The year is shaping up to be a good one...at least a good one from my perspective as a Seattle fan. But before we get to any discussion of post-season play, let's take a look at how the regular season shook out (non-football fans...um, this will probably be less-than-interesting). As is my usual M.O., we'll go division by division; a "*" indicates a playoff-bound team:
[oh, just by the way, when I write "predicted finish" I'm talking about the predictions of ESPN experts, not my own predictions...see this pre-season post for reference]
AFC East (2014 Standings)
*New England Patriots 12-4 (predicted finish: 12-4)
Buffalo Bills 9-7 (predicted finish: 7-9)
Miami Dolphins 8-8 (predicted finish: 8-8)
NY Jets 4-12 (predicted finish: 9-7)
Um, yeah...this one shook out (more or less) as I figured it would. The guy who though Geno Smith would carry the Jets to a winning season? Totally on crack. I have to say, it's sad to see Rex Ryan go, 'cause it just means the Jets are going to swirl deeper down the toilet. If he can get a job in an outfit that has a decent quarterback and a GM that won't work against him, I'd expect Ryan to see success. Now that he and Marrone are both gone (and the mediocre Philbin has been retained by Miami)...well, is anyone ever going to challenge the Patriots in this division?
AFC North (2014 Standings)
*Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5 (predicted finish: 10-6)
*Cincinnati Bengals 10-5-1 (predicted finish:10-6)
*Baltimore Ravens 10-6 (predicted finish: 9-7)
Cleveland Browns 7-9 (predicted finish: 6-10)
As I said midway through the season, I was wrong about the Steelers...I didn't reckon with the fact that their divisional games would be against the pathetic AFC South and NFC South teams. The ability to play Tennessee, Jacksonville, and "crap-sandwich division" allowed all the teams in the North to puff up their records, and send three teams through to the post-season. Cleveland is just plain stupid...they had as good a chance as any of these teams to pass if they'd stuck with their QB and dumped Josh Gordon. In retrospect, probably the worst thing that happened to the Browns was the reduction of Gordon's suspension (he was supposed to be out for the year) as his return can be linked directly to Hoyer's "poor play." Hey, Browns fans, here's a fast fun fact: after week 11 the Cleveland Browns had the exact same record as the Seattle Seahawks (6-4). The difference is Cleveland's final six opponents were against teams with a combined win percentage of .544 instead of .600 (that was their percentage before being played by the Browns and 'Hawks).
AFC South (2014 Standings)
*Indianapolis Colts 11-5 (predicted finish: 11-5)
Houston Texans 9-7 (predicted finish: 8-8)
Jacksonville Jaguars 3-13 (predicted finish: 6-10)
Tennessee Titans 2-14 (predicted finish: 7-9)
I've got to hand it to J.J. Watt (hand him the MVP trophy, too)...I really didn't think the Texans were going to even finish .500 this year. He was even more supreme than usual. For much of the season, the Colts looked as bad as I thought they would, but they beat a whole slew of pathetic teams on their schedule (6-0 in division play! 3-0 against Washington, the Giants, and Johnny Manziel!). Paper tigers.
AFC West (2014 Standings)
*Denver Broncos 12-4 (predicted finish: 12-4)
Kansas City 9-7 (predicted finish: 8-8)
San Diego Chargers 9-7 (predicted finish: 10-6)
Oakland Raiders 3-13 (predicted finish: 6-10)
Wow...all these teams had a drop-off from last year...but then they all got beat up by the NFC West. I still think KC and San Diego are as good of play-off teams as any of those cats in the AFC North, they just didn't get the same easy pickings to fatten their records. Maybe next year.
NFC East (2014 Standings)
*Dallas Cowboys 12-4 (predicted finish: 8-8)
Philadelphia Eagles 10-6 (predicted finish: 11-5)
NY Giants 6-10 (predicted finish: 8-8)
Washington Redskins 4-12 (predicted finish: 7-9)
Welp, I called this one, though I certainly didn't see the Cowboys being so dominant. The more interesting questions for the future are: will the Giants and Eagles switch places in the standings next year, AND will Washington dump RGIII (hard to see the latter happening without someone better waiting in the wings).
NFC North (2014 Standings)
*Green Bay Packers 12-4 (predicted finish: 12-4)
*Detroit Lions 11-5 (predicted finish: 8-8)
Minnesota Vikings 7-9 (predicted finish: 7-9)
Chicago Bears 5-11 (predicted finish: 10-6)
Hey, look at that! Green Bay is on top and Chicago is pathetic! And Golden Tate's not a bad addition to a team already full of weapons on both sides of the ball.
NFC South (2014 Standings)
*Carolina Panthers 7-8-1 (predicted finish: 10-6)
New Orleans Saints 7-9 (predicted finish: 11-5)
Atlanta Falcons 6-10 (predicted finish: 9-7)
Tampa Bay Bucs 2-14 (predicted finish: 8-8)
Crap sandwich. There are probably folks in Chicago wishing Lovie Smith was still there...and I'll bet he's wishing the same.
NFC West (2014 Standings)
*Seattle Seahawks 12-4 (predicted finish: 13-3)
*Arizona Cardinals 11-5 (predicted finish: 9-7)
Santa Clara 49ers 8-8 (predicted finish: 11-5)
St. Louis Rams 6-10 (predicted finish: 6-10)
Well, just as I predicted (and unlike the pundits), Arizona leap-frogged Frisco for a wild card and the Niners are out. What's worse for our friends in Santa Clara is that Harbaugh's been kicked to the curb and the team looks poised on the brink of dumpster fire-like immolation. Ah...how fast the mighty can fall when front office politics muck things up. You'd think there'd be a learning from history or something.
Most playoff predictions are "chalk;" the team that's picked to win is based on record or power ranking or past performance or whatever. There's no fun in making fun of that (unlike pre-season predictions when everyone is optimistic about their fantastic draft class and free agent acquisitions). Things like injuries and off-field issues (arrests, car crashes, etc.) can throw all sorts of monkey wrenches into teams' seasons...and sometimes you really can't tell how the loss of a single player might bring down a whole (precariously balanced) team.
Or how the inclusion of one player might wreck a well-oiled machine. Look at the Seahawks. Last year, Percy Harvin spent nearly the entire season sidelined as he recovered from hip surgery, only showing up in spectacular fashion for the Super Bowl. This year, fully healthy, the team spent the off-season devising game plans to use this troublesome player, and when things didn't go well it led to serious problems, on and off the field. A team that had been dominant in the previous year was 3-2 and teetering on the edge of dumpster fire territory. And so they cut ties and moved on, having to retool everything they'd expected and planned before the season began. It's a testament to the team that they were able to get it turned around and back on track.
But playoffs...well, the playoffs are a shorter stretch, and while injuries DO play a part, the other issues usually get sidelined for the length of a team's run. It's only three (or four) games, max, right? Even when players/coaches/staff aren't getting along they can make it work for a couple weeks. They can put their partying and craziness on-hold till they're finally kicked from the tournament.
I'd think so, anyway. Playoffs are more about match-ups, field conditions (including home crowds), and coaching. Talent can help with match-ups, but coaching can trump individual talent. Weather and noise plays a part, but so does previous playoff experience. Teams with a history of winning in the post-season tend to continue winning and "newbies" need to find that championship mentality to compete with the vets of the scene.
That's why Arizona may ultimately fall in Carolina. That's why Dallas and Detroit may find it hard to advance more than one round. That's why my money's on the Seahawks in the NFC and on either the Patriots or Pittsburgh in the AFC. Good coaching, playoff experience.
But, of course, we've got to play the games to see what happens. I know I'll be watching.
|I love this time of year!|