Trying to predict how any given NFL season will turn out instills me with roughly the same confidence I feel when purchasing a lottery ticket. On a scale of impossible, it ranks up there with setting out to find a needle in a haystack — I can’t even find the haystack! — or attempting to figure out how and why the Kardashians are famous.
For 16 consecutive seasons, at least five of the 12 playoff teams were not in the playoffs the year before. For nine consecutive seasons, at least one team has gone worst-to-first in its division. Tumult is king. Nothing is assured but my annual futility.
One year ago on this page, I correctly foresaw three of the eight division winners and seven of the 12 playoff teams, and for the 19th time in 21 years I failed to accurately predict the Super Bowl winner — my dumb-luck exceptions being San Francisco in 1994 and Green Bay in 2010.
I say all this in the spirit of transparency, and so that, instead of betting any of your money based on my predictions you might invest more wisely, such as in a chain of manual-typewriter repair shops.
Now on to our doomed 2012 forecast, with (WC) indicating wild-card berths:
• AFC East: Patriots 13-3, Bills 8-8, Dolphins 6-10, Jets 5-11. Division was 1-15 in preseason, with only New England winning. Worry not about Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Everyone else you can worry about. Buffs are improved but over-hyped, Miami lacks help for rookie QB Ryan Tannehill, and NYJ needs GPS to find the end zone. (If you listen carefully you can already hear Jets fans chanting for Tim Tebow.)
• AFC North: Ravens 11-5, Steelers 10-6 (WC), Bengals 9-7, Browns 3-13. Baltimore/Pittsburgh joust atop division in one of NFL’s few constants. Cincy has much talent but finds itself in wrong division. Browns can’t see contention with a telescope.
• AFC South: Texans 12-4, Titans 7-9, Jaguars 5-11, Colts 4-12. Houston is bona fide threat to get to Super Bowl. The rest of division is rebuilding, scrambling to grow with young QBs. Andrew Luck gives Indy a chance, but not now.
• AFC West: Chiefs 10-6, Broncos 9-7 (WC), Chargers 9-7, Raiders 7-9. If Jamaal Charles stays healthy and Matt Cassel can be good enough, Chiefs could reign. What Peyton Manning does in Denver will be fascinating. Diego will be average enough to get Norv Turner finally fired.
• NFC East: Cowboys 10-6, Eagles 10-6 (WC), Giants 9-7, Redskins 4-12. Wednesday said much about Dallas, all of it good. Philly will be as good as Mike Vick’s health. NYG has pass-defense issues. Skins’ Robert Griffin III needs time to grow.
• NFC North: Packers 11-5, Bears 10-6, Lions 9-7, Vikings 3-13. I trust Aaron Rodgers and GB to be great. Chicago gets boost from Brandon Marshall (sorry, Dolfans) but ekes past Detroit on D. Woe is Minny.
• NFC South: Saints 10-6, Falcons 10-6, Panthers 7-9, Buccaneers 4-12. Bountygate mess will not derail Saints as long as Drew Brees is pitching. I’m not all in on Atlanta hype. Carolina still has issues on D and Tampa’s offense is struggling.
NFC West: 49ers 11-5, Seahawks 10-6 (WC), Rams 6-10, Cardinals 4-12. San Fran’s defense will lift Niners. Seattle is my surprise playoff team. St. Louis, Arizona in the usual wheel-spinning.
• Super Bowl: The teams allowed to think Super Bowl right now without cries of mocking laughter are, alphabetically: Cowboys, Eagles, 49ers, Giants, Packers, Patriots, Ravens, Saints, Steelers and Texans.
Recognizing that the common/betting pick is Packers over Patriots, I’m coloring outside the lines with 49ers over Texans. The good news? Five months from now you won’t remember this, and chances are good I’ll forget to remind you.