NFL Regular Season Wrap-Up

Very much like I did for the end of the baseball season (“The Idiot Awards”, 9/29/11), it’s time to see how well I did on my NFL picks. There was actually a lot I did get right, but also a lot that I got wrong – and horribly wrong. So let’s start with the self-deprecation and get to everything that went wrong.

When I wrote my pre-season NFL predictions, it was the Opening Night of the regular season. September 8th, 2011, or, the date that the Indianapolis Colts announced that Peyton Manning would not be playing football until at least December. However, that announcement had come AFTER I had put the finishing bows on my prediction article. Thus, I had the Colts getting hot once Manning returned from his neck injury and making the playoffs.

That ended up being Horrifying Prediction number one, as the Colts went winless through their first thirteen games, and finishing 2-14. They face haunting questions on what they will do with the number one pick in the NFL Draft, and whether Peyton Manning will even return to the Colts for the 2012 season.

Disappointing Teams

The following teams I picked to make the playoffs, but did not qualify: Chargers, Colts, Jets, Bears, Eagles, Rams.

I picked the Chargers just because no one else in the West look good. At the time, Tim Tebow was a third-stringer and didn’t seem like he would see the field, let alone lead his team on a seven-game winning streak and into the playoffs. The Chargers, regardless of Tebow, imploded in seemingly a different way each week. The Bears looked like they were going to contend for the playoffs before they lost Jay Cutler in November, and injuries and inconsistencies kept the Rams from doing anything all season. Most disappointing are the Eagles and Jets. The Eagles, after starting off bad, gelled towards the end of the season and turned a 3-6 start into an 8-8 overall record.

The Jets have a ton of questions after ending the season on a three-game losing streak and failing to reach the playoffs. Furthermore, with questions about Brian Schottenheimer’s future, Mark Sanchez’s development, and Santonio Holmes’ attitude, the team faces a hellish off-season. I had thought that this would be the season that Sanchez took that next step forward. And I was proven soundly wrong, as Brian Schottenheimer opened up the playbook for him, and Sanchez looked inept for much of the season.

Surprising Teams

The most surprising team, by far, was the San Francisco 49ers. To not only make the playoffs, but get a first round bye, after nearly a decade of running around in circles was the heart-warming story of the year. Alex Smith looked like the quarterback everyone expected the 2005 Number One overall pick of the Draft to be, and the defense was one of the best in the league. Jim Harbaugh turned the team around in his first year, and should, in my opinion, win the Coach of the Year award.

The Bengals were the other really surprising team. Rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green helped the offense turn the page from the Carson Palmer era and make the playoffs in their first year. The defense has always been consistent under Marvin Lewis, whose job appears to be safe. Lewis’ job security may be the most shocking twist to the coaching carousel, which, in August, nearly everyone had the Bengals penciled in as a team looking for a new coach come the end of the season.

And also, congratulations to the Giants for overcoming injury after injury early on in the season, and end up winning the NFC East.

What Went Right

I had the top-seeds in each conference picked right, and for that I would like to thank Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Brady continued to shine by making his tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez shine, and that Wes Welker guy isn’t too bad either. Aaron Rodgers had one of the best seasons ever, leading the Packers to a 15-1 record and being a front-runner for the MVP award.

For all the playoff teams I had wrong, I had an equal amount right, which includes the Saints. If not for the incredible season that San Fran had, the Saints would be the number two seed, as I had predicted. Coming off of last year’s playoff loss to sub-.500 Seattle, Drew Brees decided to take his revenge on any opponent that dared to stop him from passing. Brees threw for an NFL record 5476 yards and an NFL-leading 46 touchdowns. Sean Peyton’s team seems to have shed off their Super Bowl hangover season, and looks poised to make another Super Bowl run. They were my Super Bowl pick at the beginning of the season, and I’m sticking with them, even if they will have to play the NFC Championship game in Green Bay, should both teams advance that far.

Much like the Saints, the Steelers were another quiet team in the off-season. Even though they were inconsistent throughout the year, they get the fifth seed in the playoff and will face Denver in the playoffs. They’re banged up, with Big Ben’s ankle, and Rashard Mendenhall blowing out his knee in the season finale. They may not beat the Broncos because of that, but if they can advance, they will play either the Patriots, who they have already beaten this season, or the Ravens, who have not won a playoff game against Pittsburgh in the John Harbaugh era.

I’m sticking to my pre-season Super Bowl pick, New Orleans over New England in the Super Bowl because I am stubborn and admire Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Brew Brees and Sean Payton.

Here are my NFL Awards:

MVP: Drew Brees and Aaron Rodger. Like in 2003 when Peyton Manning and Steve McNair split the award, the same will happen this year. It would be like splitting hairs to pick one over the other.

Defensive Player of the Year: Jared Allen finished a half of a sack shy of Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record. He should get it based on that alone.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Cam Newton was a one man wreaking crew for the Panthers. If he can shave a few interceptions from his stat-line going forward, he will be one of the greats.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Von Miller of the Broncos was one of the defensive players that helped set the table for all of those Tim Tebow comebacks. He’s going to be a superstar in this league.

Coach of the Year: Jim Harbaugh turned around the 49ers in his first season. It would be a shame if they don’t give it to him, but there are others (Marvin Lewis, Mike McCarthy) that could get it.

Comeback Player of the Year: Alex Smith should get that award. From being a fringe starter a season ago to leading his team to the NFC West championship. Smith threw only five interceptions, the fewest among any starting QB in the league.

Hopefully, I’ll do better in my playoff predictions than the regular season. That being said, I’m fully prepared for the Lions to upset the Saints, and the Patriots to lose to the Steelers next week, just to make me look, once again, like an idiot.


Follow me on Twitter @JustinCirillo

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