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NFL 2014 Postseason Predictions

AFC Wild Card

Colts over Bengals. Can’t count on Andy Dalton here.
Steelers over Ravens. Should be a physical battle that the home team wins.

NFC Wild Card

Panthers over Cardinals.  Would have loved to see Logan Thomas get a short for the Cardinals.
Cowboys over Lions. Could be a shootout.

AFC Divisional

Patriots over Colts. As shown earlier this year, the Patriots are still too strong for Luck.
Broncos over Steelers. Broncos didn’t struggle as much you think they have.

NFC Divisional

Seahawks over Panthers. Just don’t see the Panthers scoring enough.
Packers over Cowboys. There could easily be an upset here, but there probably won’t be.

Conference Championship

Patriots over Broncos. Happened earlier this year and will repeat.
Seahawks over Packers. Boring, I know but Seattle is at home.

Super Bowl

Patriots over Seahawks. Trusting the NE flexibility over SEA talent.

NFC Season & Predictions Review

The NFC South threw us all off, I think.

NFC East

Eagles
Prediction: 11-5. The defense will be slightly better, and the offense should hold steady. I don’t predict the big improvements – Sproles should offset Jackson, and Foles’ development will offset worse luck – but they will win this division.
Actual: 10-6. Once they sat at 9-3 and this looked like a good prediction.

Cowboys
Prediction: 7-9. No defense and Romo with a back injury. There’s a limit to how far they can go.
Actual: 12-4. Romo missed one game, the defense showed up, and I don’t know anything.

Giants
Predicted: 7-9. Probably will end up three wins better, but this team is unimpressive across the board.
Actual: 6-10. Indeed unimpressive.

Redskins
Predicted: 7-9. RGIII hasn’t looked well, adjusting to a new coach and system. Defense also needs more physical players.
Actual: 4-12. RGIII missed much of the year, and nothing else really worked.

NFC North

Packers
Predicted: 10-6. Some questions on defense and the offensive line and an important question surrounding Aaron Rodgers (specifically, “How many fingers am I holding up?”), but this is a powerful offense.
Actual: 12-4. Offense was as good as advertised and covered up other flaws.

Bears
Predicted: 9-7. Could very well get 2 or 3 more wins, but a fragile Cutler and a young defense put a cap on what this team can accomplish.
Actual: 5-11. Completely imploded on both sides.

Lions
Predicted: 6-10. A very powerful offense and an undisciplined defense. They’re basically the Cowboys.
Actual: 11-5. Yup, basically the Cowboys, both in my prediction and in real life.

Vikings
Predicted: 5-11. Should go to Teddy Bridgewater – in my opinion the best QB who will come out of this year’s draft – with the associated growing pains. Secondary very suspect.
Actual: 7-9. Both Bridgewater and the secondary grew up quickly.

NFC South

Saints
Predicted: 12-4. The offense is typically unstoppable, and the defense actually has lots of talent this time around. They can still be run on, but they are in good shape.
Actual: 7-9. Ugh. Offense had way more growing pains than I would have expected, and coaching took a hit, too.

Falcons
Predicted: 9-7. Losing their starting tackle hurts, because this is a team on the rebound. Jake Matthews will help, but there are still holes here.
Actual: 6-10. The holes were bigger than I would have thought.

Panthers
Predicted: 8-8. I feel like I’m missing something here. This team made little effort to add receivers at a time that their QB is hitting his prime and his RBs are on the decline. The defense is solid – this would have been a good time to go for it.
Actual: 7-8-1. I got their talent level right. Just didn’t think they’d get anywhere with it.

Buccaneers
Predicted: 7-9. Lovie Smith and a great draft. I think McCown does well but I also think Glennon can win this job for the next few years.
Actual: 2-14.  Got ugly really quick, especially at QB, RB, and DEF.

NFC West

Seahawks
Predicted: 11-5. They’ve taken more hits than people realize, but Wilson is a year better. Defense lacks last year’s depth but is still very good.
Actual: 12-4. Yup.

49ers
Predicted: 10-6.  I love how this team built its roster, but between injuries and suspensions, their impressive depth has taken a hit. A lot will hinge on Kaepernick’s development as a passer.
Actual: 8-8. Kaepernick did not move much as a passer and injuries crushed them.

Cardinals
Predicted: 7-9. The defense impressed last year but it’s lost quite a bit of talent. The passing offense should hold up but this team is taking a step back.
Actual: 11-5. Very wrong here. The team only got better but was undone by injuries on offense.

Rams
Predicted: 5-11. Bradford out, Zac Stacy unproven, receivers young. This offense has lots of questions that a stout defensive line cannot overcome.
Actual: 6-10. The defense was very good, but the rest was mostly accurate.

AFC Season & Predictions Review

Other than the AFC South, not ashamed of my predictions, and called the AFC West perfectly.

AFC East

Patriots
Prediction: 13-3. Improved defense and receivers that can’t be less healthy than last year. Even with an older Brady, this is a good team.
Actual: 12-4. The older Brady struggled early but the rest was accurate.

Bills
Prediction: 7-9. I’m a believer for no real reason. Manuel struggled, Watkins is hurt already, and the secondary is struggling. Yet here we are.
Actual: 9-7. I underrated them. The defense was stellar, and Kyle Orton taking over for Manuel made the difference.

Dolphins
Prediction: 6-10. On paper this team should be much better, but a tough schedule and lack of offensive playmakers makes me wonder where the wins will come from.
Actual: 8-8. Underrated them, too. Got some tough wins but still a year away.

Jets
Predicted: 5-11. Predicting a bit of a collapse. The Jets were the luckiest team in the NFL last year and I doubt that repeats.
Actual: 4-12. Nailed it, basically, as the

AFC North

Bengals
Predicted: 10-6. This team probably isn’t as good as they were last year, but the run game should be effective and they’ve developed bona fide pass catchers beyond AJ Green. I believe.
Actual: 10-5-1. Shame their QB limits their playoff possibilities.

Steelers
Predicted: 9-7. Should have made the playoffs last year, and will contend this year. Expecting Wheaton and Shazier to make an immediate impact.
Actual: 11-5. Played down to competition at times but won when it counted.

Ravens
Predicted: 8-8. Could win three more games than this if everything breaks right, but luck averages out so I’ll have them be average, too.
Actual: 10-6. Justin Forsett to the rescue. Surprisingly good defense, too.

Browns
Predicted: 6-10. This team is better than this but their QB situation is unsettled and their receivers aren’t impressive. The defense is very good, but it won’t be enough. This team can surprise, but it can’t contend.
Actual: Maybe sticking with Hoyer would have made a difference, but probably not.

AFC South

Colts
Predicted: 9-7. The defense won’t be as lucky as last year, and the lack of a run game will be an issue. I also wonder if Luck will keep improving – he’s already playing well.
Actual: 11-5. Defense was indeed worse, but Luck got better and the division didn’t challenge them.

Titans
Predicted: 7-9. Counting on Locker to be healthy and accurate is risky, but this team has quietly built a great offensive line, a decent receiver corps, and good platoon pieces at TE and RB. The secondary is shallow which will be a problem all year.
Actual: 2-14. Counting on this team to do anything seems to have been risky.  Doesn’t help that their new coach is inflexible.

Jaguars
Predicted: 6-10. An improving team but I think they’re a year away from threatening. Very young roster that will be better and deeper next year.
Actual: 3-13. Didn’t make the leap I thought they would.

Houston
Predicted: 6-10. They’re not as bad as their 2-14 record last year, and the defense can be downright scary, but QB is unsettled and all skill positions are shallower than last year. I say the struggle big time.
Actual: 9-7. Despite a rotating set of QBs the defense and run game made this team a contender.

AFC West

Broncos
Predicted: 12-4. Counting on Montee Ball and lacking Wes Welker for a while, the Broncos can probably still run away with this division.
Actual: 12-4. I don’t mean to brag…

Chargers
Predicted: 9-7. A very good offense and very good defense and a tough schedule. They could go a couple of wins both ways.
Actual: 9-7. …but come on.

Chiefs
Predicted: 9-7. They need more playmakers in the passing game to threaten, but with Charles and that defense, they’ll contend.
Actual: 9-7. Do I know this division…

Raiders
Predicted: 3-13. Looks like another tough year for the Raiders. They’re still early in the talent cycle and it’ll show.
Actual: 3-13. …or do I know this division?

Redux on Unintended Consequences Of The Ray Rice Rule

With Ray Rice still in the public eye, blog-favorite Eugene Volokh at the Washington Post discusses a risk posed by punishment that is too strict, too rigid, or otherwise more an expression of disapproval than a proper method of reducing bad behavior. You’ll remember wrote about this several days ago, and Volokh and I essentially agree:

Sixteen female Senators have called on the NFL to impose a “zero tolerance” policy for domestic violence by players. “If you violently assault a woman, you shouldn’t get a second chance to play football in the NFL.”

I sympathize with the sentiment behind the letter, and — if I were a football fan — I would find it hard to feel any connection as a fan with a player who I knew was guilty of violent assault; it might make good business sense for the NFL to fire such players.

But where would it put football players’ wives who are being beaten? If they call the police, and the player is prosecuted, that doesn’t just mean the end of the player’s career; it likely means a loss of millions of dollars to the wife as well as to the husband. They call the police, and their husband is out of a job, they can’t pay their mortgage, and they and their children are potentially headed for poverty.

 

More On The Ray Rice Fallout

So Ray Rice has been released by the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL after video of his assault on his then-fiancee/now-wife Janay was released by TMZ. You’ve seen the video, surely, and if not, you can find it. I won’t link to it here because it’s very unpleasant. The developments don’t reflect well on the NFL because, as several Ravens and NFL individuals have said, the video shows exactly what both Ray and Janay described in their testimony. If that’s true, the Ravens/NFL cut ties with Rice solely as a PR move – “we have zero tolerance for videotaped domestic violence” – which is hardly a particularly strong moral stance. There’s also evidence that the NFL had seen the video of the assault months ago, which further damages both their credibility and their claim to any sort of non-amoral existence.

I’m still not particularly sure I like the idea of employers serving as justice systems in their own right – that’s fine for Ray Rice, perhaps, but at some point an assistant store manager with no savings and three children will get fired for this, too, with worse consequences. I’m more inclined to leave it to the criminal justice system (although a jail term will probably cost your job, too). Drafting employers as quasi-enforcers is dangerous, because it’ll make punishment even more wildly inconsistent than it already is. If the goal is to have a fair criminal justice system, punishments should be similar for similar offenses. Instead, Ray Rice – and Janay – are losing millions where a lower-income person would not.

I understand the argument for not allowing an abuser to be rich and famous – it offends our sense of fairness. Of course, I also don’t think anyone should look to the NFL as their moral guidance, so perhaps we should focus our energies on real problems like the ones from a few weeks ago that involved another black man and another video tape.

NFC Season Preview & Predictions 2014

NFC East

Eagles 11-5
The defense will be slightly better, and the offense should hold steady. I don’t predict the big improvements – Sproles should offset Jackson, and Foles’ development will offset worse luck – but they will win this division.

Cowboys 7-9
No defense and Romo with a back injury. There’s a limit to how far they can go.

Giants 7-9
Probably will end up three wins better, but this team is unimpressive across the board.

Redskins 7-9
RGIII hasn’t looked well, adjusting to a new coach and system. Defense also needs more physical players.

NFC North

Packers 10-6
Some questions on defense and the offensive line and an important question surrounding Aaron Rodgers (specifically, “How many fingers am I holding up?”), but this is a powerful offense.

Bears 9-7
Could very well get 2 or 3 more wins, but a fragile Cutler and a young defense put a cap on what this team can accomplish.

Lions 6-10
A very powerful offense and an undisciplined defense. They’re basically the Cowboys.

Vikings 5-11
Should go to Teddy Bridgewater – in my opinion the best QB who will come out of this year’s draft – with the associated growing pains. Secondary very suspect.

NFC South

Saints 12-4
The offense is typically unstoppable, and the defense actually has lots of talent this time around. They can still be run on, but they are in good shape.

Falcons 9-7
Losing their starting tackle hurts, because this is a team on the rebound. Jake Matthews will help, but there are still holes here.

Panthers 8-8
I feel like I’m missing something here. This team made little effort to add receivers at a time that their QB is hitting his prime and his RBs are on the decline. The defense is solid – this would have been a good time to go for it.

Buccaneers 7-9
Lovie Smith and a great draft. I think McCown does well but I also think Glennon can win this job for the next few years.

NFC West

Seahawks 11-5
They’ve taken more hits than people realize, but Wilson is a year better. Defense lacks last year’s depth but is still very good.

49ers 10-6
I love how this team built its roster, but between injuries and suspensions, their impressive depth has taken a hit. A lot will hinge on Kaepernick’s development as a passer.

Cardinals 7-9
The defense impressed last year but it’s lost quite a bit of talent. The passing offense should hold up but this team is taking a step back.

Rams 5-11
Bradford out, Zac Stacy unproven, receivers young. This offense has lots of questions that a stout defensive line cannot overcome.

Eagles
Saints
Seahawks
Packers
Bears
49ers

Playoffs

Packers over 49ers
Seahawks over Bears

Saints over Packers
Seahawks over Eagles

Saints over Seahawks

Super Bowl: Patriots over Saints

 

 

AFC Season Preview & Predictions 2014

Once again, I dedicate some thought and space to a sport I care less and less about.

AFC East

Patriots 13-3
Improved defense and receivers that can’t be less healthy than last year. Even with an older Brady, this is a good team.

Bills 7-9
I’m a believer for no real reason. Manuel struggled, Watkins is hurt already, and the secondary is struggling. Yet here we are.

Dolphins 6-10
On paper this team should be much better, but a tough schedule and lack of offensive playmakers makes me wonder where the wins will come from.

Jets 5-11
Predicting a bit of a collapse. The Jets were the luckiest team in the NFL last year and I doubt that repeats.

AFC North

Bengals 10-6
This team probably isn’t as good as they were last year, but the run game should be effective and they’ve developed bona fide pass catchers beyond AJ Green. I believe.

Steelers 9-7
Should have made the playoffs last year, and will contend this year. Expecting Wheaton and Shazier to make an immediate impact.

Ravens 8-8
Could win three more games than this if everything breaks right, but luck averages out so I’ll have them be average, too.

Browns 6-10
This team is better than this but their QB situation is unsettled and their receivers aren’t impressive. The defense is very good, but it won’t be enough. This team can surprise, but it can’t contend.

AFC South

Colts 9-7
The defense won’t be as lucky as last year, and the lack of a run game will be an issue. I also wonder if Luck will keep improving – he’s already playing well.

Titans 7-9
Counting on Locker to be healthy and accurate is risky, but this team has quietly built a great offensive line, a decent receiver corps, and good platoon pieces at TE and RB. The secondary is shallow which will be a problem all year.

Jaguars 6-10
An improving team but I think they’re a year away from threatening. Very young roster that will be better and deeper next year.

Houston 6-10
They’re not as bad as their 2-14 record last year, and the defense can be downright scary, but QB is unsettled and all skill positions are shallower than last year. I say the struggle big time.

AFC West

Broncos 12-4
Counting on Montee Ball and lacking Wes Welker for a while, the Broncos can probably still run away with this division.

Chargers 9-7
A very good offense and very good defense and a tough schedule. They could go a couple of wins both ways.

Chiefs 9-7
They need more playmakers in the passing game to threaten, but with Charles and that defense, they’ll contend.

Raiders 3-13
Looks like another tough year for the Raiders. They’re still early in the talent cycle and it’ll show.

Playoffs:

Chargers over Steelers
Bengals over Colts

Patriots over Chargers
Broncos over Bengals

Patriots over Broncos

Super Bowl: tomorrow, with the NFC preview.

The NFL’s Domestic Violence Policy And Unintended Consequences

NFL commissioner and all-around asshat Roger Goodell, after catching lots of public hell for his two-game suspension of Baltimore running back Ray Rice after the latter was caught on tape punching his fiancee unconscious, announced a new NFL policy regarding domestic violence. (He’s against it.) To wit:

Goodell sent a letter to the NFL owners … outlining the stiffer penalties: a six-game suspension without pay for the first offense and a lifetime ban for a second offense. Goodell specified that these rules will apply to all NFL personnel, including executives and owners, not just players. A player who receives a lifetime ban can petition for reinstatement after one year.

The question I ask about this transparent and blatant PR move: is it actually going to reduce the incidence of domestic violence? I’m skeptical for a few reasons. While obviously a greater punishment – this case a costly loss of income or entire livelihood – provides a greater incentive  to behave, there is another important effect here. Lengthy suspensions reduce player earnings, and a lifetime ban obviously destroys them, which also punishes the player’s family – including perhaps the person he assaulted. This could drive victims of domestic violence not to report incidents. Ray Rice’s fiancee is now his wife and defends him – I imagine more women would find themselves protecting their provider from costly punishment. This is probably already happening, and I bet it’ll happen more often now that a seemingly inflexible policy is in place.

Obviously the hope is that the first effect outweighs the second. I wouldn’t be so sure.

World Cup Knockout Stage Review

My initial World Cup predictions got 3 of the 4 semifinalists right, and the only game I missed* in my second try with the knockout stage was Belgium vs US, so a good showing overall.

*Note: I made no prediction for the third-place game, because no one cares.

We got to see one of the better tournament in recent memory, with plenty of goals in the early stages and plenty of excitement in the elimination rounds. If you watch the entire tournament, you definitely see a change after the group rounds when teams begin to think “defense first,” although that didn’t prevent us from seeing the hosts completely implode against Germany. I should say that the commentary following the Brazilian loss has been grossly overblown: Brazil wasn’t as good as they thought they were, and a single-game implosion doesn’t tell us nearly as much as people think.* That doesn’t mean that Brazil won’t go through the soul-searching that usually ensues, but their team isn’t suddenly significantly worse than we believed all along.

*Same is true of the Denver Broncos. In fact, the best comparison for something like this might be the 2003 New England Patriots, who were demolished 31-0 by the lowly Bills in the season opener and then proceeded to lose one more game en route to winning the Super Bowl.

It’s always unfortunate to see teams depart on penalties, especially overachievers like Costa Rica, but it’s also unreasonable to ask players to go more than 120 minutes. One of the bugs and the features of the world cup has been the way the tournament tends to filter down to the best teams. There are certainly exceptions – did you know that Turkey and South Korea both made the semifinals in 2006? – but the extended tournament makes consistent upsets more difficult. Perhaps that’s for the best, although a little more randomness couldn’t hurt the sport.

I’ll qualify that last statement by adding this: the sport could certainly use less randomness when it comes to officiating. Specifically, something must be done about fouls in the penalty area, where clearly an entirely different set of unofficial rules applies. Fouls that aren’t fouls in the box are fouls almost everywhere else on the field, and this should be either codified to quell the outrage every time somebody falls down there, or we should have a lot more penalty kicks. I’m also disappointed that the referees didn’t punish diving more severely, because Arjen Robben just has it coming to him. Also, as I mentioned on Twitter, I dread the health care crisis we’ll have when all these guys get older and start breaking hips because they’ve taught themselves to flail their arms helplessly instead of breaking their fall.

Arjen Robben, worsening the health care cost crisis.
Arjen Robben, worsening the health care cost crisis.

Now, only 54 more days until Euro 2016 qualifying starts.

World Cup Knockout Stage Prediction

Updated predictions for the remainder, with the big change being the winner of the Germany-Brazil semifinal (and thus the whole thing).

Round of 16

Brazil over Chile
Less of a sure thing than anyone would have guessed two weeks ago, but Brazil at home still has to be the overwhelming favorite.

Colombia over Uruguay
Uruguay has played well, and perhaps I’m overrating the effect of Suarez on Uruguay, but he has played a huge role for them, and this week he won’t. So I say Colombia takes advantage.

Netherlands over Mexico
Mexico played good defense in the group stage, and now the high-scoring Dutch enter. I think the game will come down to the Dutch defense, which was briefly exposed by Australia before consolidating. I think they hold.

Costa Rica over Greece
I’d call this one of the weaker matchups, and would have loved to see Ivory Coast take Greece’s place here, but Costa Rica has been solid in group play and I say they keep moving.

France over Nigeria
Nigeria’s another team that probably shouldn’t be here, but I also expect the French to make quick work of them. After showing surprising firepower in group play, France is good for three goals here.

Germany over Algeria
Germany’s tailed off after a dominant win against Portugal, but they’ve played maybe 20 bad minutes (against Ghana so far). Algeria’s defensive prowess is more substantial than I expected, but it won’t be enough.

Argentina over Switzerland
This could be a really fun game to watch, with both teams capable of scoring and the Swiss showing a cheese-like defense against France. The key will be for the Swiss to mount a solid attack to keep this game close late, and if they can, they have individuals up front to upset Argentina. I just don’t think they will.

US over Belgium
A decent draw for the US, although Belgium won all games in the group, including a game in which they were down a man for a good portion. The US played some of very good soccer its last two games and can win this, and I think they will. Bonus prediction: Jozy Altidore is a non-factor.

Quarter-Finals

Looks like the Cinderella teams all get booted here.

Brazil over Colombia
Same comments as on Brazil v. Mexico.

Germany over France
I’ll stay away from historical references and instead hope for a high-scoring game. I doubt either team gives up much early, though it would make for an excellent game if they did. A closer game than I would have said before the tournament, but Germany advances.

Netherlands over Costa Rica
Los Ticos beat Italy and Uruguay, so I can’t underrate them, but I just don’t see them scoring enough to win this one.

Argentina over USA
All the athleticism and coaching in the world will not stop Messi. The US doesn’t have the players to stop him, even if he doesn’t score.

Semi-Finals
Big names only.

Germany over Brazil
The biggest change in my pre-tournament predictions. Brazil has looked shaky enough, and Germany has been very good. I say the hosts get upset here.

Argentina over Netherlands
A promising matchup that will probably end up being a scoreless tie. Still happy to watch it, and not very confident in this prediction.

Final

Germany over Argentina
Wouldn’t bet on this, but could be a fun matchup. Both teams have plenty of scoring ability and are strong possession teams. More importantly, neither will be afraid to concede (like Spain and Netherlands were four years ago). This could be a classic.