The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Looking Back on My 2012 NFL Predictions
Making predictions is part of my job.
This isn't Skip Bayless and First Take—I'm never told to take an opinion I don't believe and make it my own, and I'm always tasked with using facts, evidence, statistics and data to back up my opinion. It also isn't an opinion just for the sake of having one. Most of the time, a column starts with an idea that would've been 20 tweets or a conversation with a friend and it's just more collected (and lucrative) to put it on digital paper.
However, I'm not always right.
I'm a big boy, I can admit that. Even if I weren't aware, readers love to point out when I'm wrong or when they think I am. My predictions don't always hit. If they did, I'd be living off my millions in sports-betting winnings.
So, here's a look back at some of my predictions from 2012—good, bad and ugly—where I got it right, where I got it wrong and where it was laughably so.
Good: Minnesota Vikings Are Closer Than Critics Realize
Before the season, I thought that the Vikings are a lot better than other people thought.
2011 was a lot of missed opportunities and close losses for the Vikings, who were dealing with a rookie quarterback and a lot of upheaval. Their offseason was promising and offensive tackle Matt Kalil was sure to upgrade two positions as Charlie Johnson slid over.
The only real question is whether Adrian Peterson would come back strong and if Christian Ponder would continue to mature as a passer.
The first question was answered with such a resounding "yes" that the second hardly mattered.
The Vikings are headed to the playoffs over the floundering Detroit Lions and collapsing Chicago Bears, and face the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night.
Bad: Alex Smith Will Shock the World!
I'm a big Alex Smith fan. Before the season, I shouted my QB crush from the rooftops.
It's difficult not to feel bad for Smith. Near-constant upheaval at both head coach and offensive coordinator have left him behind the eight ball most of his career. It isn't his fault he was over-drafted or drafted above Aaron Rodgers. He's just a nice guy, great competitor and talented athlete.
2011 was Smith's best season, and it was easy to predict better things ahead in 2012.
For a while, it looked like I was right. Smith was leading the NFL in passer rating and passing percentage, the 49ers were winning (for the most part) and it looked like an elite defense and solid running game was going to be just the right situation for Smith to continue to thrive.
Then, a concussion sidelined Smith against the Rams in Week 10 and Colin Kaepernick was declared the "hot hand." The Niners haven't been "better" under Kaepernick, but he is clearly the future. (We'll talk about that later). Smith hasn't taken a snap since.
Smith played well, but didn't take the leap I had projected.
Ugly: Kansas City Chiefs a Playoff Contender
The only comfort I take in this ugly prediction is that I wasn't alone.
The Chiefs have a ton of talent on their team (evidenced by their Pro Bowl selections). I thought it would be enough talent to overcome the lack of elite quarterback play and get the Chiefs out of the AFC West and into the playoffs. Yet, Jamaal Charles, Eric Winston, Eric Berry, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and the rest couldn't drag Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn into the postseason.
They couldn't even sniff .500.
Romeo Crennel is gone and Scott Pioli is ostensibly on his last leg. They'll be picking first overall in the draft this April and are rebooting a franchise rather than planning for Wild Card Weekend.
Good: Blaine Gabbert Will Sink the Jaguars' Battleship
Mike Mularkey was nearly fired as offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons before the Jacksonville Jaguars swooped him up in order to mentor Blaine Gabbert.
Now, maybe one can counter that Gene Smith got Gene Smith fired and that Gabbert still has a shot in the NFL. Maybe, but probably not. Smith's fortunes were tied to the Gabbert pick the moment his name was read at the podium, and he knew it.
If Shad Khan thought that Gabbert was a franchise quarterback, Smith would still have a job.
This puts Mularkey in limbo. Maybe he sticks around, but any general manager coming in is going to have a lot of questions about his time in Atlanta and the losses in Jacksonville. Meanwhile, Jack Del Rio is looking like he got a bum rap as he leads Denver's defense (more on that later), and the guy who replaced Mularkey in Atlanta—Dirk Koetter—is taking head-coaching calls himself.
Until this franchise moves on from Gabbert, it doesn't matter who is hired.
Bad: Most Improved? Not Hardly
I was asked to take a stab at players who would take steps forward in 2012.
Some, I got right. Randall Cobb is looking like a legit weapon for the Packers after spending 2011 as a gadget player. Ndamukong Suh missed the Pro Bowl, but is ridiculously improved from his 2011 play. Chris Johnson returned to form. Patrick Peterson went from Pro Bowl special teamer to Pro Bowl corner.
Others...others I missed on pretty badly.
Curry is the one I really regret. He was a square peg in a round hole in Seattle and then looked like he could do some real damage as a Raider. Instead, he's sitting on his couch, just hoping for a phone call.
Ugly: Denver Broncos Are Going to Stink on Defense
When ranking the NFL defenses before the season, I had a bunch of them placed about where they ended up finishing—San Francisco was ranked first (ended third). Pittsburgh was ranked second (ended first). On the other end, Tampa Bay was ranked 32nd (ended 29th).
The Denver Broncos, yes those Denver Broncos, were ranked 31st.
From the article:
The Broncos are at a turning point. Will the Manning era properly bridge the gap as John Elway "reloads" the roster, or will the defense's age catch up with them, causing a full-blown rebuilding project sooner rather than later?
I think that question was answered pretty concretely, as the Broncos head to the playoffs with the No. 1 seed and the second-ranked defense of 2012. Von Miller stepped things up in a huge way. Chris Harris was fantastic and Wesley Woodyard is starting to look like a real stud.
Good: Eagles Setting Themselves Up to Fail
This prediction was almost too easy. Copy and paste thoughts from last year, make fun of Michael Vick a little bit and collect paycheck.
Still, Eagles fans hated any insinuation that Vick's dynasty comments were, in any way, connected with the same kind of institutional hubris that caused Vince Young's dream-team statement the year before.
Turns out, the second was just as laughably false as the first.
Andy Reid is gone. Michael Vick is probably following him out the door and any Eagles dynasty is years away.
Bad: Russell Wilson the Present and the Future
This would be an "ugly" rating if I had been a little stronger in my language, but I purposefully pumped the breaks on Russell Wilson hype rather than pulling on the emergency lever.
It isn't that I don't like Wilson, I do. After meeting him at the Senior Bowl, I came away impressed, even if I didn't love his long-term projections. I wasn't sure if he would be talented enough to overcome his height deficiency, if his body would hold up or if he would be able to shoulder an NFL-sized passing load.
All of that is a pretty big affirmative.
It's actually a pretty big discredit to Wilson when people pretend his height wasn't an issue. Make no mistake about it, we're not going to see a huge jump in shorter quarterbacks in the league. It's still a deficiency, but some athletes are just so phenomenal that they're able to overcome.
Wilson is one of those phenomenal athletes.
Ugly: The Redskins Are "Out of It"
This wasn't a preseason or early-season prediction, but it was a swing and a miss that Redskins fans are already making sure I remember.
Mathematically, the Redskins weren't out of it when I said they were, but their late-season run looked improbable (at least to me, although certainly not to the Redskins' faithful). The Redskins won that Monday-night game and then four straight after it (for a total of seven straight after beginning the season 3-6.)
Now, the Redskins are NFC East champs and a fourth seed in the playoffs. As for me and my prediction? Total egg on my face. I can live with it, though. Robert Griffin III and company went on a fantastic run that was fun to watch and cover along the way.
This prediction, along with a bunch of others, didn't turn out the way I had thought, but (as you can see) some did. If other NFL athletes want to step up and have fantastic performances to prove me wrong, they can go right ahead.
I'll enjoy covering it.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.