The NFL revels in its anything-can-happen unpredictability and trots out the supporting evidence. For example, at least four of 12 playoff teams have been different than the year before every season since 1990. And at least one team has gone worst-to-first in its division for 10 years in a row.
These facts are meant to promote the faith-restoring power of parity and encourage the downtrodden. The idea is that there is hope for every team, even YOUR team, every year. (That’s a tougher sell in some cities than others, right Miami?)
I have an even simpler way of explaining the constant surprise of King Sport. It is this: Every time I correctly predict who’ll win the Super Bowl, I’m surprised. Make that shocked. Shocked like I’d be if suitcases stuffed with money fell from the sky into my backyard. Shocked like I’d be if you told me Miley Cyrus was becoming a nun.
Understand: This is my 23rd season predicting NFL games, including a preseason Super Bowl pick, and I have been right only twice — with the 49ers winning it all in 1994 and Packers in 2010.
I admit this in order to lower expectations as I humbly offer my already doomed 2013 forecast. We do it by division, with (WC) indicating a wild-card playoff berth:
• AFC East: Patriots 12-4, Dolphins 9-7 (WC), Bills 5-11, Jets 3-13. An injury here and a murder charge there has not weakened New England much, and, yes, I DO have Miami in the playoffs, despite picking them to lose at Cleveland on Sunday. As for the poor, Stinkin’ Jets? Rex Ryan spent some of his offseason running with the bulls. Now he can’t even run with the Bills.
• AFC North: Ravens 10-6, Bengals 9-7 (WC), Steelers 7-9, Browns 7-9. Don’t read much into the false perception that Baltimore is a decimated champion. Division story is that once woeful Cincy has now leapfrogged once mighty Pittsburgh, and that even Cleveland is a team on the ascent.
• AFC South: Texans 13-3, Colts 9-7, Titans 5-11, Jaguars 3-13. The “ifs” are big, such as Arian Foster staying healthy and Matt Schaub stepping up, but Houston can be as good as any team in the NFL. Indy will be in playoff hunt but fall short even as Andrew Luck emerges.
• AFC West: Broncos 11-5, Chiefs 7-9, Chargers 6-10, Raiders 5-11. Peyton Manning and Denver still reign out West, but Andy Reid could be a bounce and a break from seeing talented Kansas City in wild-card hunt.
• NFC East: Redskins 10-6, Giants 9-7, Cowboys 9-7, Eagles 4-12. Robert Griffin III has turned division upside down in Washington’s favor, a fresh breeze. New York and Dallas both will be wild-card hunting. Philly’s Chip Kelly may wish he was still coaching Saturdays.
• NFC North: Packers 11-5, Bears 8-8, Vikings 8-8, Lions 6-10. Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay still rule. Chicago has a shot. Minnesota looks one-and-done on the playoffs.
• NFC South: Falcons 11-5, Saints 10-6 (WC), Buccaneers 7-9, Panthers 7-9. Atlanta has talent to be an NFC power, and New Orleans should bounce back big from its BountyGate malaise.
• NFC West: 49ers 12-4, Seahawks 11-5 (WC), Rams 7-9, Cardinals 5-11. San Fran And Seattle both are good enough, on both sides of the ball, to win division, win conference, even win everything.
• Super Bowl: OK here comes the kiss of death.
The teams allowed to be thinking Vince Lombardi Trophy right now without cries of incredulous laughter are (alphabetically) Broncos, Falcons, 49ers, Packers, Patriots, Ravens, Seahawks and Texans.
And my Super Bowl pick is: Texans over Seahawks.
I’m sorry, but, based on my track record, Houston, you have a problem.