The AFC features fewer big misses (Jets, Texans, Chargers), and generally better accuracy than the NFC. Getting the Chiefs right after two wins last year was a good get, and the decline of Baltimore was foreshadowed if not outright predicted.
New England Patriots
Predicted: 13-3. Huge questions in the passing game, and the defense has struggled in the past. However, a weak division and a schedule that gives them time to gel on offense should help. Both lines are stout and Brady is consistent enough to get them to the AFC elite again.
Actual: 12-4. Despite injuries on defense and in the receiving corps, this one is just about right.
New York Jets
Predicted: 3-13. They’ll upset some teams because of a well-coached defense, but the offense is a mess. The line is fine, but the skill positions lack talent and their schedule is tough (in the sense that they have to play other NFL teams).
Actual: 8-8. It was in fact the defense, but they helped them to win many more games than I expected. Big miss by me.
Predicted: 7-9. I was impressed by Tannehill last year and I think he moves forward again, but the wins aren’t there this year. Mike Wallace will stretch defenses but there aren’t many left to take advantage of the space underneath. Add two young backs, and this is a team around .500 at beast.
Actual: 8-8. Pretty on the money. Perhaps the bullying scandal cost them the playoffs, but this team is improving.
Predicted: 4-12. EJ Manuel will be a bona fide NFL starter, but with young receivers, a line with questions, and some injuries on defense, the Bills don’t make the leap just yet. I think they’ll contend in more games than not, but given the lack of experience I think they lose most of them. If I’m a Bills fan, 2014 looks good to me.
Actual: 6-10. I underestimated them here – even with injuries they got to 6 wins, and could easily have gotten two more. I like where they’re headed.
Predicted: 12-4. I’m all in on Cincinnati. A very talented defense with passrushers on the line, tacklers at linebacker, and perhaps the deepest secondary in the NFL. On offense, AJ Green is a beast, and Sanu, Gresham, Eifert, Green-Ellis, and Bernard, if used properly, can be effective. Andy Dalton is the rate-limiting step, but he only needs to be what he’s already been for this team to win.
Actual: 11-5. Mostly right here, despite the loss of Geno Atkins and little depth at linebacker.
Predicted: 6-10. The offense has too many questions, especially on the offensive line and at runningback. Receiver depth is also not there this year. The defense has talent, especially at linebacker, but I don’t see this team contending unless the offense stuns us all.
Actual: 8-8. Screwed out of the playoffs by bad calls in the Chiefs-Chargers game, the late-season Steelers could have done something in the playoffs.
Predicted: 10-6. I could see this team dropping to .500 if the defense doesn’t gel as fast as it needs to, and if the passing game fades more than I expect it to. That said, the schedule favors them this year, and they match up well in the division. I say the return to double-digits.
Actual: 8-8. This team did, in fact, drop to .500, though largely because struggles on offense. The defense gelled just fine.
Predicted: 4-12. I think this is an improving team and they could leapfrog Pittsburgh in the standings. That said, lack of receivers and a limited quarterback will hamstring this team.
Actual: 4-12. Notice I said “lack of receivers,” so Josh Gordon doesn’t count. Quarterback struggles did hold them back.
Predicted: 9-7. A solid all-around team that can repeat last year’s performance. The small defense and running game are the limiting factors, and I can see them getting overrun once in a while. That said, they’re on the edge of contention once again.
Actual: 11-5. They held up better than I expected, helped by a weak division. The running game eventually emerged with Donald Brown.
Predicted: 9-7. An optimistic prediction, but there’s no denying the talent surrounding Jake Locker. A rebuilt offensive line, depth at RB (Greene and the underrated Jackie Battle), and a deep (if unspectacular) receiving corps. The defense can only be better than last year, helped by a couple of new safeties and a talented defensive line. Add Zach Brown as a playmaker at linebacker, and if all breaks their way the Titans can knock on the playoff door. (More likely: Locker struggles with accuracy and they win 6 games.)
Actual: 7-9. They were 4-3 with a couple of close losses before Locker went down with an injury. This could have been a different season.
Predicted: 2-14. Rebuilding and very shallow in talent right now. Gabbert probably could have been an NFL starter but I don’t think they’ll get there now that he’s been beaten up for two years.
Actual: 4-12. Largely correct on these, and Chad Henne ended up the quarterback of this team.
Predicted: 9-7. I see them taking a step back rather than forward from last year. Hopkins is a nice addition but I have little faith in Schaub. Foster has been injured (though Ben Tate is a talented backup) and Andre Johnson is getting old. JJ Watt is excellent off the edge, but he won’t be any better than he was last year, and old Ed Reed, once he plays, won’t make this secondary that much better.
Actual: 2-14. They took a step back and never stopped. I was right on all the red flags, but failed to anticipate the magnitude. Big miss.
Predicted: 14-2. Perhaps the best team in the league, and especially deep on offense. Hard to see who can keep up with them this year if they stay healthy.
Actual: 13-3. They turned the ball over a bit much and the defense is fading after some injuries, but they were the best team in the league.
Kansas City Chiefs
Predicted: 11-5. I can see a Colts-type year for them this year. New, capable QB in an otherwise average offense with some playmakers, plus a defense full of individual talent. If they can be coached to their potential, this is a playoff team. And I think Reid’s staff can make it happen.
Actual: 11-5. Nailed the rebound. Go me.
San Diego Chargers
Predicted: 4-12. This team is capable of winning more than this, but their schedule is unkind and their inexperience on offense will show. Rivers is now a question mark, too, after last year’s turnover-fest. I wouldn’t be surprised if I underestimated them, but I don’t see the wins.
Actual: 9-7. Even if we adjust for week 17, this is a big miss. Rivers and Woodhead made this offense run far better than I thought.
Predicted: 3-13. Could steal a couple of wins here and there with their running game, but the lack of wide receivers, questions on defense, and the general lack of discipline doesn’t bode well for this team.
Actual: 4-12. Yup, yup, yup.