Fearless and perhaps quite useless predictions
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 07, 2005
We present for your reading pleasure our fearless – and quite possibly completely useless – 2005 NFL predictions. We haven't been this confident since we gambled our old cardboard box and beer bottle-cap abacus on an Apollo Creed first-round knockout. (Feel free to visit the forum and tell us where to shove our fearless and perhaps quite useless Cold, Hard Football Facts predictions.)
Our pick: New England
The AFC East was the toughest division in football last year. Three of its teams posted winning records, two went to the playoffs, one won the Super Bowl and even the lowly Dolphins pulled off the shocker of the season with a 29-28 late-season victory over the Patriots on Monday Night Football. The Patriots entered the game 12-1, the Dolphins 2-11. The Miami win marked the first time in NFL history that a team with 10 fewer wins than its opponent won the game. With new coach Nick Saban replacing the ineffective Dave Wannstedt in Miami, and the offensive anchor called Drew Bledsoe moved from Buffalo to Dallas, the AFC East might be even tougher top to bottom this season. But as we've stated, we're rolling our dice on the champs until they crap out.
Our pick: Cincinnati
Sure, Pittsburgh is fresh off a season in which it became the first team in AFC history to win 15 regular-season games, but it's hard to get a good vibe for that team. Their 15-win season came to a humiliating conclusion, first with the 41-27 drubbing they took at home versus New England in the AFC title game, and then with the tear-filled Hines Ward lamenting the potential departure of Jerome Bettis the following day. The preseason seems to have taken a nasty turn. The Steelers went 3-1, but both Bettis and Duce Staley will miss the early part of the year with injuries. Ward, of course, was caught up in a lengthy contract dispute and he won't have Plaxico Burress drawing coverage away from him. Baltimore is the other hot pick in the AFC North, but with QB Kyle Boller at the helm again this season (and seemingly no legitimate backup behind him), it's hard to see the Ravens generating enough offense to make a run. Cincinnati, meanwhile, and QB Carson Palmer, showed flashes of brilliance last season, and a very comfortable first month means they could legitimately start the season at 4-0. Cleveland is one of the few teams in the league with key Super Bowl experience. Coach Romeo Crennel has five Super Bowl rings and QB Trent Dilfer is one of just four starting quarterbacks in the league who has won a Super Bowl (Tom Brady, Kurt Warner and Brett Favre are the other three).
Our pick: Indy
How do you go against an offense that scored 522 points last season and a quarterback who shattered some of the most coveted passing records in the game? You don't. Not when the Colts also made serious efforts to improve a defense that's been inadequate in the regular season: First in the draft, with five of their top six picks devoted to defense, and again in free agency, with the recent signing of Pro Bowl DT Corey Simon. But Jacksonville could also make a serious charge at the top of the division. The Jaguars gave Indy fits last year, beating the Colts in their coveted dome and losing, 24-17, to Indy while at home. Both AFC South contenders posted a nifty 4-3 record against quality opponents.
Our pick: Kansas City
Chiefs management made a colossal bonehead move (or lack of moves) following the 2003 season, when they failed to shore up the defense that looked like a punctured sieve in the postseason. The D promptly went out and surrendered 103 more points in 2004 than it did in 2003 (435 vs. 332). Kansas City clearly had no choice this season and added a slew of defenders through free agency and the draft, and they can still count on an offense that's loaded with talent and has scored 967 points over the past two seasons (just two shy of Indy's 969). Quarterback Trent Green has quietly amassed some spectacular numbers. Last year was the best of his career. He completed 66.4 percent of his passes with 27 TDs and finished second to Daunte Culpepper in passing yards with 4,591. The only thing that kept Green from posting Manningesque numbers was KC's vaunted running game. The Chiefs rushed for a league-leading 31 TDs last season. The Colts rushed for 10. KC also averaged an amazing 31.1 PPG against quality opponents. Now, if they can only learn to beat up on the bad teams, they could be a serious contender in 2005. As we had predicted heading into the last postseason, the 2004 division-winning Chargers were a paper tiger. Sure, they posted a nice 12-4 record, but they were 2-4 against quality opponents and were promptly dumped from the playoffs in the wild-card round.
AFC wild card teams: N.Y. Jets, Jacksonville
AFC title game: New England over Indy
Our pick: Philly
The Eagles are the only thing keeping the NFC from turning into the USFL and the only team that can hang and bang with the big boys of the AFC, as their hard-fought three-point loss to New England in the Super Bowl proved last season. There's no reason to believe they won't dominate the division, and possibly the conference, again in 2005. The big D in Dallas was decidedly un-Parcellsian in 2004: it finished 27th in the league, surrendering 405 points. That should change with the additions of CB Anthony Henry and rookie OLB DeMarcus Ware, who has been working with Lawrence Taylor and is said to resemble him as a pass rusher. Parcells has never had consecutive losing seasons in his 17-year career. In fact, his four sub-.500 teams have improved by an average of five wins the following season.
Our pick: Minnesota
Did you ever hear about the fall of Rome in World War II? Probably not. It was one of the turning points of the war, the first captured Axis capital. But it happened on June 5, the day before D-Day and, needless to say, got pushed off the front pages. That was kind of like Daunte Culpepper's 2004 season. He had one of the greatest quarterbacking seasons in NFL history, with a record 5,123 yards of total offense. But all anyone talked about was Peyton Manning's 49 TD passes. Coupled with the media's love affair with another NFC North QB, Brett Favre, Culpepper rarely finds his name mentioned among the game's best. But he is. This could be the year that Culpepper gets his due, although it will take a run through the NFC North and deep into the playoffs to make it happen. The luster has been taken off Lambeau Field, with the home playoff losses stacking up in the interception-filled Favre era. And here's a name from the NFC North to keep an eye on: Detroit backup QB Dan Orlovsky. With second-stringer Jeff Garcia injured and starter Joey Harrington likely to struggle, the fifth-round draft pick Orlovsky could find himself running an NFL team before long. He has the size (6'5", 238) and put up big numbers in college while helping Connecticut go from I-AA to a legitimate I-A program.
Our pick: Tampa Bay
Carolina is the trendy selection – SI went so far as to pick the Panthers to win the Super Bowl – but we have a hard time getting past the fact that they went 0-7 against quality opponents a year ago. The return of running backs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster and wideout Steve Smith, none of whom played after the fifth game last year, will certainly help. QB Jake Delhomme has also matured into a dangerous passer, finishing fifth in the league with 29 TD passes. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, also appears stacked on offense. A backfield that includes first-round pick Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, Michael Pittman and hard-nosed fan favorite Mike Alstott is one to be reckoned with. Unheralded Brian Griese had a remarkable season at quarterback last year and should have represented the NFC in the Pro Bowl in place of Michael Vick. In 11 games, he completed 233 of 336 passes (69.3%) for 2,632 yards, 20 TDs, 12 INTs and a 97.5 passer rating. Last season, the Buccaneers scored 301 points and surrendered 304. Compare their point differential to that of NFC title contender Atlanta last year (340 PF, 337 PF). You don't see much of a difference. Tampa Bay also destroyed Atlanta at home, 27-0. Although we're still trying to figure out how the Bucs managed to go 5-11 last season, we're taking a stand against both conference runners-up this year. In a historically weak NFC, Tampa Bay could be ready to pounce.
Our pick: St. Louis
The league's pesky insistence on sending each division winner to the playoffs – no matter how bad they are – means the NFL-cellar-dwelling NFC West will once again be represented in the postseason. This is the same division in which both its champion (Seattle) and its wild-card representative (St. Louis) posted a combined 17-15 record and each surrendered more points than they scored. But looking for a contender, one team stands above the rest. St. Louis went just 8-8 last season but faced the toughest schedule in the NFC, by a considerable margin. They played eight quality opponents, posting a fairly impressive 4-4 record against them and doubling the quality win total of their closest NFC competitors, Philly and Atlanta (both went 2-1). What's this all mean for 2005? Maybe nothing. But in a division that might send a 6-10 team to the playoffs, it's as good to go on as anything else.
NFC wild card teams: Carolina, Dallas
NFC title game: Minnesota over Philly
Super Bowl: New England over Minnesota
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