Saturday, September 03, 2011

My Lock of the Year -- It'll Get Dark Earlier Later in the Season

Preseason predictions of any sport are best understood as cult rituals rather than as actual forecasts. Fans and editors expect them and would miss them if they weren't around although groups are at least dimly aware that they represent wild guesswork even if offered by the most knowledgeable observers.

Jon Gruden knows much more about football than I do. However, his assertion that the Houston Texans are a team to be reckoned with in the 2011 NFL season has no more validity than my thought that the Texans, as they used to say about Brazil, are the team of the future and always will be. At least I have history on my side.

My old pal Peter King knows much more about the NFL than I do. His predecessor as Sports Illustrated main man on pro football, Paul Zimmerman, knew more than Peter does. Knowledge is no guarantee of wisdom. In my ignorance, I knew enough as a sportswriter NEVER to publish those insanely detailed NFL preseason predictions King and Zimmerman have combined to crank out for decades. The won-loss record of 32 teams? Scores of every playoff game? Why give readers looking for reasons to think you're a dope (and there always a good number of those) so many opportunities to have their suspicions confirmed?

Anyone who has seen one football game knows injuries or the lack of same, has the most influence on any NFL team's performance. Who gets hurt when and how badly is what Las Vegas wants to know when it thinks football. But injuries cannot be forecast. We know people will be killed by lightning each summer. But we don't go around telling neighbors they're going to draw the black spot.

So football predictions are an exercise in futility. That's why Vegas likes to see people come to town and make them. I think that's why fans like reading them. Even if a forecaster disses their team, they can take comfort in the fact said forecaster is bound to have made a few horrendous calls about the upcoming season, and their team might be one of 'em. For many fans, like those in Denver say, that's about all the grounds for optimism they've got.

The prudent (oh, all right, cowardly, I admit it) prognosticator makes damage control their top priority. Broad strokes are always the best strokes when painting the future. When you have a hunch, tell people. Don't depend on exhibition game film or personnel changes. Remember that inertia is every bit as powerful in physics as is momentum. And try to keep it short, which I already forgot. But here are my best guesses anyway. Yeah, they're obvious. What's it to ya?

Teams that were really good last year and will be this year, too: Patriots, Packers, Steelers, Falcons, Ravens.

Teams that were really good last year and could go either way, but most likely down a bit: Jets, Bears.

Team most likely to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated with a headline starting "What's Wrong" by Halloween: Eagles.

Team that I cannot understand why other people are picking as a Super Bowl contender: Chargers

Weakest team that'll make the playoffs: Colts (have you seen the other three AFC South squads? That division is like one of those soccer World Cup European qualifying groups that has Andorra and San Marino in it).

Teams most likely to win five games fewer than they did in 2010: Seahawks, Chiefs.

Teams most likely to win two or more games MORE than they did in 2010: Rams, Saints.

The Andrew Luck Derby: Broncos, Browns, and I'd say Panthers if they hadn't already drafted Cam Newton.

Since you must know, teams in the Super Bowl next February: Patriots and Saints. Bet the over.

My favorite preseason pick by somebody else: The September issue of "Sports Illustrated for Kids" chose the Arizona Cardinals to win the NFC West. Either Kevin Kolb's mom is an editor there, or it's BY kids, too -- kids from Scottsdale.


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