The fix is in

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I just heard ESPN’s Karl Ravech say that baseball continues to be the most unpredictable of all the major sports. This, frankly, is rather amusing if you consider that the Yankees win the East every year while in this year’s NFL, the New Orleans Saints might have the inside track at a first-round playoff bye.

Which one did you see coming at the outset of their respective seasons?

We’re not ashamed to admit some blunders when predicting this season in the NFL (some, of course, meaning many in this instance). For example, on Sept. 7, exactly nine weeks ago today, we predicted the following playoff scenario:

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NFC Champion: Panthers
AFC Champion: Bengals
Super Bowl Champion: Bengals

Neat, huh? And the sad fact of the matter is that our predictions didn’t even look at their most egregious there. The worst oops was the bold stance that the Buffalo Bills’ defense would throttle them to the playoffs as an AFC wild card entrant. Ahem.

But then again, while others were picking Miami to go to the Super Bowl, I did have them finishing third in the East, thanks to a complete lack of faith in Daunte Culpepper. So, I got that going.

Let’s fix the mistakes, shall we? Or at least try.


NFC East
What we said then:
1. Giants
2. Cowboys
3. Redskins
4. Eagles

Washington’s not out of it yet, but it’s going to take a killer second half like last season to make a charge at a wild card spot. The Eagles burst out of the gate, but have cooled down significantly as of late, Donte Stallworth’s absence a major factor for Donovan McNabb and company. And will Tony Romo hit the wall eventually? A lot of folks are looking at the Giants as perhaps the best the NFC has to offer, but I’m still not sold on their defense, and the loss of Amani Toomer means a lot more double coverage down the stretch on Plaxico Burress. They still win the division, but they are not a major Super Bowl contender by any stretch. But they did have a short period where they supposedly hated their coach, and that always works too. So, why not?
NFC North
What we said then:
1. Vikings
2. Bears
3. Lions
4. Packers

You know, the Packers aren’t half-bad, a team that in the days of 8-8 teams making the playoffs might have had a shot. And Brett Favre’s decision to return has not turned out as bad as many expected, which means we should get another offseason of indecision. That’ll be awesome. Though they’re mired in last, the Lions’ offense has started to click, thanks to Mike Martz, who is rumored to be the next head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, which should do well to ensure another decade of ineptness in the desert. The Vikings are 4-4, and looked much better before the Patriots walloped them last week. The Bears might be the best team in football (certainly the most suffocating defense), but even after all it has proven this season, that offense still might be concerning heading into December and January. Still, I’ve got my crown out, ready to anoint their posteriors.
NFC South
What we said then:
1. Panthers
2. Buccaneers
3. Saints
4. Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons are 5-3. I’d say more about them, but the team is so maddeningly confusing I’m not sure what words would convey my feelings. The Saints remain the biggest surprise in football, and while everybody is waiting for them to fall, Drew Brees and Marques Colston have sparked the team, which right now is only a game behind the Bears for playoff home-field advantage. Carolina’s Steve Smith had MVP talk revolving around him for about a week. Remember that? Seems a long ways off. Just like that Bruce Gradkowski magic.
NFC West
What we said then:
1. Seahawks
2. Cardinals
3. Rams
4. 49ers

I’d say Dennis Green owed me $20 for a preseason wager I made that the Cards would finish 9-7 or better, but he gave me at least double that value in his Bears postgame tirade (which, by the way, has inspired this fantastic t-shirt). The Rams are 4-4, but are going to make the playoffs by virtue of getting to beat up on the 49ers and Arizona once more each, and then finish the year at Oakland, vs. Washington, and at Minnesota. Once Shaun Alexander and Matt Hasselbeck are back, the Seahawks roll to the division title, but aren’t good enough for the first-round bye, which will go to the Bears and the Giants.
NFC Playoffs:
Wild card round
What we say now:
St. Louis defeats New Orleans
Seattle defeats Dallas

Divisional round
What we say now:
Chicago defeats St. Louis
Seattle defeats New York

NFC Championship Game
What we say now:
Chicago defeats Seattle

AFC East
What we said then:
1. Patriots
2. Bills
3. Dolphins
4. Jets

The Patriots’ playoff chances are cemented in this terrible division, the worst in football. Where they stand after that is still unclear, but you’d have to think that the Broncos face a much more difficult shot at getting the first-round bye in a division that includes San Diego and Kansas City. Still, the concern that the Pats haven’t beaten a team currently over .500 is a real one, and a fact they can’t cure in this division. Realistically, they only might face two before the season is over, the 7-1 Bears and perhaps the 5-3 Jaguars. Yuck.
AFC North
What we said then:
1. Bengals
2. Steelers
3. Ravens
4. Browns

We picked the Bengals to win the Super Bowl. And that was just nine weeks ago. We’d like to think that in that period we have summarily grown more intelligent, but we certainly cannot promise it. Who could have anticipated all the “me” business going on with Marv Lewis’ squad? I mean, besides anybody with a somewhat general knowledge of the Bengals’ roster. I can admit, however, that as much doubt as I still have in the Ravens’ ability to score consistently, their rush defense is scary, while their pass D is scarily inefficient. The Steelers are the best 2-6 team I’ve watched in some years, while Cleveland might be one of the worst outside of Oakland. Where for art thou Romeo in 2007? Not in Cleveland.
AFC South
What we said then:
1. Colts
2. Jaguars
3. Texans
4. Titans

Ho, hum, the Colts are 8-0, while the Jaguars are just hanging on for another possible wild card berth. If I presented the names David Garrard and Byron Leftwich to you in September, I am sure the last thing on your mind would be “quarterback controversy.” In the back of the division, there is certain encouragement by the way Vince Young has played for the Titans, and much scoffed at defensive draft pick Mario Williams is starting to make the Texans look smart. Or let’s just say, not dumb.
AFC West
What we said then:
1. Broncos
2. Chiefs
3. Chargers
4. Raiders

Going into the season, we all thought the NFC East was the best division in football. Turns out it’s far to the West and in the AFC. Jake Plummer has apparently finally gotten tired of all the grumblings, and picked up his game the same way he did a year ago when all the talk was the same. Having Javon Walker doesn’t hurt either. San Diego has allowed just 16.8 points per game, fifth-best in the AFC to go along with the league’s best offense. Those kind of stats are usually ripe for Super Bowl chatter. Marty Schottenheimer’s involvement makes us hesitant. Herman Edward’s boys are playing (Hello?) to win the game, with Damon Huard leading the way in the most surprising stat sheet for a quarterback this year. Are we supposed to be shocked that Monday’s Oakland-Seattle game was the lowest-rated Monday Night Football broadcast ever?
AFC Playoffs:
Wild card round
What we say now:
Denver beats Jacksonville
San Diego beats Baltimore

Divisional round
What we say now:
New England beats Denver
Indianapolis beats San Diego

AFC Championship Game
What we say now:
New England beats Indianapolis

Super Bowl: Bears 32, Patriots 27
Of course, I’ve been known to be wrong before …