A lot has changed since those halcyon days of August, when the Dolphins thought John Beck was their quarterback of the future and when I wrote columns more regularly.
Picking winners and losers at such an early stage was idiotic—and I like to think idiotic is right up my alley.
Other NFL analysts like to play the same guessing-game before the season starts, but they often stick with the status quo...and conveniently forget to revisit their predictions at season’s end.
I take full responsibility for my many miscalculations and baseless judgments. I might sound smart at the time when I’m chirping about Donovan McNabb’s resurgence and the awesomeness of the St. Louis Rams, but truth be told, I have no better sense than anyone else as to what is actually going to happen.
Take, for instance, those plucky Rams. I pegged St. Loo to finish atop the less-than-stellar NFC West—and they repaid me by not winning any of their first eight games and finishing with the No. 2 two pick in April’s draft.
I would have looked far smarter taking the easy way out and picking the Seahawks to repeat as division champs.
However, taking risks does have its benefits. My most attention-grabbing pick of the preseason was for the 49ers to finish with four wins. At the time, people called me crazy and gay and a bunch of four-letter words—and after San Fran started the season 2-0, I was starting to believe them (about the crazy part, not the rest).
As it turned out, though, I could not have been more right about the team.
Alex Smith’s injury led to a long-overdue Trent Dilfer sighting, which in turn led to an interminably long losing streak. Both sides of the ball turned out to be overrated, with neither playing very consistently at any point. Mike Nolan, praised as a head coach on the rise before the season, nearly lost his job over the debacle.
So while I wait patiently for written apologies from the 49er fans who wronged me, I take solace in knowing that at least I got one of my predictions right. Quantity over quality seems to be the best strategy when it comes to guessing what will happen in any particular NFL season.
That’s the way things work at ESPN, anyway.
The many wrongs still grossly outweigh the few rights, but that's to be expected. So much can happen in one NFL season, and there’s really no telling which way certain teams will go. That said, I will take full credit for being the first to sing the 49ers’ shortcomings, and I will try my best to forget that I made many of the following choices...
Preseason Pick for Breakout Player: RB Ronnie Brown
Had the season stopped after seven weeks, I would have been incredibly right.
Brown was coming into his own as a running back before a knee injury ended his year—and had he stayed healthy, a rushing title and Pro Bowl spot were very much within reach.
How Brown handles his return next year will be very interesting—not how he recovers from his injury, but more how he reacts to still being on the Miami Dolphins.
Preseason Pick for NFL MVP: Carson Palmer
This pick followed a disgusting trend of mine that involved giving the Bengals way too much credit.
I still think that Palmer is one of the top five quarterbacks in the league, but I no longer think that he's surrounded by capable teammates or coaches.
Preseason Pick for Defensive Player of the Year: Vikings DT Kevin Williams
Someone could certainly make the case for Williams to be considered for top defensive player awards (note his two interceptions returned for touchdowns as a defensive tackle).
Someone could also make the case that he's not even the best Williams on the Vikings’ defensive line.
Either way, I could have done a lot worse than picking Williams (i.e., picking Julius Peppers).
Preseason Pick for Rookie of the Year: Oakland RB Michael Bush
Admittedly, this pick was a reach.
I remembered how good Bush was in college, and I thought he could surprise a lot of people if he was healthy this year. The problem was that he wasn’t healthy.
His final stats were 0 yards in 0 games played—or, roughly, 1,341 fewer yards than Adrian Peterson.
Preseason Picks for Surprise Teams: Oakland (in a good way); Baltimore (in a bad way)
The only surprising thing about Oakland is that they didn't look completely outclassed in every game. Then again, they're still picking in the top five.
I was right on picking Baltimore to fail, although I didn’t see things getting as bad as they did. I was thinking Kyle-Boller-bad, not Troy-Smith-bad.
Preseason Picks for Teams that I Like: Eagles; Bears; Jaguars; Bengals
I meant for this to be a multiple choice. And the answer: C! Jags!
Preseason Pick for Teams that I Love: Patriots
I love them a perfect amount.
Preseason Picks for Teams That I Don’t Like: Chiefs; Dolphins; Buccaneers; CBS pregame studio crew
I still don’t like the Buccaneers, but obviously they don’t care what I think. Who knew Jeff Garcia and the Buc defense still had anything left?
People who know more than I do, that’s who.
As for the CBS crew, I actually found them mildly tolerable this year, with the exception of Shannon Sharpe. And Bill Cowher. And James Brown.
Preseason Pick for AFC Division Winners: Patriots; Bengals; Colts; Broncos
I got the two easy ones correct, but blew the others pretty badly. That’s what I get for thinking outside the box.
Preseason Pick for AFC Wild Cards: Jaguars; Chargers
Overall, I got four of the six AFC playoff teams right. And since I don’t really consider the Titans to be a playoff team, my odds are actually better than they appear.
Preseason Pick for NFC Division Winners: Eagles; Bears; Panthers; Rams
Preseason Pick for NFC Wild Cards: Cowboys; Saints
The perennial crapshoot that is the NFC did a number on me this year. I got the Cowboys right and nothing else.
Seriously, though, who saw the Packers, Bucs, and Redskins coming? And who cares about the Seahawks and Giants anymore?
I feel like my playoff scenario would have been infinitely more fun...and low-scoring.
Preseason Super Bowl Pick: Patriots
Does the fact that I pick them to win the Super Bowl every year make this season’s prediction seem any less clairvoyant?
I thought so.
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