Revisions taking into account Matt Schaub’s injury have been made.
Granted, the official midway point of the season has passed. Work with me.
With 10 weeks of NFL football already in the books, the following are my predictions for who will win each division, and ultimately who will play in the Super Bowl.
Now before looking forward, I’d like to revisit my preseason conference finalist predictions. The NFC picks are holding up nicely, as I chose Green Bay and New Orleans to meet for the George Halas Trophy. The same thing cannot be said for my preseason AFC prediction: Indianapolis vs. San Diego. Not going to happen. So, I will now hit the reset button and make some new predictions:
AFC Division Winners:
AFC East: New England: In the preseason, I chose the Jets to win the division, believing New England’s brutal defense would sink the team. I still believe that New England’s defensive liabilities will be their downfall come playoff time, but with a one game lead and two head-to-head wins over New York, Belichick and Co. have the inside track to win the division (and for the record, I’m not sold on Buffalo–although I hope I’m wrong, as I think it would be nice if they can make a run). The remaining schedules of the two teams are very similar, as both have games against Denver, Washington, Buffalo, Miami, Kansas City, and Philadelphia. The lone difference is while the Jets have a game against the Giants, New England gets to face the shell of a football team formerly known as the Indianapolis Colts.
AFC North: Baltimore: Baltimore may very well be the strangest team in the NFL. It’s key wins have come against Houston, the Jets, and the Steelers (twice). It’s losses? Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Seattle. Bizarre to say the least. I still feel at the end of the day, they will finish atop the division, assuming Joe Flacco can play consistently, as their talent level is undeniable and they have shown they can compete with the best of the league.
AFC South: Houston: It may have taken a series of Peyton Manning surgeries for it to come, but it is finally Houston’s time. Winning what has devolved into a very weak division should be cakewalk for the Texans, who may be the hottest team in the league right now despite missing stars Andre Johnson and Mario Williams. Houston is currently the league’s number one defense in terms of yardage, and also leads the league in yards rushing, thanks to the duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. The expected return of Johnson will bolster what has been one of the league’s better passing games over the past few seasons.
[Note: As this is being written, there is talk of a possible injury to quarterback Matt Schaub. This division has become so bad, I still predict Houston to win it even if Matt Leinart is forced to start games. Update: Even with TJ Yates at QB, this pick will remain the same.]
[Note 2: If these injury reports are accurate, the AFC South will have the privilege of having Matt Leinart, Blaine Gabbert, and Curtis Painter starting at quarterback. Enjoy.]
AFC West: San Diego Chargers: Yes, the Chargers must be considered one of the league’s most disappointing teams this season. So why pick them to win their division? I’ve seen this movie before: Chargers get off to a bad start. They are written off. Poor play in their division allows them to get back in the hunt. They finish the season strong. They win the division. Consider the Norv Turner era, which began in 2007:
2007: The Chargers start 1-3. They finish the year winning ten of their next twelve, including six straight to finish the regular season.
2008: The Chargers start 2-3 and head into their bye at 3-5. Denver proceeds to choke, the Chargers win their last four regular season games and win the division at 8-8.
2009: The Chargers start 2-3 (you should start to be seeing a pattern here). Denver, who had started 6-0, chokes (again), the Chargers finish the year on a winning streak (again), and win the division (again).
Now of course, last year the Chargers did not turn their slow start into a division title, but did come close. After a 2-5 start, the Chargers finished 9-7 and came within a game of first-place Kansas City. Moving back to the present, Oakland holds a one-game lead on the rest of the division, as the three other teams are 4-5. I feel we can eliminate Kansas City, as well as the Tim Tebow-led Broncos (although the Gator in me hates to say it). Neither has the talent to keep up with Oakland or San Diego.
This leaves the Raiders and Chargers. I firmly believe Carson Palmer will improve with time as he grows more accustomed to a new offense, and when healthy, Darren Mcfadden is among the league’s best weapons. That said, I expect San Diego to improve. Their running back duo of Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert has been solid, and unlike last year, in which the unit was severely hampered by injuries (and the holdout of Vincent Jackson), the receiving corps is generally healthy. Provided the play of Phillip Rivers (who leads the league in interceptions with 15) improves, as I am confident it can, history could be repeating itself for San Diego.
Pittsburgh and the Jets. Pittsburgh seems to be a given, as if they don’t win their division, they will surely be in a position to win a wildcard bid. As for the final spot, the Jets, Raiders, Bills, and Bengals will be in the mix. Like I said earlier, I’m not sold on Buffalo and I’d say the same about the Bengals for now (although with AJ Green and Andy Dalton developing a solid rapport, the future looks bright). This narrows it down to the Jets and Raiders, with Oakland in possession of a head-to-head win. While the Jets only play two teams with a winning record (the Bills and Giants) the rest of the way, Oakland still needs to play Green Bay, Detroit, and Chicago, in addition to San Diego. With this disparity in schedules, the Jets should be able to take the final playoff spot.
AFC Championship Prediction:
Houston defeats Baltimore* (*-subject to the extent of the Schaub injury) Thanks to a modest schedule to close the season, Houston should be able to lock up a favorable playoff seed. What the Texans may lose in terms of lack of postseason experience should be made up for in terms of talent. The AFC is up for grabs, and Houston could be able to take it.
Baltimore defeats Pittsburgh
NFC Playoff Picture
- Green Bay
- San Francisco
- New Orleans
- New York Giants
- Atlanta Falcons (WC)
- Detroit Lions (WC)
NFC Championship Prediction
Green Bay defeats New Orleans
In the interest of consistency, I will stick to my preseason prediction. Right now, these two teams look to be the class of the conference.
Super Bowl Prediction
Green Bay defeats Baltimore
Boring? Yes. Unoriginal? Absolutely. But, as of now, it is hard to see anyone beating Green Bay.