In August, I would have bet the world that Seattle and New England would square off in the Super Bowl this February.
OK. You caught me.
Back in the summer, when teams are just polishing off their preseason schedules and preparing for Week 1, we — including myself — were clueless as to who will be in the Super Bowl or the playoffs or even the Wild Card race. It’s a new season, and with that comes an array of unknowns.
Where we were right
1. Don’t sleep on Baltimore. Baltimore had two 14-point leads on eventual AFC champion New England before being bounced from the playoffs, but we had the inkling that despite a solid core in Pittsburgh and the defending AFC North champion Cincinnati still around, the Ravens had enough talent to make it interesting. We chocked it up to defensive standouts like Terrell Suggs continuing to have an impact, and the fact that the team was only two years removed from winning a Super Bowl.
2. The Bengals go as far as Dalton took them. This isn’t rocket science, but Andy Dalton is the weak link in the chain that continues to hinder the Bengals. If Dalton was going to make strides as a quarterback and get over those playoff demons, Cincy could be a real formidable threat. Instead, Dalton fell to 0-4 in the postseason, continuing his trend of first-round exits.
3. The Texans’ D will keep them in games. Before I start tooting my own horn, I did suggest Houston would be picking in the top five this spring, as I had zero confidence in their offense. Keep in mind, this is when Arian Foster didn’t prove he was healthy and Andre Johnson wanted out of town. Still, I had confidence in J.J. Watt to help this defense, though I counted on Jadeveon Clowney having some impact. I also mentioned they’re about a year or two away from contention, so keep them on your radar.
4. The Pats return to the AFC championship. This wasn’t like picking a winning lottery ticket, as New England was a common preseason favorite to get to the title game. Where we whiffed was them playing against the Broncos. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick wiped the Gillette Stadium turf clean with Andrew Luck and now are en route to their sixth Super Bowl appearance against the Seahawks.
5. San Francisco would regress and Arizona would capitalize. Alright, alright, alright. We had a feeling there would be a shakeup in the NFL’s toughest division. But I said in order for the 49ers to compete, Colin Kaepernick would need to progress and NaVorro Bowman would have to return, healthy, at midseason. Neither of those transpired, and the Cards — who at one point owned the top seed in the NFC — nearly stole the division crown away from Seattle.
Where we were wrong
6. The Jaguars will win six games. Jacksonville showed a lot of promise down the stretch of 2013, and with Blake Bortles — who I believed would start within the first month — I thought this team might make some noise. Instead, the Jags went 3-13 and were slightly better than the 2-14 Titans in the AFC South. Hey, there’s always next year.
7. Carolina wouldn’t win the division or make playoffs. Before this year, no team in the NFC South has ever repeated as division champions, so these Panthers bucked the trend, and did so with a losing record in a game decided in Week 17. What I really messed up was predicting Cam Newton would so be enraged about how bad the season went he’d demand out of Carolina. Oops.
8. The Bears will go neck-and-neck with Green Bay for the NFC North title: Well, the Bears to playoffs was a popular pick, but instead they wound up wiping the front office and coaching staff clean. They weren’t even in the Wild Card discussion, and were essentially replaced by Detroit, which outplayed them this season. Chicago finished dead last in a division. That’ll teach you to rely on Jay Cutler.
9. Dallas will be in contention for the No. 1 pick. Based on the fact the team lost DeMarcus Ware and had no defense to stop anyone, I thought this was a lock. Instead, Dallas found a bunch of cats off the street and Rod Marinelli helped this unit become one of the most formidable groups in the NFL, and no doubt one of the most surprising. Adding insult to injury, I thought Tony Romo would have an awful season, perhaps his last in Big D. Instead, he was a bonafide MVP candidate.
10. Detroit’s defense will be its Achilles’ heel. Well, if not for the Lions’ defense, this team wouldn’t even scratch the surface of the posesason. I predicted the Lions — under first-year coach Jim Caldwell, would be “a smidge” better than .500 until their defense proves otherwise. Well, they went 11-5 and nearly overtook the Packers for the NFC North, and was close to topping those Cowboys in the Wild Card round. Yes, because of their defense.
11. The Bucs are a .500 team. Some of us, including myself, thought Lovie Smith would instantly transform Tampa Bay into a competitive team. I even had my doubts about Josh McCown, except I also felt Mike Glennon would take over and be somewhat of a savior. Well, the defense didn’t improve and now the team is in line to pick first overall in the 2015 draft.