Some more ill-advised 2013 NFL season predictions
There’s no time like the first time. This is my first full season watching the NFL fan. On the one hand, I’m inexperienced at this thing. On the other, I’d like to think that I’ve got a different perspective on these things. I see a lot of the professional pundits love the established teams, whereas because I’m new to this business, I’m just calling it as I see it without context, which could work both ways. So I’m going to take advantage of this and throw out a few risky predictions. If they don’t come off, I can pass it off as inexperience. If they do, I look like a genius.
5 things I think will happen
1. Oakland will be bad. Very bad
The way I see it, while the NFL is incredibly competitive with loads of very good teams (and that’s something we can be grateful for), there are a few bad teams, and there’s a bit of a gulf developing between the very good and very bad teams. This could be one of those seasons where a team goes 0-16. And if any team is going 0-16 this year, it’s the Raiders.
The Raiders have a very inexperienced quarterback who has looked ropey so far. Their best offensive player always gets injured. Their offensive line is non-existent. I don’t see where the points are going to come from, and they don’t look great defensively either. In their division, they face Philip Rivers, Alex Smith and Peyton Manning. I’d say they have about 3 winnable games on their schedule at the most – San Diego at home, Jacksonville and the New York Jets. I struggle to see how they can score more points than a team that’s better than that.
2. The Ravens won’t make the play-offs
I think there’s a realistic chance that Baltimore won’t make it to the post-season. The Giants dropped off quickly last season despite not losing a load of key personnel like the Ravens have. The Bengals look worthy challengers, the Browns have improved, you can’t write off the Steelers, and there are a few decent contenders for wildcard spots. But it’s not just that.
I watched America’s Game last night, and while I know documentaries of that sort are going to focus on the emotion and narratives rather than the sporting detail, it really demonstrated how much of the Ravens’ push for the Super Bowl was helped over the line by the unity of the team in the wake of a number of events, including Art Modell’s death, Ray Lewis’ retirement, and a number of players coming to the end of their contracts. Even if that only added an extra 2 or 3 per cent to their performance, that was the difference. This year, they won’t have that, and that could be the difference between 10-6 while peaking at the right time and 8-8 with no wildcard spot.
3. The Cardinals will pick in the top 5 of the 2014 Draft
The schedule for Arizona is very tough this year. Not only are they the odd one out in arguably the strongest division in the NFL, but they also have to face the NFC South teams, Detroit, Philadelphia and the AFC South teams. Their one saving grace is that they only have to travel to their weaker opponents – they go to Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Tennessee, Tampa Bay and, in probably the toughest trip, to New Orleans, whereas they will welcome the Colts, the Texans, the Falcons, the Lions and the Panthers.
However, I’m not convinced by the signing of Carson Palmer, who the Raiders were happy to let go in favour of signing a QB they are now making their back-up because he’s not good enough to start. They have also lost their top draft pick, Jonathan Cooper, to injury, while 6th round pick, wide receiver Ryan Swope, has retired due to concussion issues. That basically leaves them at 7 draft picks, which isn’t ideal for a team that has lost 11 of its last 12 games. They’re not in as big a mess as the Raiders, the Jets or the Jaguars but they’re in that group just above them, mainly because of the schedule.
4. This will be a classic season
I did follow last season at a distance, and I realised come the end that it had been a very good season. The teams in the money rounds were playing at a very high standard, and the games were more often decided by individual brilliance rather than mistakes. I remember discussing this with my friends, cynically remarking “but 3 of the 4 teams in the Championship Games are the same as last season.” The response I got was “yeah but this is totally unexpected.” And I see the point now. A bit.
This year will be even better, though. Many of the teams are in something of a transition phase – the Steelers and Giants, two of the top teams of the last decade, are on the decline without being terrible, possibly along with the Ravens who have already been hit by losses this year; the Bengals and Seahawks are on the way up; and there are a group of teams who could be the next to hit the latter category, on the verge of becoming good again. As well as that, the NFL has a new generation of quarterbacks who are in the process of becoming big stars, while Brady and Peyton Manning enter the last few years of their career, the “savour it while you can” stage.
5. British interest in the NFL will continue to grow quickly
I’ve noticed the NFL gradually becoming fashionable again in the last 6 or 7 years. The TV coverage of the Super Bowl got ramped up, the “alternative” kids in school started talking about it, and then the NFL decided to stage games at Wembley. Maybe I’m completely wrong on this and the level of interest has been relatively stable since the 1980s, but I get the feeling the NFL’s popularity here has increased a lot since Super Bowl XLII (Pats-Giants, which had some great narratives that people could engage with even if they weren’t familiar with the sport), which was certainly the first one I took an interest in.
If you mention the NFL to most British football fans, though, they usually react cynically – “American rubbish” etc. And yet the same people will probably bemoan the lack of parity in the Premier League, or about how money is ruining everything – the exact two things that aren’t happening to the NFL, because of the “we’re only as strong as the weakest team” mantra. It’s everything British football fans want from the Premier League, and I think people are starting to wake up to that.
Yes, it’s a bit corporate on the surface, the game does take time to get used to, and it does feel a little distant over there on the other side of the Pond, literally and metaphorically. But it’s becoming more relevant. Each year the coverage here of the Super Bowl increases a little, and I think that’s a sure sign of more people being interested. That this is coinciding with a new era for the NFL – new teams at the top, a new generation of superstars, and potential international expansion – is only going to help that transition from minority sport to something a sizeable number of people follow.
My (safe) predictions
1. New England Patriots*
2. Miami Dolphins
3. Buffalo Bills
4. New York Jets
1. Cincinnati Bengals*
2. Baltimore Ravens
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Cleveland Browns
1. Houston Texans*
2. Indianapolis Colts*
3. Tennessee Titans
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
1. Denver Broncos*
2. Kansas City Chiefs*
3. San Diego Chargers
4. Oakland Raiders
1. Washington Redskins*
2. Dallas Cowboys
3. New York Giants
4. Philadelphia Eagles
1. Green Bay Packers*
2. Minnesota Vikings
3. Detroit Lions
4. Chicago Bears
1. Atlanta Falcons*
2. New Orleans Saints*
3. Carolina Panthers
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1. San Francisco 49ers*
2. Seattle Seahawks*
3. St Louis Rams
4. Arizona Cardinals
AFC Wildcard Games
New England (3) beat Kansas City (6)
Cincinnati (4) beat Indianapolis (5)
NFC Wildcard Games
Atlanta (3) beat New Orleans (6)
Seattle (5) beat Washington (4)
AFC Divisional Playoffs
Houston (1) beat Cincinnati (4)
New England (3) beat Denver (2)
NFC Divisional Playoffs
San Francisco (1) beat Seattle (5)
Green Bay (2) beat Atlanta (3)
Houston (1) beat New England (3)
San Francisco (1) beat Green Bay (2)
Super Bowl XLVIII
San Francisco beat Houston