Revisiting 2011 NFL Predictions: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Every year before the start of the NFL season, sports writers spend hours writing predictions about the upcoming season. These predictions are discussed at length in August, only to be forgotten about entirely by the end of a long NFL season.
Why are they forgotten? Mostly because of the sad fact that so many of these predictions are wrong, perhaps even embarrassingly so.
It's difficult to predict the unpredictable NFL season before it happens; anyone who thinks I'm joking should seriously try it themselves.
I'm going to revisit my own predictions from before the season, some of which actually happened and some of which I'd like to pretend I never said.
Feel free to laugh if you want to, but I can say I stood by the predictions I made.
This division was fairly predictable as all four teams finished in the exact same order for the third year in a row. One surprise that no one seemed to see coming (myself included) was the resurgence of the Miami Dolphins.
Despite starting the season 0-7, the Dolphins were as hot as any team down the stretch winning six of their final nine games. Although he was brought in to be a backup, Matt Moore played well enough at quarterback to compete for a starting position in 2012.
And Reggie Bush, of all people, had a career resurgence as he finally became a featured running back, topping 1,000 rush yards for the first time in his career.
I predicted the correct order for the division with the New England Patriots winning their third consecutive division title and the hapless Buffalo Bills bringing up the rear. I also was able to foresee that the New York Jets would be worse in 2011, although I didn't realize they would fall all the way to 8-8.
And although he was injured early this season, I still deserve some credit for saying the Dolphins wouldn't go anywhere with Chad Henne as quarterback (Dolphins were 0-4 with him as a starter).
For the most part I was accurate in my AFC East predictions. One player award prediction in this division was majorly wrong as I said Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas would win offensive rookie of the year.
Thanks to Bush's great season, Thomas didn't even start and only accumulated 581 rushing yards.
Best Prediction No. 1
I got two teams' final records exactly correct, since the Patriots finished 13-3 and the Bills finished 6-10. I had the Jets at 10-6, so that was slightly off, while I was very close with the Dolphins predicting a 7-9 season for them.
All in all, great division predictions. If only most of the other divisions went half as well as this one.
In the prediction slideshow, I took a lot of criticism for saying the Pittsburgh Steelers would 9-7 and not make the playoffs. It was very much a bold prediction considering the Steelers were AFC Champions in 2010.
Since Mike Tomlin took over as coach in 2007, the worst the Steelers have finished is 9-7 and they only just barely missed the playoffs.
So I will admit I was wrong about the Steelers. Their 12-4 season proves they are still an elite AFC contender (overtime wild-card loss notwithstanding) and makes me feel very stupid.
Believe me, I will think twice before doubting the Steelers next season.
I had three AFC North teams contending for playoff spots and that is what happened. The Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals all made the playoffs and the AFC North went a league-best 25-15 against the other NFL divisions.
As a Ravens fan, I take a lot of credit in predicting their first division title since 2006.
I had the Bengals finishing the year 2-14. Obviously I was more than a little off as they finished 9-7 and rallied to make the playoffs. Marvin Lewis proved to be a genius coach, while rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will probably keep the Bengals as contenders for the next several years.
Since I am primarily a Ravens writer, I also had a boatload of bold predictions about their 2011 season. I would much rather not mention those predictions since I basically got them all wrong.
The only ones that I got right were Ray Rice having his best season and Anquan Boldin leading the Ravens in receiving yards.
Every year people pick a bad team to become good and sneak into the playoffs. My team this season was the Cleveland Browns. My main reason for making this pick was to appear smart and get something right that no one else was predicting.
Needless to say, I failed miserably. Offense is necessary for success in the NFL and the Browns offense is as bad as any in the NFL.
With a 4-12 record, players making dumb penalties and a running back with the Madden curse, there's no reason to feel good about the Browns anytime soon.
Sorry Cleveland fans, I know some of your pain. But opposite of the Steelers, I will think twice or three times, maybe 300 times before I pick the Browns to be good.
Before the 2011 season, the Houston Texans were the only NFL team to never make the playoffs. This year they got in as a division champions for the first time in their existence.
After beating the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild-card round, the Texans will move on to face the Baltimore Ravens.
Surprisingly, the Texans were one of those predictions everyone seemed to get right, myself included. With a mysterious injury threatening to make Peyton Manning miss playing time, the AFC South seemed ready for a changing of the guard.
The Texans fit the bill with an elite receiver, an elite running back and a revamped defense that has made drastic improvements under new defensive coordinator Wade Philips.
I was spot-on about the Houston Texans, all the way down to their 10-6 record. Even with Matt Schaub, Mario Williams and Andre Johnson missing significant time due to injury, the Texans proved to be for real.
I was also correct about the decline of the Colts, even though I had no idea Manning would miss the whole season nor how important he was to their team.
I am comforted by the fact that no one could possibly have foreseen how bad the Colts would be without Manning. With perennial Pro Bowlers like Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney, it is downright embarrassing that the Colts finished 2-14 unlike 9-7 as I predicted. Manning is a future hall of fame quarterback, but that is still no excuse for the team's total collapse and overall embarrassing performance as the NFL's worst team this season.
Still, things are looking up for Colts fans next as they will either have Manning or Andrew Luck starting at quarterback.
That has got to hurt so bad for the unlucky Jacksonville Jaguars who are stuck with the disappointing Blaine Gabbert as quarterback. Their defense wasn't bad this season, but their offense was, resulting in a 5-11 record as opposed to the 8-8 record I predicted.
When making predictions this summer, I made the often erroneous assumption that teams with new coaches and new quarterbacks were screwed thanks to the lockout. The Tennessee Titans were extremely happy to prove me wrong.
They actually made a fight of it with the Texans for the division title. At 9-7, the Titans narrowly missed the playoffs, however they seem to have a promising future as well. This is far different from a team I thought would be 5-11 at the end of the year and "unprepared" to compete in 2011.
When people think about the most underachieving teams in the NFL, the San Diego Chargers are inevitably one of the teams that always gets mentioned. Philip Rivers is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, their defense is good, their division is weak.
So why haven't the Chargers won one or more Super Bowls yet?
I think it may come down to leadership. Under Norv Turner, the Chargers always play bad at the beginning of the year and have to scramble for a playoff spot at the end of the season.
The last two years, they were simply too far gone to get into the playoffs.
I was accurate on projecting the Kansas City Chiefs would not make the playoffs. Last year's division title was more of a product of an easy schedule than a legitimate contender.
Despite suffering some blowout losses early on and firing their coach before the season was done, the Chiefs stayed competitive and finished 7-9 instead of 8-8 like I predicted.
Amazingly, they were only one loss away from winning the weak AFC West.
I was of the opinion that it didn't matter who the Denver Broncos played at quarterback, they were going to suck anyway and be lucky to finish 5-11. Well, this was long before Tebow Time and the rise of possible defensive rookie of the year Von Miller.
Even as massive underdogs to the New England Patriots in the divisional round, I think it's clear that the Broncos will be a tough out this year.
In my prediction slideshow, I received some criticism for hating on the Oakland Raiders. I thought they were going to revert back to their recent losing ways and finish 4-12. Instead, the Raiders turned in a second consecutive 8-8 season and were in the running for the division title the entire season.
The Chargers were almost the unanimous pick to win the AFC West this season. I had them finishing 13-3, getting a first-round bye and Philip Rivers winning the league MVP.
Instead they were a massive disappointment, finishing 8-8 while Rivers had arguably his worst season ever.
I wish I could say my idiotic love of the Chargers ended there, but sadly it does not. I went on to predict a Super Bowl victory for San Diego over the Green Bay Packers. Now that they're retaining the same coaching staff and many of the same players, I can only pray I'm not goaded into making this mistake next year.
Whenever a team is laid with great expectations before a season starts, you can tell there is going to be a lot of pressure. Like with the Philadelphia Eagles, 2011's NFL "Dream Team."
I do not know what Vince Young was thinking but I'm sure he wishes he had not uttered the words that made the Eagles the laughingstock of the NFL this year.
Did I buy into the Dream Team hype? In some ways yes and in some ways no. I had the Eagles winning the division at 10-6 and then getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
Instead, the Eagles started off the year 1-4 and made a habit of blowing close games. They rallied only when it was too late to make the playoffs, winning their final four games to finish 8-8.
I got the New York Giants record exactly right, saying they would finish 9-7. However I was wrong on the circumstances as it turned out 9-7 was good enough to win the NFC East.
I also predicted a late Giants collapse, which almost happened as they were 3-5 over the final eight games.
Obviously the Dream Team comes to mind in this section. However, with all the negative press the Eagles got, it's easy to forget they were 8-8 this year and only one win away from a playoff berth.
The Dallas Cowboys were also 8-8 and some of their 4th quarter collapses were epic. From freezing their own kicker against the Arizona Cardinals to allowing 17 points in the fourth to the New York Jets, the Cowboys were a mess this year.
I had them making a playoff run after a 10-6 season, which could well have happened had they not shot themselves in the foot so much.
Best Prediction No. 2
There's not really any one prediction that fits in this spot. I'm just taking this opportunity to pat myself on the back for a job well done predicting the NFC East.
I was not fooled by the Washington Redskins fast start, predicting them to finish 4-12 (they were 5-11.) I also had DeMarcus Ware winning defensive player of the year, something that is unlikely despite his good season. Along with 58 tackles, Ware had 19.5 sacks, which is the second-most he has gotten in a season.
Going into the season, it was a given the Green Bay Packers were good. But this good? After ending the year at 15-1, the 2011 Green Bay Packers could validate themselves as one of the all-time greats with a Super Bowl win.
Part of the reason the Packers have been so good this year is the fact that they have gotten back a lot of players that were on IR last year. Because of this and their dominant Super Bowl run last year, I had the Packers winning the NFC North with a 13-3 record.
However, I did not think they could make a serious threat to finishing the season with an undefeated record, nor did I think their defense could possibly be this bad.
Even when you get some predictions right, there seems to be some part you get wrong.
My prediction about the Chicago Bears being 6-10 and missing the playoff was accurate, albeit just barely. The Bears finished the year 8-8 after losing five of their last six games.
Although the Minnesota Vikings were awful in 2010, I still felt they would be respectable in 2011. After all they had shown strides of improvement late last year and any team that has both Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen has got to have a chance.
Therefore I predicted the Vikings would improve, finishing Leslie Frazier's first full season at 7-9.
They did not improve at all. Instead the Vikings started the year 0-4 and ended with a dismal 3-13 record. I realize now this team has lots of issues on both sides of the ball, so it could be awhile till they contend.
My Best Prediction No. 3
This was another one of those divisions where my predictions were fairly accurate. I had the Detroit Lions finishing second in the division with an 8-8 record, feeling confident that their four-game winning streak at the end of 2010 meant they were a team on the rise.
In reality, they were better than that, getting a wild-card spot with a 10-6 record.
I also predicted that Aaron Rodgers would win offensive player of the year, a prediction that is still possible. All right, it's doubtful, since Rodgers should win the MVP. But if for some reason Drew Brees beats him out for the MVP, then Rodgers could win offensive player of the year.
I also predicted that the Packers would make the Super Bowl this year. I predicted a loss, but with my "Super Bowl Champion" San Diego Chargers eliminated, maybe the Packers can still make me look good.
Did the Atlanta Falcons really belong in the playoffs?
It's hard to say yes since they got dismantled so thoroughly by the New York Giants in their 24-2 loss on wild-card weekend. In their last two playoff games, the Falcons have been outscored 72-23, which is just embarrassing numbers for an NFL team.
Despite this being the Falcons' best four-year stretch in franchise history, they are 0-3 in the playoffs under coach Mike Smith.
This was clearly a weaker year for the Falcons, who were very lucky to get to 10-6, with two of those losses blowouts to the Chicago Bears and the New Orleans Saints.
I had predicted an 11-5 season for the Falcons with an identical ending, but they blew it in the first round of playoffs. With a growing reputation as chokers, the Falcons desperately need to win at least one playoff game next year.
Even during the lockout, I was very enthralled with the New Orleans Saints and their Super Bowl chances. I predicted a 14-2 season and thought very carefully about picking the Saints to win the Super Bowl.
At 13-3 and NFC South champions, they did not disappoint me.
Ultimately I didn't pick them, although now I wouldn't be surprised at all if they win. Drew Brees has a good case for best quarterback in the league with an NFL record 5,476 yards while also leading the league in completion percentage (71.2), completions (468) and touchdowns (46.)
Their offense regularly tops 40 points a game at home, however my reason for doubting them is the fact they will likely be playing on the road from here on out.
In my defense, no one saw Cam Newton's rookie year coming. His amazing play, including a quarterback-record 14 rushing touchdowns, makes the Panthers one of the most exciting 6-10 teams in recent memory.
Of course their defense truly stinks and likely if they had stayed with Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, the Panthers would have been closer to 3-13 like I predicted. Their defense will likely need to improve at least a little bit for them to be playoff contenders.
But then again, when the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots can get first-round byes with terrible defensive rankings, maybe defense isn't so important after all.
It seems so long ago but before this NFL season there was a lot of people who liked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They seemed to be an up-and-coming team that was ready to capitalize on their surprising 10-6 season and possibly do even better.
I was doubtful all along, thinking that the Bucs would finish 9-7 or possibly even worse thanks to a harder schedule this year.
Well, I was right about them not being as good, but I was nowhere near right about how bad the Buccaneers were going to be this year. A 10-game losing streak to close out the season brought them down to 4-12 and has cast major doubts about this team's future.
Every year in the NFL, there always seems to be a worst-to-first story. Seeing as the Arizona Cardinals had suffered a down year in the weak NFC West's cellar, I felt convinced they were 2011's worst-to-first candidate.
Well, it didn't turn out that way, but credit should be given for the Cardinals' amazing second-half turnaround. They went from 1-6 to finish the year 8-8. John Skelton is basically a poor man's Tim Tebow as he also shines in the fourth quarter with six wins out of eight starts.
I actually had them at 9-7, thinking that would be enough to win the division. Most years, that or even 8-8 would have been enough. But not with the most improved team in the NFL residing in the Cardinals division.
I was very close to being right about the Seattle Seahawks, predicting a 6-10 record. Although many NFL experts were knocking them and saying there would finish with three or four wins, I felt like it was reasonable that the Seahawks would be about as good as last year.
Hopefully, though, that wouldn't be good enough to win the NFC West.
Well they had the exact same record of 7-9. Like the Cardinals, they went on a late-season run that was a bit too little too late. If they can keep up with the Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers next year, we could actually have a very good NFC West for once.
Apparently the St. Louis Rams 7-9 season a year ago was more fluke than anything else. At 2-14, they were back to being really bad, just like they were from 2007-2009.
Sam Bradford was often injured but still he only had six touchdowns in all of 2011. With the exception of Steven Jackson, their offense was basically the NFL's worst.
I thought they could repeat at 7-9 this season, but like anyone else who bought into the Rams hype, I was wrong.
This final mistake right here is really quite colossal and record-wise, it's my worst one.
Going back to my idiotic idea that teams with new coaches were screwed, I doubted against the 49ers. Well they shut me up with a 13-3 record, eight games better than the 5-11 record I had predicted.
Part of me is amazed that a team with Alex Smith at quarterback could be so good. Then again, they clearly have the right coach there in Jim Harbaugh and it certainly helps things that they have a strong run game and an excellent defense.
Harbaugh is now the favorite for coach of the year award, an award I had predicted would go to Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt.
Thanks for reading my slideshow about my successful and failed predictions. Hopefully it made you feel a little better about any dumb predictions you might have made.
With that being said, I look forward to a 2012, where I will hopefully make more accurate sports predictions.