I was thinking about the state of the NFL. On the one hand there is a dynamic group of young players, mostly quarterbacks, who have come into the league over the past three years and promise to be the collective face of the league for the next decade. With them has come the era of hyper-offense, where a variety of new schemes are designed to maximize the number of plays an offense runs and punish the defense by driving them to exhaustion rather than stuffing it down their throats or throwing the ball vertically every play.
On the other hand we’re in the third decade of the era of parity. The Colts are the textbook example of how fast fortunes can change in the league. They went from 10 wins to two back to 11 in a three-season span. Sure, they’re a fringe case because of the loss of Peyton Manning and addition of Andrew Luck. But still, in the NFL you’re never that far away from a playoff berth. What we lose in that, though, is having great teams that stay together over time. New England is, obviously, the dominant franchise of the past decade. But since their 18-1 season, have they really felt dominant? And has any team stepped up to replace them? The Giants beat the Pats in two Super Bowls since 2008, but also missed the playoffs three other times in that span.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s fantastic that Luck. RGIII, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, and Cam Newton are picking up as the old guard of premier quarterbacks is beginning its downhill slide. But who knows if we’ll be lucky enough to see any of those players, or others who aren’t stars yet, be consistent contenders for the Super Bowl the way Brady, Manning, and Favre were.
The era of parity makes picking winners tough. One magazine I flipped through had the entire NFC East with either eight or seven wins. No great teams, no awful teams, in their view. A couple other divisions could be just as mediocre. With the teams so tightly packed, injuries and luck become even bigger factors in who wins. But I shall persevere and make some predictions anyway.
East – New York
When in doubt, go with Tom Coughlin.
North – Green Bay
While I think Chicago will push them, Aaron Rodgers is still the most complete quarterback in the game and will be the difference.
South – New Orleans
They’ll play with chips on their shoulders after the mess of last year’s Bountygate and squeak by Atlanta.
West – San Francisco
You know what I said about rivalries above? The Niners – Seahawks thing could turn into an epic one for the next five-plus years if each team makes smart decisions with their rosters, keeps their stars healthy, and Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh hang around.
Wildcards: Seattle, Atlanta
Two very good teams to round out the post-season roster.
East – New England
Remains the easiest pick in the game for at least one more year.
North – Cincinnati
This seems to be a trendy pick. But the Ravens take a big step back and I’m not sold on Pittsburgh being deep and healthy enough to reclaim the division. So I’ll stick with the crowd.
South – Houston
The Colts take a step back this year and the Titans rule the division for one more year before Indy takes over again.
West – Denver
Assuming, of course, Peyton can survive.
Wildcards: Pittsburgh, Kansas City
Unlike the NFC, where the Wild Cards will be very good teams that just miss out on division titles, the AFC Wild Cards will be a couple of Mehs.
Seattle over New York
Atlanta over Green Bay
San Francisco over Atlanta
Seattle over New Orleans
San Francisco over Seattle
Cincinnati over Kansas City
Houston over Pittsburgh
Denver over Cincinnati
New England over Houston
New England over Denver
OK, let’s get this out in the open: I’m all over the Kaepernick bandwagon. Which means he’ll fall on his face this year, or NFL defenses will figure out how to stop the read-option and turn him into ordinary. But I love the dude’s game and think he’s going to change the NFL.
New England makes one, final Super Bowl appearance in the Brady-Belichick era1 but just don’t have the firepower on either side of the ball to hang with the ‘Niners.
San Francisco 31
New England 20
Mark it down.
- I believe I’ve said that every year for the past three years. ↩