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Checking in on 10 bold preseason NFL predictions at the midway point

I got a lot wrong and one I really regret getting right.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

At the start of every football season, writers like myself take time out of our busy lives to come up with a list of predictions for the upcoming season.

I really should stop.

At the midway point here in 2021, I decided to take a look back at the predictions I made a couple months ago and I wish I hadn’t. It’s brutal. I mean, an unmitigated disaster. I whiffed on the majority of them, some have yet to fully play out and the one I got most correct is the one about which I least wanted to be right.

NAILED IT

Dallas Cowboys Will Reach the NFC Championship Game

Well, let’s start with the prediction I’m least proud of. I felt like the return of Dak Prescott would be a boon to the team and, moreover, I believed they simply were due for a big year and a deep playoff run. But the Dallas Cowboy are truly an elite team and, as if to underscore that Dallas is more than just its QB, they beat the Vikings on the road with their back-up QB, Cooper Rush. The defense is much improved under Dan Quinn and the offense is essentially Mike McCarthy-proof. They’re going to walk to the NFC East title and 14-2 is not off the table.

In fact, I may have undersold the Cowboys this off-season.

I’m sorry, everyone.

Lamar Jackson and the Ravens Will Bounce Back

One year after putting up the best record in football at 14-2, the Ravens still went 11-5 last season but once again lost in the divisional round and it felt like Lamar Jackson took a step backward. Perhaps that was in error, because he still ran for more than 1,000 yards and threw for 2757, with 29 TDs and 9 INTs. So maybe there wasn’t a need for anyone on that team to “bounce back” but so far in 2021, Jackson is once again a dominant force to be reckoned with. He’s on pace for nearly 4,000 yards passing and over 1,000 yards rushing. At 5-2, they are in first place in the AFC North, and no one will want to face Jackson in the playoffs this winter.

Honestly, this was a dumb prediction. The Ravens didn’t have anything to bounce back from. The lesson, as always, I’m a dumb.

UP IN THE AIR

Daniel Jones is Replaced at Midseason at QB

The spirit of this prediction is still true and it could still come to pass that Jones is benched by a desperate Joe Judge at some point in the next week or two. Jones’ 86.2 passer rating is 24th in the NFL, and you have to think Judge will pull the trigger on this at some point, but it hasn’t happened yet.

The KC Chiefs Will Break the Super Bowl Loser Curse (But Just Barely)

I feel like I’m going to nail this one in the end. It’s pretty clear something if “off” about the Chiefs. They’re just 4-4 and in 3rd place in a suddenly competitive AFC West and people are now starting to pick apart Patrick Mahomes’ unorthodox throwing motion as if that hasn’t been a “thing” for a while now.

FiveThirtyEight wrote about K.C.’s chances of a slide and noted history is on my side.

The bad news for Kansas City: Super Bowl losers do tend to backslide the following season, historically speaking. During their runs to the doorstep of a title, those teams put up a .778 winning percentage (or 13.2 wins per 17 games)1 on average in the regular season, with a +8.9 points-per-game margin. The next year, those numbers dropped to .633 (10.8 wins per 17) with a +5.0 average margin. Relative to league average in each season, Super Bowl losers’ offenses score 2.7 fewer points per game on average year-over-year — thanks in large part to less-effective quarterback play — and their defenses allow 1.1 more points per game.

As the article notes, some teams win it all thanks, in large part, to good fortune during their title runs.

Some of the decline in winning percentage might have to do with lucky runs to the big game — and that luck tending to even out over the following season. During their Super Bowl bids, losing teams won about 1.7 more times per 17 games than we would expect from their point differential (and that’s without taking the playoffs into account). The next year, that difference was down under a half-win, with the teams’ records more resembling their expected wins and losses from the year prior. This factor might be especially pertinent for the Chiefs, who were the luckiest team in the NFL last season in terms of close victories. Kansas City won 4.1 more games than we’d expect from its underlying point differential a year ago, and an 8-1 record in one-score games already gave K.C. prominent placement on lists of potential regression candidates going into Week 1.

However, the Chiefs were Super Bowl winners the season before, with a potential Hall of Fame QB and head coach leading the way, so they were no flash-in-the-pans last year. Still...

Whatever caused their decline, only 14.8 percent of championship losers in history have made it back to the Super Bowl the next season, and just 24.1 percent made it even as far as the conference title game.

So while I saw a slide backward for Kansas City, the division in which they played and the talent still on the roster caused me to hedge my bets a little, hence the wishy-washy prediction that remains up in the air.

Carson Wentz Will Take the Colts to the Playoffs & the Eagles Get a 1st Round Pick

After a brutal loss to the Titans in which Wentz threw two killer interceptions late in the 4th quarter and in overtime, the Colts are just 3-5 in the AFC South and trail the 6-2 Titans. Writers in Indianapolis are already calling for head coach Frank Reich to bench Wentz so that the Eagles don’t get their first round pick in next year’s draft.

Early on, when Wentz injured himself in training camp, this prediction looked idiotic but, somehow, Wentz has played virtually every snap through the first half of the season and, so far, it’s been a perfect storm for the Eagles.

I am a little concerned another couple losses will send Wentz to the pine, but it’s also difficult to see the Colts sitting their franchise QB down when they’re still mathematically alive, especially given the tumult that went on in Philadelphia last year after he was benched. This one’s feeling pretty good.

SWING AND A MISS

The Cleveland Browns will have the best record in football in 2021

If the season ended today (it doesn’t), the 4-4 Browns would be out of the playoffs, tied with the Patriots and Chiefs on the bubble. I love their roster but they have underachieved so far this year, and Baker Mayfield’s injury issues are a concern. They won’t finish with the best record in football. Big “L” for me here.

The Matthew Stafford Trade Was a Mistake for the Rams

I felt the Rams punted too much of their future for a quarterback who never came close to a Super Bowl with Detroit. I felt Stafford was no more than a top-12, top-13 starting QB and doubted his ability to make the L.A. Rams a Super Bowl contender. I felt Stafford was overrated and that this deal would blow up in L.A.’s face.

Stafford’s 118.0 passer rating is 2nd in the NFL, he’s thrown 22 TDs against 4 INTs, a 68.9% completion percentage and a career best 9.1 yards per attempt. The Rams are 7-1.

Whoopsie!

Josh Allen and the Bills Take a Step Back

Allen was an exciting but deeply flawed QB in 2019 and his reversal in 2020 was so astonishing I wasn’t convinced it was real or sustainable.

His 103.1 passer rating is 9th in the NFL and the Bills are 5-2 and in 1st place in the AFC East.

No steps backwards.

The Saints are Going to be Bad

While I still don’t think the Saints aren’t “good,” they certainly aren’t “bad.” At 5-2, they’re actually a playoff team as the 2nd of the 3 wild card teams in the NFC. Sean Payton has worked his magic with Jameis Winston, whose 102.8 passer rating is 10th in the NFL this season, and only nine teams have given up more yards than the Saints, allowing 18.3 points per game, 4th-stingiest in the league.

Houston Texans Will Go Winless

We all knew the Texans would be bad, my prediction was that they would be historic. Well, they already have one win and may pick up another this week against the 1-7 Miami Dolphins. It is, instead, the 0-8 Detroit Lions who are close to making history once again, although one thinks Dan Campbell will get them a victory at some point during this 17-game season.

So yes, this was a miss, but in my heart, I’m going to claim victory. Because moral victories are all I can muster.

As for the Super Bowl, I predicted the 49ers vs. the Titans with San Francisco winning it all. Perhaps it was a foolish pick with Jimmy G still slinging the ball and a rookie, Trey Lance, as his back-up, but I believed in Kyle Shanahan. The Titans are the No. 1 seed in the AFC at the moment, although losing Derrick Henry for much the regular season could be a death blow to this prediction. Hopefully he comes back in time for a deep playoff run.

I really need to stop doing this.


Question for the readers: Which predictions did you really nail or miss about this season?