A look back and a look ahead

The week leading into the season opener, the NFP always publishes an article on the staff’s upcoming season and Super Bowl predictions. I’ve never thought of myself as a prognosticator, and that article sure as hell proved it. In the AFC, I had the division winners as New England, Cincinnati, Houston and Denver. I hit on three of four, but my Houston pick was awful. My wild card picks were Baltimore and Indianapolis. Indy won their division and Baltimore went from Super Bowl winner to 8-8. I can give myself a B- for the AFC predictions because except for Houston I wasn’t that far off.

When we get to the NFC, I have to grade myself an F. I had the Redskins, Bears, Falcons, and 49ers winning their Divisions. Not one made it! My wild card picks were Seattle and Carolina. The only thing I can pat myself on the back for was that I may have been one of the few that thought Carolina would have a good season.

Looking at how the regular season finished, I have to give Philadelphia a ton of credit. When they were 1-3, I wrote that their defense was one of the worst in the league. My reasoning was that their defensive staff had no NFL experience, except for their Defensive Coordinator. I was wrong. Down the stretch, their defense played very good football and came up with big plays week after week. Going into the playoffs, this is going to be a very hard team to prepare for. Their offense is as good as any in the league. Chip Kelly does a great job finding their opponents weaknesses and going after them. With this week’s game in Philly, they will be tough to beat.

Carolina is the surprise team in the NFC. I don’t think you will find anyone who picked them to win the division. Going into the season, Ron Rivera was thought to be on the firing line, and he responded with some outstanding coaching. Cam Newton played his best football since his rookie year, and going into the playoffs, the defense might be the best in the NFC. New GM, Dave Gettleman, also has to be given credit. He had a very good draft and made some tough personnel decisions on who to sign and who to let go. In recent history, NFL owners have been hiring a lot of “hot”, young guys to fill the general manager roles. It’s the old, experienced guy who had paid his dues who did the best job!

The Bears season was strange to say the least. New Head Coach Marc Trestman did an outstanding job turning around the Bears offense. The Bears offense in 2013 may have been their best ever in the history of the franchise. The Bears have always been known for defense, and it was the defense this year that let the team down. New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker played a very similar scheme to what Lovie Smith had played the last nine years. The results weren’t even close. The run defense was the worst in the league, and the safety play was horrible. General Manager Phil Emery has his work cut out for him the next few months, as there are over 20 players out of contract including QB Jay Cutler. This team could have a whole new look in 2014.

While the Panthers were the surprise team in the NFC, the Chiefs were the surprise of the AFC. They went from having the worst record in the league to a wild card team. Andy Reid may have done his best coaching job ever in turning this team around. The Chiefs always had talent, but now they are playing with confidence, and that’s coaching. In Sunday’s loss at San Diego, they didn’t dress many of their key players to rest them for the playoffs, yet they still took the game to overtime. That tells you the kind of depth this team has. The Colts had better be ready, because the Chiefs will give them everything they can handle this week in the opening round of the playoffs.

New England has been their usual, consistent self, and as long as Tom Brady is healthy, they will be tough to beat. Peyton Manning has had many great years, and this season may have been his best. With home field advantage, they will be very hard to beat. Let’s not forget that those two teams are coached by two of the best coaches in the business in Bill Belichick and John Fox.

The big surprise over the weekend was Cleveland firing Head Coach Rob Chudzinski after only one season on the job. Owner Jimmy Haslem, President Joe Banner, and GM Mike Lombardi have been taking some heat over the firing. Early in my career, I worked for the New York Giants, and in May of 1991, Bill Parcells surprised everyone by stepping down as Head Coach citing health concerns. GM George Young promoted Ray Handley from running backs coach to the Head Coach position. Once the 1991 season started, it didn’t take long to know that Handley was in over his head, and George knew that he should make a change but wouldn’t because of how it would be perceived. He waited one more year to make the change, and all it did was set back the franchise.

Cleveland finished the year with a 4-12 record. There were at least four other games where they had control of the game in the fourth quarter but couldn’t finish and win the game. Yes, I know that the team had numerous injuries and problems at quarterback, but these were games they should have won. The powers that be had to feel the same way and figured that “Chud” just wasn’t the right guy. Regardless of perception, you have to admire that they had the guts to do what they thought was right. They want to win as much as anyone. I know I’m in the minority, but I applaud them.

Speaking of the playoffs, I going to try this prediction thing one last time. If any of you like to bet, please don’t follow my advice. I’m the worst at predictions. With that said, in this week’s games, I like Kansas City over Indianapolis, Philly over New Orleans, San Francisco over Green Bay, and Cincinnati over San Diego. Right now I see a Denver – New England AFC Championship game and a Seattle – Carolina NFC Championship game. That’s as far as I will go right now.

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