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.
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.