Every year as we launch a new season of NFL Friday predictions in the Miami Herald — and this is our 25th year doing it — I like to begin with an admission, because I’m all about transparency. Think of this as a football version of a Catholic confessional. I tell you something bad that I’ve done, and you agree to absolve me of my sins and keep reading faithfully.
Here is what’s bad:
In 24 previous seasons of forecasting a Super Bowl winner in this space, I have been right exactly twice. I was correct on the 49ers winning it all in the 1994 season, and also bull’s-eyed the Packers reigning in 2010. Cruel math thus indicates I have about an 8.3 percent shot of being right any given year.
Sadly, it’s a close call which odds would be less likely: The Dolphins actually playing in another Super Bowl … or me predicting another Super Bowl correctly?
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On the bright side, I’m due!
So undeterred I offer here my 2015 NFL forecast, by division with (WC) indicating a wild-card playoff spot, followed by my ill-fated Super Bowl pick:
AFC East: Dolphins 11-5, Patriots 10-6 (WC), Bills 8-8, Jets 6-10 — Not many among the NFL prognosticating literati are with me in regarding Miami this highly, but I see Fins improved all over the field and ready for a big year. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s Patriots remain strong, though, their division-title odds only slightly deflated (sorry). Rex Ryan’s Bills and the Stinkin’ Jets both have solid defense but are a quarterback away, which, in this league, can mean a long ways away.
AFC North: Ravens 10-6, Steelers 9-7, Bengals 9-7, Browns 4-12 — Think a lot of John Harbaugh and Baltimore (as my Week 1 pick suggests). Big Ben keeps Pitt in the hunt but that defense has gone shaky. I don’t quite trust Andy Dalton (even before the playoffs). And Cleveland will remain stuck in neutral as long as it’s waiting for Johnny Manziel.
AFC South: Colts 11-5, Texans 9-7, Titans 5-11, Jaguars 4-12 — Andrew Luck and Indy reign as much by a surrounding weak division as by their own might. Houston is imbalanced with defense carrying weak O. Rookie Marcus Mariota makes Titans more interesting, but still not very good. Jax is building something a bit promising but isn’t competitive yet.
AFC West: Broncos 10-6, Chargers 9-7 (WC), Chiefs 9-7, Raiders 4-12 — Peyton Manning, pushing 40, might be ready for a sharp drop-off, but I must trust Pey Day until I see more proof. I like Diego’s upside with Philip River a bit more than I like K.C.’s with Alex Smith. Oakland will someday again be the fierce marauders of which their cartoon fans dream. But no time soon.
NFC East: Cowboys 10-6, Eagles 10-6 (WC), Giants 7-9, Redskins 4-12 — I just trust Tony Romo in Dallas right now a shade more than I trust Sam Bradford in Philly. (Man, the over/under might top 60 in those teams’ first meeting.) Giants are sort of stuck in that not-good/not-bad mediocrity where the Dolphins have lived lately. The Redskins blow.
NFC North: Packers 11-5, Vikings 9-7, Lions 8-8, Bears 7-9 — Have you heard? Aaron Rodgers is really, really good. Adrian Peterson could leg Vikes into playoffs if Teddy Bridgewater continues his strides. Detroit will miss Ndamukong Suh something fierce. Erratic Jay Cutler and defensive woes make Chitown a long shot.
NFC South: Saints 9-7, Falcons 8-8, Panthers 7-9, Buccaneers 5-11 — The good news: This might be NFL’s most wide-open division. The bad news: That’s because the Saints, Falcons and Panthers all are close, not because any of them is that good. Drew Brees will overcome his shoddy defense. Jameis Winston won’t make Tampa good (yet), but he’ll make them interesting.
NFC West: Seahawks 11-5, Cardinals 10-6 (WC), 49ers 8-8, Rams 7-9 — Seattle remains solid but should see a drop-off on D. ’Zona will stay in playoff hunt as long as Carson Palmer stays upright. I’m not writing off the Niners the way most are. And postseason contention by St. Louis would not shock if Nick Foles can find a way to party like it’s 2013.
SUPER BOWL: It’s Packers over Patriots. New England scrambles from wild-card spot to reach the finale but bows to Aaron Rodgers in an over-inflated Super Bowl 50. I’m sorry Green Bay. You’re a nice little town, but whose chances have, alas, been officially doomed.