The introduction to my 2007 NFL Preview so precisely summarizes the perils of NFL prognosticating that I am simply going to reproduce it here word for word:
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.
Last year I correctly picked six of the eight division champions. On the other hand, all four of my Wild Card predictions were wrong.
Without further ado, here are my 2008 NFL predictions.
1) New England
3) New York Jets
* You may have heard that the Jets have a new quarterback--some guy named Favre. What no one seems to be paying much attention to is that the Dolphins also have a new quarterback--Chad Pennington, who used to be the Jets' quarterback. A lot of people rag on Pennington's arm strength but he is the NFL's career completion percentage leader and just two years ago he started all 16 games as the Jets went 10-6 and made it to the playoffs. Won't ESPN and the rest of the mainstream media circus have a fit if Pennington has a better season than Favre? If Pennington stays healthy--granted, a big if--don't be surprised if he does just that.
* New England fans have every right to be concerned about Tom Brady's health but assuming that he is functional by the time the regular season starts the Patriots will once again win the division title and be a legit Super Bowl contender. Their overall winning streak was stopped by the Giants in Super Bowl XLII but the Patriots have won 19 consecutive regular season games dating back to 2006 and they have won 22 of their last 23 regular season games. They open the 2008 regular season with games versus the Chiefs, Jets and Dolphins, a bye week, a trip to San Francisco and then a visit to San Diego.
* It's put up or shut up time for the Dick Jauron regime in Buffalo after a pair of 7-9 seasons. The Bills have not made the playoffs since 1999. Call it the Doug Flutie curse: in 1999, Flutie led the Bills to a 10-5 record, Wade Phillips "rested" him in favor of Rob Johnson in game 16 and then Phillips started Johnson in the playoff game versus the Titans. Johnson went 10-22 for 131 yards, Tennessee won courtesy of "The Music City Miracle" and the Bills have never been the same.
1) San Diego
3) Kansas City
* The Chargers are the class of this division but it remains to be seen how much Shawne Merriman's knee injury will hamper his performance.
* The Broncos have not won a Super Bowl since John Elway retired but Mike Shanahan's teams are usually in the playoff hunt; Denver had a down season last year but figures to contend for a Wild Card berth in 2008.
* Year in and year out the Steelers are the most stable organization in this division on and off the field.
* High hopes in Cleveland have been tempered a bit by a rash of injuries and the reality that the Browns face a very tough schedule loaded with nationally televised games.
* The Ravens are still trying to develop a quality starting quarterback.
* The Bengals are an organization that is in disarray on and off the field.
2) Indianapolis (Wild Card)
3) Tennessee (Wild Card)
* Peyton Manning will not likely be completely healthy by the start of the season and 36 year old Marvin Harrison is coming off of an injury-riddled campaign, so look for the Jaguars to finally break through and win the division title. That said, if the Colts get completely healthy by playoff time they could very well go farther in the postseason than the Jaguars do.
* The Texans are improving but they are in a killer division, so it will be very difficult for them to make the playoffs unless injuries take down at least one of the teams in front of them.
New England will not go 16-0 again--14-2 sounds about right--but the Patriots will host the AFC Championship Game and beat the San Diego Chargers.
2) Philadelphia (Wild Card)
3) New York Giants (Wild Card)
* No Osi Umenyiora and no Michael Strahan means no Super Bowl repeat for the Giants. They were a Wild Card team in 2007 and they will struggle to earn a Wild Card in 2008.
* Some teams have to go through a bit of heartbreak before they reach the top. The Cowboys are very talented and after a great 2007 regular season they came up just short against the eventual Super Bowl champions.
* If Donovan McNabb stays healthy then the Eagles should be good enough to challenge for the division title.
* The Redskins will probably have a solid record but it is their misfortune to be in such a highly competitive division.
3) San Francisco
4) St. Louis
* In recent years this division has emerged as the poster child for mediocrity. That said, Seattle has been the one bright spot and the Seahawks have enough weapons to be a Super Bowl contender.
* If Kurt Warner stays healthy then the Cardinals could challenge for a Wild Card berth.
1) Green Bay
* The race between Green Bay and Minnesota for the division title will be fierce, because the second place team may not make the playoffs.
* If Detroit's defense improves then the Lions could be a dark horse contender for the division title.
1) Tampa Bay
2) New Orleans
* Jeff Garcia is a perennially underrated quarterback and the Buccaneers are putting together a good defense, so look for Tampa Bay to have a strong season.
* New Orleans and Carolina will bounce back from their disappointing 2007 seasons but they will not quite be good enough to keep up with Tampa Bay.
Dallas will defeat Tampa Bay.
New England will defeat Dallas.