the best seasons of his career.
* It is not clear when Donovan McNabb will be fully healthy, nor how long he will stay that way, so the Eagles will not make the playoffs.
* Washington and New York are spinning their wheels without going anywhere fast; both teams have too many holes to make it to the playoffs.
2) San Francisco (Wild Card)
3) St. Louis
* San Francisco is my "sleeper" team: young and improving quarterback plus a beefed up defense equals a Wild Card berth.
* St. Louis will score a lot of points but a leaky defense will lead to a third straight season without a playoff berth.
* Arizona is at least a season away from even contending for a playoff berth.
3) Green Bay
* Chicago is loaded with talent and will once again overcome Rex Grossman's occasional bad games (he also occasionally has some outstanding games, but no one seems to notice that).
* Detroit will win at least eight games but fall short of getting a Wild Card berth.
* Green Bay's season-ending four game winning streak was a mirage that will have no bearing on this year's results, while Minnesota is looking at another sub-.500 season.
1) New Orleans
2) Carolina (Wild Card)
3) Tampa Bay
* New Orleans is a well put together team, not a one year fluke.
* Many people thought that Carolina was going to make it to the Super Bowl last year, but the Panthers faltered after a 4-2 start. Look for Carolina to return to the playoffs this year.
* Tampa Bay has missed the playoffs in three of the four seasons since winning the Super Bowl in 2002.
* You may not have heard this, but Atlanta has some question marks regarding the quarterback position.
Dallas will defeat New Orleans.
New England will defeat Dallas.