23 January 2008

NFL previews: A shameful look back

Okay, first post in four months and it's time to face up to my awful preseason NFL picks. This was a year in which the league's biggest star got sent to prison for ritualistic animal sacrifice, my favourite team stunk, and millions of innocent American children learned the important life lesson that cheaters win, even when they get caught. Wahoo. And a year in which surprisingly strong showings by the likes of Cleveland, Houston and Minnesota were more than offset by the woeful underperformances of Miami, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Denver, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco... I can't remember another year with this many utterly crappy teams.

Which is not to take away from the accomplishments of the regular season's big four. I'm really just complaining about the quality of most of the games I sat through this fall. At least the playoffs kind of made up for that; the Jax@Pit and NYG@GB games were two of the best I've seen in a while. But overall this season was really just one big bummer from start to finish.

Enough stalling. Here's a look back on my embarrassing predictions from the preseason.

Win totals

The pick: over 6
The final tally: 7–9
The logic: "This team won seven games last year and should improve."
That was it, no deeper formula than that. Actually I thought they'd be even better, like barely miss a wild card spot, but the truth is they didn't really improve at all, their opponents just got worse.

The pick: under 10
The final tally: 7–9
The logic: "Their QB's the same, running game's worse, and I think GB and Det will be improved."
Seriously, how could anyone not have seen this coming? Easiest money on the board. There's one of these every year.

The pick: over 9
The final tally: 7–9
The logic: "I don't care how bad their defense is or how many of them are suspended, I think they can win a ton of games."
Yeah, well, you see where that kind of thinking gets you. What the hell happened here? And how does Marvin Lewis still have a job? I thought these guys were gonna be one of the best teams in the league.

The pick: over 91/2
The final tally: 7–9
The logic: "Cutler the starter from day one of camp, upgraded running game, fresh meat on the d-line, what's not to like here?"
Well, Cutler, for one, whose development into an elite NFL quarterback seems... stunted. Classic case of a guy from a crappy NCAA program who did nothing to elevate his team but put up a bunch of individual stats. Also a classic case of "three scouts barking." Still, this one really surprised me because Denver's generally a pretty reliable franchise. They win 8 to 10 games every year, take the division or get a wild card, then lose in the playoffs. Year in year out. So what happened? Truth is... I didn't see them very much this year.

The pick: over 6
The final tally: 7–9
The logic: "Seriously, the Lions may not make they playoffs, but I think they'll be competitive this year, even with a backfield composed entirely of glorified third-down backs."
Thank you, thank you very much. This was one of my weirdest picks and, paradoxically, one of my most confident. I have no idea why I had such a good feeling about this team, but I just had a clear vision of them as an 8–8 "spoiner" team. Which, in their case, is really good. Or would have been. Oh well, a win's a win.

The pick: over 61/2
The final tally: 8–8
The logic: "Did I just talk myself into calling the Texans a .500 team?"
Ah yes, the sound of supreme confidence at work. I really think my overriding logic here was along the lines of "they can't suck forever." Just goes to show, flipping a coin is probably just as effective as careful analysis. Maybe more.

The pick: under 7
The final tally: 1–15
The logic: "Old defense, old QB, questionable receivers, competitive division. Oh, and one of their home games is in London."
Okay, ignore the "competitive division" bit. Who was their QB, anyway? I honestly can neither remember nor be bothered to look it up. Think they'll have an over-under line next year for how many weeks until Parcells pills a Riley and just takes over in the sidelines? I'm putting it at ten.

The pick: under 111/2
The final tally: 16–0
The logic: "Buying up stars didn't work for the Redskins, either."
Yeah, I missed pretty good on that one. Can't win 'em all, I guess. Pun intended.

New York (NFC)
The pick: under 8
The final tally: 10–6
The logic: "By December the players will be polishing their golf clubs and openly speculating about who the new coach will be next year."
Wow. Comes up back to back with my Pats pick. I'm on a roll.

The pick: under 9
The final tally: 10–6
The logic: "People seem to like Mike Tomlin. Why does this team look all 6–10-ish to me?"
Because you're an idiot.

San Francisco
The pick: over 71/2
The final tally: 5–11
The logic: "These guys are a hot pick this year and Vegas has them under .500? Seriously?"
Yup. Seriously. Looks like we can write off Alex Smith as yet another lost top draft pick. Small hands, I hear.

St. Louis
The pick: over 71/2
The final tally: 3–13
The logic: "I always overrate them because I still think of them as the Warner/Faulk Rams, and because they still put up gaudy offensive numbers now and then. And I'm probably overrating them this year, but so be it."
So my justification for the pick included an explanation as to why the pick was wrong. Did I even proofread these things? Still, I don't think anyone expected them to be that bad.

La Zone de Colombie
The pick: over 71/2
The final tally: 9–7
The logic: "Are you ready for the 'Skins, people? I think this team's gonna surprise a lot of people this year."
I said they could win ten, they won nine. I said they could win the division, they came in third. Tough division. At least they made the playoffs. They're screwed next year, by the way.

Final score
6–7. Hope you didn't take all those predictions as like... "advice". Or whatever. Could have been worse, I suppose.

Division races

Denver 3–2: I stand by my conviction that Denver is usually a pretty safe pick.

Green Bay 7–1: That's right, baby! Picked this one by default, really. I just didn't like any of the other teams in the division.

St. Louis 4–1: When was the last time these guys were good? Five, six years ago? Teams can turn around in two seasons in this league. Not making this mistake again. Although that's what I said at the beginning of the season about my Tampa pick the year before. Rams in ’08, I guess.

Washington 4-1: There were still better than anybody thought they'd be. How did I not see the Cowboys coming? Not sold on Romo, not sold on Wade Phillips...

Final score
1–3. Not very good, but the overall payoff comes to 7–4 with just that Green Bay pick. So there.

Super Bowl champs

Cincinnati 18–1, Denver 17–1, Philadelphia 20–1
Not much to say here. I took under-the-radar but believable teams with tasty odds. Not really a sound strategy. Probably why I'm not rich.

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