On February 1st, 2009, Santonio Holmes’ Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII in thrilling fashion, beating the Arizona Cardinals 27-23. Starting Thursday night, that championship won’t matter anymore – the Steelers and Titans will usher in the new season in Pittsburgh and start from scratch. While I’ve done baseball predictions the last couple seasons, I’ve never felt like I watched enough football to make intelligent predictions about the NFL. This year, however, I decided that making uninformed predictions that may be wildly false is what blogs are for, so, therefore, ahem, therefore, I give you…my 2009 NFL season predictions! (…after the jump.)
This is the division that means the most to me, because both my hometown team and favorite team play in the division. The Steelers and Ravens both had great seasons last year, making the playoffs and reaching the AFC championship game, with the Steelers winning the AFC and the Super Bowl.
Prediction: Steelers, Ravens, Browns, Bengals
Here’s why I think the Steelers will stay on top of the Ravens despite the Ravens’ obvious talent: schedule. Jump back to 2007 for a moment: the Ravens were 5-11, the worst team in the division. Thus, last season, they beat up on some pretty weak opponents like the Bengals and Browns, but failed to beat the Steelers or Titans in their games. After a winning record last year, the Ravens don’t have it quite as easy this year, with games against New England, San Diego, Indianapolis, and the NFC North. Add the Steelers and what should be tougher Browns and Bengals teams, and the Ravens will have a tougher time of it this year. I see them missing the playoffs this year. (By the way, the Steelers had one of the toughest schedules in the league last year and still won the Super Bowl – while it may be tougher for them this year, they’ve shown they can hang with anyone.)
As for Cincinatti and Cleveland, I see Cincinatti having a better season than Cleveland, but both teams aren’t really all that good. In Cleveland, Braylon Edwards has to have a better season this year or he might be done in Cleveland, and in Cincinnati, Carson Palmer is back but no longer has a go-to third down receiver (T.J. Houshmandzadeh is now with the Seahawks) and I think will struggle against the defenses of Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
In case you haven’t been keeping track, this division now has T.O., Randy Moss and Tom Brady, as well as the always-interesting New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.
Prediction: Patriots, Dolphins, Bills, Jets
First place in this division is a sure thing for the Patriots as long as Tom Brady stays healthy (heck, they did okay without him last year). The Dolphins won this division last year, but this year should play much tougher opponents and should struggle. The Bills have an impact wide receiver, but still lack the defense needed to win consistently, and the Jets are starting a rookie quarterback. All of these teams should be good, but it’s a tough division that’s even tougher when the Patriots are at full strength.
The class of this division is clearly the Indianapolis Colts, but they have a new head coach and may go through some growing pains. Meanwhile, the Titans are an excellent team and won this division last year, Jacksonville had a down year last season but is just one season removed from a second-round playoff appearance, and the Texans always seem like they’re getting better.
Prediction: Colts, Titans, Jacksonville, Texans
You heard it here first: Kerry Collins won’t be as good or will get hurt this year. The Colts do have a new coach but are really led by the players, and with a healthy Peyton Manning they’ll be in good shape to win this division. Jacksonville will be improved and beat up on non-divisional opponents, and the Texans will also be improved but will just be missing a little bit. Wouldn’t be surprised to see one or both wild card come out of this division.
San Diego always seems to start slow, but this division is so weak it hardly matters.
Prediction: Chargers, Broncos, Raiders, Chiefs
San Diego had an off year last year and should have a weaker schedule to compensate for it, thus they should cruise to a division win this year. Denver definitely downgraded at the quarterback position, and with the controversy surrounding Brandon Marshall might have problems winning consistently. Kansas City has their new quarterback but lost a star tight end and will experience some growing pains, while Oakland is just dysfunctional.
In case you haven’t heard, Brett Favre is playing in this division again.
Prediction: Vikings, Packers, Bears, Lions
There’s no denying that Brett Favre is a great quarterback, but it’ll be Adrian Peterson and the Vikings defense that catapults this team to the playoffs. I look for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to rebound this year as well, and make the playoffs as a wild card. The Bears did add Jay Cutler but don’t really have a true deep threat with Devin Hester still learning the position, and their once-vaunted defense is aging. The Lions were 0-16 last year, and while I expect they’ll win at least once this year, they’re not going anywhere higher than last this year.
This is a pretty intriguing division, with the always dramatic Cowboys having a new stadium, the New York Giants without Plaxico, and the Philadelphia Eagles with Michael Vick.
Prediction: Giants, Eagles, Cowboys, Redskins
Even without Plaxico, Eli will find a way to win and the Giants defense will be helped greatly with the return of Osi Umenyiora. The Eagles will also win a lot of games with Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb tagteaming at quarter-back and make the wild card. The Cowboys will underperform with no T.O. to go to anymore, and the Redskins are just overmatched in this division.
This is a pretty intresting division too, since each of the four teams have made the playoffs at least once the last three years.
Prediction: Panthers, Buccaneers, Saints, Falcons
None of these teams will have terrible seasons, but I do predict Atlanta to fall the furthest due to Matt Ryan falling to earth after last year’s stunning debut. The Panthers are largely the same team they were last year, and they’ll edge out Kellen Winslow and the Buccaneers, and the Saints will have a stellar offensive season but fall short on defense.
(Caveat on this division: if I’m gonna’ be wrong on one or more of my picks, I’m sure this division will be one of them.)
Last year the Arizona Cardinals not only won this weak division, but catapulted themselves to the super bowl.
Prediction: Seahawks, Cardinals, 49ers, Rams
The Seahawks are a much better team with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Matt Hasselback back as the quarterback and will return the playoffs. The Cardinals will struggle with a stronger schedule this year and miss the playoffs (not to mention the Madden curse on Larry Fitzgerald). The Niners and Rams are up and coming teams, but this year won’t make it.
AFC (with seeds): 1. Patriots, 2. Steelers, 3. Colts, 4. Chargers, 5. Ravens, 6. Titans
NFC (with seeds): 1. Vikings, 2. Giants, 3. Panthers, 4. Seahawks, 5. Eagles, 6. Packers
AFC championship: Steelers @ Patriots
NFC championship: Eagles @ Giants
Super Bowl XLIV: Steelers vs. Eagles
Super Bowl champions: Steelers
And there you have it. I’m sure these will be mostly wrong, and I’ll try to review my predictions before the playoffs start so we can all laugh together. In the meantime, anyone have any thoughts or objections to my picks?