NFC

Call me crazy, but I never understood why the Eagles were an underdog against Atlanta. The Falcons were a shadow of what they were last year, and Nick Foles is not a bad quarterback. He was the last guy who led the Eagles to the playoffs prior to this year, I believe. Yet the press treated him like he’d never seen a football before. So I wasn’t shocked that they managed to pull out the narrow win.

The Vikings meanwhile were the beneficiaries of a coverage screw-up the likes of which had not been seen since the 2012 Baltimore/Denver divisional game. But that’s not to say they were lucky rather than good—their defense had New Orleans on the ropes until late in the 3rd quarter, but eventually they started to bend before the powerful Saints attack.

I’ll be honest—my opinion beforehand was that Saints/Vikings was the real NFC championship, and everything that happened in the game reinforced that impression. The Vikings have a brutal defense, one that could only be tested by a Hall-of-Fame quarterback in command of a high-powered and balanced offense. Foles, while better than the press has given him credit for, is not in Brees’s class, and I think he’s going to be in for a rough game Sunday. Minnesota will stifle the Eagles and punch their ticket to… Minnesota, where they can become the first team ever to host the Super Bowl.

MIN: 23

PHI: 10

AFC

Oh, look, it’s the New England Patriots again. They’ve been conference title game fixtures for years now, and I think everyone is getting sick of it. I don’t even dislike the Patriots as a rule, but at some point you get tired of seeing the same uniform over and over again. (Although even the Patriots’ ridiculous “Flying Elvis” looks like a design masterpiece next to the abominations that their opponents will wear.)

The Patriots are of course heavily favored to beat the upstart Jaguars, and why not? They’re the defending champs, they’re playing at home in chilly Foxborough, and Jacksonville’s quarterback is a wildly inconsistent gunslinger who only completed 53% of his passes against Pittsburgh.

But I’m having flashbacks to another AFC Championship game—specifically, the one two years ago in which the Pats were road favorites against a Denver team that had a strong pass rush and a quarterback who was highly suspect.

I know, I know. You’re saying: “Did you really just compare Bortles to Peyton Manning? The Peyton Manning, one of the best to ever play the game?”

Well, not exactly. I’m comparing Bortles to 2015 Peyton Manning, who was merely a ghost of his former all-star self. Manning was long past his prime by then. I have no doubt that he could (and can) read a defense better than Bortles, but Bortles can scramble and throw the ball with more power than 2015 Manning could. So it’s pretty much a wash.

The Jaguars chances look even better when you remember that their team vice president, Tom Coughlin, was the coach of the New York Giants teams that twice upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Those teams also fielded a strong defensive line and an inconsistent quarterback whose play was rarely pretty, but who had a knack for getting things done when it mattered most.

The Jaguars, in short, are the very model of a Patriots-beating team.

To be sure, it’s not going to be easy—the 2015 AFC Championship, Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI were all extremely close affairs. You can bet your bottom dollar that Belichick’s defense is going to take away Jacksonville’s favorite offensive weapon, running back Leonard Fournette, and force Bortles to throw the ball. But I think he’s got enough arm strength and sheer guts to get it done against New England’s bend-but-don’t-break secondary. And the Jaguars’ defense will give Brady all kinds of problems—he doesn’t have the ability to heave the ball like Roethlisberger did in a valiant failed comeback last week, and he’s going to get hit a lot. And New England doesn’t have the kind of bruising running back that they need to take the pressure off Brady.

All season long, the Patriots have just looked off to me. Sure, they’ve still been the most consistently good team in a weak AFC—they have the greatest coach and greatest quarterback of all time, after all—but the usual Patriots’ swagger has been absent ever since their shocking opening-day defeat. I think all the big games and the sky-high expectations and deep playoff runs year after year (Remember, they have to play 2-3 more games a season than the typical team) are finally starting to take their toll. Brady has so far defied the decline that comes with age, but the clock is bound to strike midnight eventually. My pick is that it will happen this Sunday, against a team seemingly designed to beat him.

JAX: 16

NE: 13

[Note: the order reflects my prediction for each team’s standing in the division at the end of the season.]

AFC East

Patriots
Will Tom get his sixth?
They’re loaded like in ‘seven–
It ends the same way.

Dolphins
They’re not a bad team.
But they’re still just waiting on
Brady’s retirement.

Bills
Rebuilding again.
Could be good in a few years.
We’ve heard that before.

 Jets
Usually they’re good
When they’re expected to stink.
But this time, they’ll stink.

AFC North

Ravens
I’m not giving up
On my belief in Flacco.
They win division.

Steelers
Big Ben will get hurt.
Without him, their offense tanks;
And defense is weak.

Browns
Believe it or not
They might be decent this year.
But still no playoffs.

Bengals
Finishing last place
Might get Coach Lewis fired.
But not a sure thing.

AFC South

Colts
It takes more than Luck
To build a consistent team–
Also needs some linemen.

Titans
Mariota is good
But Murray will get injured
And still no playoffs.

Jaguars
They will be awful.
That is, really, really bad–
As in, not too good.

Texans
Watson disappoints,
And a regressing defense
Causes a meltdown.

AFC West

Chargers
Last ride for Rivers?
Their injury luck changes
And they become good.

Broncos
Two seasons ago
Nationwide was on their side.
Life comes at you fast.

Chiefs
Alex Smith is like
Football’s Rodney Dangerfield–
No respect at all.

Raiders
Beast Mode will Bust Mode.
Lame-duck seasons aren’t pretty–
They will fall apart.

NFC East

Cowboys
Prescott is for real.
Behind powerful o-line
They win Super Bowl.

Redskins
Cousins will be great,
And management will be bad.
Will be wild card.

Giants
Still mediocre–
As they’ve been for a decade;
Save two playoff runs.

Eagles
Wonder where winning
Wentz went–he’ll regress this year.
Back to the cellar.

NFC North

Packers
Will better defense
Yield better playoff results?
No-lose title game.

Vikings
Won’t miss Peterson.
But they will miss Brdgewater
And the postseason.

Bears
Quarterback nightmare
Is the most Bears thing ever–
But without defense.

Lions
Stafford’s luck runs out.
Last year was just a mirage;
Meet reality.

NFC South

Panthers
Superman returns!
Cam Newton will lead a run
To division crown.

Buccaneers
They are the new Saints–
Fun offense, lousy defense.
8 and 8 finish.

Saints
Drew Brees’s last year;
Ends a great career on a
Real depressing note.

Falcons
A collapse like theirs
Is bound to cause hangover.
Foregone conclusion.

NFC West

Seahawks
Wilson is awesome.
But their window is closing–
Can’t beat the Cowboys.

49ers
They must be wishing
They could bring Jim Harbaugh back.
“Don’t know what you’ve got…”

Rams
Would have been awesome
Playing in the ’70s–
But now, not so much.

Cardinals
Palmer, Fitz are old–
Without a solid QB
Offense falls apart.

AFC East

Dolphins
Tannehill improves;
Rejuvenated offense
Wins the division

Patriots
With no Tom Brady
Garoppolo will be good–
But defense will not.

Bills
Taylor and Watkins
Need to prove if they’re for real
Or it’s “Goodbye Rex”

 

Jets
Fitzpatrick is back,
But he’s still not the answer–
Can’t make the playoffs.

AFC North

Ravens
Flacco will surprise–
(I know, I said that before)
This time in good way.

Steelers
Sure, they’re talented–
But injuries, suspensions
Mar their playoff hopes.

Bengals
Lack of discipline
Showed in last year’s playoff game
Presages meltdown.

Browns
Same story each year–
Like the chimera, Griffin
Can’t be believed in.

AFC South

Colts
Luck will bounce right back–
Better for having struggled–
And win Super Bowl

Jaguars
Old order changeth:
They now warrant some respect–
But still no playoffs.

Titans
Mariota still
The next “game changing” QB
Who crashes and burns.

Texans
The Wizard of Oz?
“D” made Osweiler look good.
Pay no attention.

AFC West

Broncos
Sanchez of ’09
Paired up with that strong defense
Would have been scary.

Chargers
Not as bad as they
Looked last year, but they are still
Far from being good.

Raiders
Dangerous offense–
But Denver’s dangerous “D”
Keeps a lid on them.

Chiefs
Solid, but boring,
It’s always the same story–
Reid is good, not great.

NFC East

Redskins
“Captain” Kirk Cousins
Boldly goes where they’ve not gone
In years: Super Bowl.

Giants
Eli will be good,
And a strong passing offense
Makes them wild card.

Cowboys
If they stay healthy,
They’re best in their division.
Too big of an “if”.

Eagles
Rebuilding again;
After failed experiment.
Reid looks good now, huh?

NFC North

Bears
Fox’s teams do well
In his second year with them.
They make the playoffs.

Vikings
After heartbreaker–
They come back even better.
But Peterson’s done.

Packers
They are a strong team—
But their luck has to run out,
And this is the year.

Lions
No Calvin Johnson
Will mean no identity–
It will be ugly.

NFC South

Panthers
Newton will regress;
But still will be good enough
To win division.

Saints
Brees is getting old.
Can’t sustain their old style–
Will need to rebuild.

Falcons
Is Matt Ryan good
Or a glorified Stafford?
It is hard to say.

Buccaneers
Winston has been good;
But they seem too pass-happy
To be complete team.

NFC West

Seahawks
Wilson is awesome.
May be league’s most balanced team–
But lose title game.

49ers
Kelly’s second chance
Works out for them and for him–
“Kap”, Hyde run wild.

Rams
Move back to LA
Makes them seem glamorous till
Fans see their offense.

Cardinals
Palmer, Fitz are old–
Without a solid QB
Offense falls apart.

At last, football is (almost) back!   I love the Hall of Fame Game weekend.  Sure, the game is barely actual football, and I’ll probably tune out after the first two series, but it’s nice to start the season off with a little appreciation for the sport’s history, followed by a nice, easy re-introduction to watching football.  It would be no fun to just dive right in to the regular season right away, now would it?

Yeah, ok; maybe it would.

Anyway, it’s time once again for my annual haiku football season predictions.  I’m pretty proud of last year’s predictions, in which I correctly picked the Patriots to beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Let’s see how I do this year.

AFC East

Patriots

The Defending Champs

Make it back to the playoffs–

But lose their first game.

Bills

Loaded on defense–

But offense doesn’t seem to

Be “The Real McCoy.”

Dolphins

Improvements will make them

A wild card contender–

But can’t beat the Pats.

Jets

Rex Ryan Redux–

With a lackluster offense

And a strong defense.

AFC North

Ravens

Flacco will surprise;

And they ride his career year

To the Super Bowl.

Steelers

Changes on defense

Will be too much for loaded

“O” to overcome

Bengals

Dalton and Lewis

Get one more Sisyphean

Underwhelming year.

Browns

Can Johnny 12-step

Still be the Cleveland savior?

Wouldn’t bet on it.

AFC South

Colts

It’s just like old times–

A strong regular season

Followed by heartbreak.

Jaguars

They’ll be really bad–

Like, really, really awful–

As in, not too good.

Titans

Mariota is

The next “game changing” QB

Who crashes and burns.

Texans

Strong defensive line

Coupled with decent offense

Makes them a sleeper.

AFC West

Broncos

There’s an old man called

“Peyton Manning”. He’s still smart.

But he should retire…

Chargers

…But “Old Man Rivers”

Still has a few good years left.

Will win Division

Raiders

They say Carr is good,

But I am still skeptical

Of their playoff odds.

Chiefs

The blandest of teams

Has a chance to surprise,but

Can’t beat the Chargers.

NFC East

Cowboys

Can Dez be worth it?

If Romo can stay healthy

They’ll win division

Giants

Odell’s all the rage;

In for a sophomore slump.

Tom Coughlin’s last year.

Redskins

The name is not all

They should consider changing–

Also need new offense.

Eagles

Bradford will not last

And the Sanchez/Tebow show

Will make a comeback.

NFC North

Packers

This is the year they

Break the curse of the Seahawks.

But not the Ravens.

Bears

Crazy like a Fox–

But he can turn teams around.

Will be a fifth seed.

Vikings

Bridgewater breaks out

And they will be very good–

But not playoff good.

Lions

The wheels will fall off;

Johnson’s old, Stafford’s not great–

Back to drawing board.

NFC South

Saints

Will still be a threat

Even without Graham et. al;

But can’t beat Panthers.

Panthers

Will beat the Saints. Twice.

As I predicted above.

What more do you want?

Falcons

New coach improves them,

But won’t overtake Panthers;

Not until next year.

Buccaneers

Can Winston be good

On and off the gridiron?

Probably neither.

NFC West

Seahawks

It’s not picks that kill;

Nor the two straight scoring drives;

It’s that last, long yard.

Cardinals

With ‘Hawks hungover

Will take Division title

And win playoff game.

49ers

Need to win it all

To explain canning Harbaugh.

That will not happen.

Rams

Bills/Jets of the West:

Strong running game and defense,

But no Quarterback.