Here is what’s predictable about the NFL:
Winning your season opener matters. It’s quantifiable. Since the 1978 advent of the 16-game schedule, teams that start 1-0 have made the playoffs 52.4 percent of the time, while teams that are 0-1 are at 23.7% – less than half the likelihood. Going back even further, the 48 Super Bowl champions have been 39-8-1 in the opening game of their title season.
Here is what’s unpredictable about the NFL:
Everything else. There have been an average of 5.7 different playoff teams than the season before (never fewer than four) in the 24 years since the current 12-team postseason format took effect in 1990. And the past 10 seasons have seen 17 teams (at least one per year) go worst-to-first in their division.
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Somewhere in between the predictable and the unpredictable, you’d find me in terms of my Friday Page NFL predictions and annual Super Bowl pick. It is predictable that I find getting the champion right so unpredictable.
In 23 previous seasons of forecasting a Super Bowl winner I have been right exactly twice: In 1994 (49ers) and in 2010 (Packers). Based on this chronology I’ll next be due in 2026, Lord willing.
Undeterred, I offer my 2014 NFL forecast, by division with (WC) indicating a wild-card playoff berth, followed by my doomed Super Bowl pick:
• AFC East: Patriots 11-5, Dolphins 10-6 (WC), Jets 7-9, Bills 4-12. New England reigns for what seems like about the 44th year in a row in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era, but the big news is that ignored, maligned Miami will shed the doubters – and enough opponents – to finally make the playoffs again. As the QB search continues for Planes and Buffs.
• AFC North: Bengals 10-6, Steelers 9-7, Ravens 9-7, Browns 5-11. Cincy now rules this division, although Andy Dalton still must find a way to win a playoff game. Pittsburgh and Baltimore will be in the hunt. Cleveland won’t be, but will get disproportionate attention thanks to Johnny Manziel.
• AFC South: Colts 10-6, Texans 6-10, Titans 5-11, Jaguars 4-12. I’m still not convinced that Andrew Luck is better than good. Not sure he’s headed to Eliteville, let alone already there. But I am sure he’s the best QB in this division by a couple of furlongs.
• AFC West: Broncos 13-3, Chargers 10-6 (WC), Chiefs 9-7, Raiders 4-12. Peyton Manning’s Denver has chance to be first team in 42 years to rebound from a Super Bowl loss to win it all. KC could push Diego for wild-card if Jamaal Charles had more help on offense.
• NFC East: Eagles 12-4, Cowboys 6-10, Redskins 6-10, Giants 5-11. Looks like a one-team division if Birds stay high-flying under Chip Kelly and Nick Foles’ break-through in ’13 doesn’t prove to be an aberration. Dallas has a playoff-caliber offense but could be a fright on D.
• NFC North: Packers 12-4, Bears 10-6 (WC), Lions 7-9, Vikings 5-11. GB had a chance Thursday night to show if they’re as good as I think. Chicago can match Aaron Rodgers’ Pack for offensive firepower but not on defense or all-round.
• NFC South: Saints 13-3, Falcons 8-8, Panthers 8-8, Buccaneers 7-9. Drew Brees’ New Orleans is really good, maybe even title-shot good. Atlanta’s offense and Carolina’s defense could keep them in the wild-card chase.
• NFC West: Seahawks 11-5, 49ers 9-7 (WC), Cardinals 7-9, Rams 4-12. Seattle has solid shot to be first repeat champ since New England in 2003-04 if Marshawn Lynch avoids a falloff. San Fran should (barely) survive its offseason chaos on defense.
• Super Bowl: OK this is where I summon and bring to bear all of my prognosticating experience including my 2-21 career record on correctly forecasting a season’s ultimate winner. Dramatic drumroll, please? No? Um, how ‘bout a casual finger tap? And the Super Bowl pick is: Broncos over Saints!
I went with the safe pick this time. Wait. This is the NFL. There are no safe picks, especially where I’m concerned.
I’m sorry, Denver. It’s nothing personal.