When I was a sportswriter at a daily newspaper, we liked to highlight the inherent silliness of prediction columns by picking games weekly against a fictional cow, who got column space each week to trash-talk the "sports geeks" — and more often than not, got the better of the them.
Not much has changed — making predictions for a season that has yet to begin is a useless, foolish endeavor and is bound to make me look sillier than losing to a cow would. Yet, doing so remains irresistible.
So, here are my predictions for the 2010 NFL season. Feel free to bookmark this page and check back in February to see if I'm wrong, and I almost certainly will be.
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys
Wild Cards: Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants.
AFC East: New York Jets
Wild Cards: Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans
NFL MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
Defensive Player of the Year: Patrick Willis, San Francisco
Wild-Card Round: Packers over Giants, Vikings over Cowboys.
Wild-Card Round: Jets over Bengals, Texans over Raiders
Super Bowl XLV
Colts 38, Packers 30.
HARTZ'S HUNCH: Last year, five teams that missed the playoffs in 2008 made the show — including the eventual champion Saints. I've got four teams that missed the playoffs last season making it this year — Oakland (my super dark horse), the New York Giants, Houston and San Francisco.
While I would like to pick some upsets in the NFC, for the most part, the conference seems like chalk on the season's opening day. The Cowboys, Packers and Saints are all favorites, and San Francisco seems poised to take over in the West with Arizona and Seattle reloading and St. Louis rebuilding.
The New York Giants should be much healthier on defense and Eli Manning has a talented young corps of wideouts, so I look for them to grab a wild-card spot. The Packers and Vikings should engage in a bitter battle for the North crown (more on this later) with the runner-up grabbing the other wild card. The Panthers and Falcons will be near-misses for wild-card slots.
In the AFC, I feel good about three of my division winners — The Jets, Baltimore and the Colts are all the favorites to win their respective divisions, and I think they will prevail.
As mentioned, Oakland is my dark horse, but the Raiders aren't as dysfunctional as their reputation, and lost several close games last season — including two to San Diego, who is the favorite in the AFC West again. Oakland also defeated the Bengals, Steelers and Eagles last season and had a near-miss against Baltimore — with all-time bust JaMarcus Russell at quarterback. With a capable QB, Jason Campbell, now at the helm, the Silver and Black could be the surprise team of 2010.
Houston looks like it could emerge from what figures to be a logjam of wild-card contenders in the AFC, edging out New England, Miami and San Diego for a spot. Cincinnati and Baltimore should engage in a slugfest for the AFC North crown, with the division loser getting the wild card spot.
In the playoffs, my two conference championship games should attract unprecedented attention between two pairs of linked cities. The NFC will feature the Favre Bowl — a matchup of legendary Brett Favre's former and present teams. The AFC will be the Irsay Bowl — the former and present city of the Colts. Green Bay, I think, will exorcise its demons. In fact, I have my doubts that Favre will hold up over the course of the long season, and Rodgers looks to be the next superstar QB in the NFL. I can't say the same for Baltimore, as Peyton Manning will continue his mastery of the Ravens to lead the Colts to their second-straight Super Bowl.
I said for years that if and when the Colts would reach the Super Bowl, that Manning would never let them lose one. That theory was shattered by the Saints last season. But will Manning let the Colts lose in the big game two years in a row? No way.
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