Back once again for your later (or immediate) mocking pleasure, my pre-season picks for this year's playoffs:
AFC East: Patriots
I don't love the Patriots this year. Well, I never love the Patriots, but you know what I mean. Huge amount of offensive personnel turnover, lots of offseason drama, and may I remind you that, ever since Belichick's cheating was uncovered, they've done precisely dick in the playoffs? Still, who else are you going with in this sad-sack division? The Dolphins? They've upgraded this year, but not that much. The Jets? With poor widdle Mark Sanchez always one snap away from being benched, Darelle Revis off to Tampa, and headcase Rex Ryan leading the circus, whose weight loss has additionally turned him into a real pill? The Bills? Get serious. They're likely to be starting an undrafted rookie at quarterback, at least initially. So the Pats take it by default.
AFC North: Ravens
Can the Ravens repeat? Probably not the Super Bowl win, but potentially at least their divisional title. The Bengals are the sleeper agent in this division, and, I think, could see the playoffs thanks to their outstanding defense, but I don't think they'll snatch the North from the defending champs.
AFC South: Texans
Gotta go with my former Team of Destiny here. Still love them to top the Colts this year, still love them as a Super Bowl pick. And the Titans and the Jags would have to get reassigned to AFC East to even hope to be contenders.
AFC West: Broncos
The Raiders remain a hot mess, and the Chargers aren't far behind at this point. Much as I'd love to pick the Chiefs, and I do think they will be much improved this year under Andy Reid (they could scarcely be worse), I just can't see going with anyone but the Broncos.
AFC Wildcard: Colts and Bengals
And I think there's a reasonable chance the Colts take South and the Texans go wildcard, slightly less so for a Ravens/Bengals flip.
NFC East: Redskins, with an asterisk
The Redskins are the putative favorites, but the question on everyone's mind is: how is RGIII's knee REALLY doing? He's young and stubborn, and I'm getting the feeling that maybe Mike Shanahan isn't quite as careful with his players as he should be. On the other hand, getting Brian Orakpo back is going to help, too. And Kirk Cousins isn't terrible. But it all comes down to: can the Skins keep RGIII healthy for 16 games? (Doesn't that sound familiar, Eagles fans?) If not, this one goes to the Giants. The division is too weak to produce a wildcard team, though.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in Milwaukee with a client. The first night I was there, my main contact took me and a few of her colleagues out to dinner. It was all ladies, and they mostly weren't big football fans, so I tried to keep from geeking out too much on them. But they did ask what I thought were their Packers' chances this year. Divisional win, no contest. As you know, I love the Lions, but no consistency (although I am excited to see what Reggie Bush can do for them). I don't think Adrian Peterson can pull off back to back 2000 yard seasons. And I don't think Lovie Smith was the problem with the Bears. Their problem rhymes with Make Multer. The competition here isn't quite as sorry as it is in the AFC East, but none of these teams can reasonably compete with ARodg, who may be becoming, in his unassuming way, a legendarily gifted quarterback.
NFC South: Saints
Sean Payton's back. Did he bring the Saints' mojo with him? I think the answer is yes, although it will be interesting to see if Rob Ryan fares any better in New Orleans than he did in Dallas. I'm not discounting the Falcons (see below), or, for that matter, the Buccaneers, who are also much better this year, or even the Panthers, if Cam Newton can regain his rookie magic. But I gotta go with my heart here.
NFC West: Seahawks
Is the NFC West the toughest division in football at this point? Well, not if you include the Cardinals and, to a lesser degree, the Rams. But the 49ers and Seahawks both remain excellent teams. My qualms about the 49ers come down to: will lightening strike twice? I don't think they're quite good enough to repeat, and, as long as Russell Wilson has another good year, I think the Seahawks can ride an outstanding defense to a divisional title.
NFC Wildcard: 49ers and Falcons
I think both teams have a better than average chance of swapping with the divisional opponents I've picked.
Team of Destiny
After last year's embarrassing 4-12 finish, I'm going with my Eagles. The offense retains the potential to be outstanding, particularly as they get accustomed to the Chipster. The special teams appears to be much improved. Admittedly, it would've been impossible to get worse, but they do seem to be making significant progress under Dave Fipp. The defensive shift from 4-3 to 3-4, with 4-3 personnel (Trent Cole, don't lose heart!), and their nearly complete lack of a secondary means that opposing teams will put up a lot of points, and I expect plenty of shoot-out games. But, depending on how the next few offseasons go, and what happens with the quarterbacks, I see the Eagles being ready to make some noise in the postseason again before too long.
Don't like my predictions? Check out:
More Sports Illustrated