The NFL 2017 regular season is over, and so it’s time for the Rampant Discourse crew to take a look back on our pre-season predictions to see how we did with a 2017 NFL season recap.
In order to compare how we did, we came up with a (mostly) arbitrary scoring system. Here’s how it works:
- 5 points are awarded for correctly picking the division winner
- 1 point is awarded if the team chosen to win the division at least made the playoffs
- 5 points are subtracted if the team chosen to win the division finished last in the division
So, how did we do? Which of us should take a trip to Vegas next year and which shouldn’t quit their day jobs? Read on to find out.
As a reminder, here were our predictions from before the season:
I felt really good about my predictions as the regular season came to a close. Why wouldn’t I? Most of my picks had done great, highlighted by my two most controversial picks, Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles, not only winning their respective divisions, but looking like some of the most complete teams in the league throughout the regular season (ignore the fact that the Rams got upset by the Falcons… they still had a great year). In fact, I correctly predicted four out of the eight division winners, which was more than my co-contributors got combined. My final score (calculated per the rules above) is an impressive 10.
You might be feeling a “but…” coming, and you would be right.
But… disappointingly, my score is just slightly worse than one of my co-contributors (read the other recaps to find out who bested me). Why? Because for all the home runs that I hit with accurately predicting the rise of the Rams and Eagles, I also had a fair number of strikeouts. Two of the teams I picked to win their respective divisions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Houston Texans, not only didn’t make the playoffs but finished last in their respective divisions. What’s interesting to me is that those two divisions, AFC South and NFC South, were the only two where each of us picked a different team to win. Even more interesting? Despite us collectively picking three out of the four teams in each division to win, we all managed to miss out on the real winners, Jacksonville Jaguars and New Orleans Saints. What’s the lesson? Apparently football in the southern divisions of the NFL is unpredictable.
The only other interesting thing I will mention about my wrong picks is that every single one of those four picks had their quarterback miss some time this season due to injury. For the Buccaneers and Raiders, it’s hard to argue that Winston and Carr missing a few games really made a difference. Their teams had bigger issues than that. However, for the Packers and Texans, losing Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson basically sank their seasons. What’s the lesson? Health, particularly at the quarterback position, is so important in the modern NFL (just ask the 2008 Patriots). Sometimes the difference between a good season and a disappointing one can come down to an unlucky break (of a collarbone, perhaps?).
So what about my other storylines to watch this season? If you recall, my main storyline was the effect that coaching changes would have on their teams (both positive and negative). I specifically called out four coaches to keep an eye on:
Broncos: Gary Kubiak to Vance Joseph
- What I said: “No offense to Vance Joseph, but if Gary Kubiak was still the coach of the Broncos, I likely would’ve picked them to win the AFC West as he had a track record of success.” I also mentioned being concerned about Wade Phillips leaving as defensive coordinator.
- What happened: The Broncos went from 9-7 with a +36 point differential in 2016 to 5-11 with a -93 point differential in 2017. Their defense went from allowing 297 points in 2016 (#4 in the league) to 382 points in 2017 (#22 in the league).
They went from dead last in the league in points scored to first.
- What I said: “I’m thrilled with the possibilities of Sean McVay in St. Louis, and the addition of Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator.”
- What happened: The Rams went from 4-12 with a -170 point differential in 2016 (3rd worst in the league) to 11-5 with a +149 point differential in 2017 (3rd best in the league). Their defense went from giving up 394 points in 2016 to giving up 329 in 2017. They went from dead last in the league in points scored to first. That is an amazing turnaround.
Falcons: Losing Kyle Shanahan
- What I said: “I’m very worried about how the Falcons offense, which put up incredible numbers last year, will perform without him.”
- What happened: The Falcons went from 540 points scored in 2016 (#1 in the league by an astounding 71 points or 4.4 points per game over the #2 team) to 353 in 2017 (#15 in the league) without any significant change in offensive personnel (outside of the loss of Shanahan). That’s an incredible drop-off. Look out for the 49ers next year.
Redskins: Losing Sean McVay
- What I said: “I likely wouldn’t have picked the Redskins to win the NFC East anyway, but losing Sean McVay worries me greatly and I don’t see how that offense doesn’t take at least a tiny step back this season.”
- What happened: The points scored by the Redskins went from 396 in 2016 to 342 in 2017. Not as dramatic a dip as the Falcons, and frankly it could have more to do with injuries and the departures of their top two wide receivers than anything else. Of course, all of that could be moot next year if Kirk Cousins finally gets his big long term contract somewhere else.
Well, let’s see.
- Correctly picked the winners of the AFC East and AFC North.
- Correctly picked playoff teams in the AFC South and NFC South.
If I have my math correct, that’s 12 points by our scoring system. That’s first place, baby!
But just like Paul had a “but…”, I have to revisit my first place finish (apparently we have something in common with Sir Mix-A-Lot).
Paul picked four division winners correctly. Again, if my math is correct, that’s a 50% success rate compared to my 25%. But Paul’s safe pick of the Houston Texans blew up in his face when Deshaun Watson was injured. There’s no real excuse for that Tamp Bay Bucaneers pick, though; trust me, I had Mike Evans on my fantasy team so I know how terribly this team performed. So it was my even blasé picks of the Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans that put me over the top thanks to Paul’s strikeouts. I don’t want to give too much credit to the second place guy, especially since it was his scoring system, but I feel like I stole this victory.
Picking the New England Patriots was an obvious choice, as evidenced by the AFC East being one of only two divisions that had consensus picks for the winner. Picking the Pittsburgh Steelers also felt like an obvious choice. Both of these teams won 13 games and finished four games ahead of their respective second place teams.
But you know who else did the exact same thing? The Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings, that’s who. I have to congratulate Paul on his gutsy pick of the Eagles. I put too much credit on the Washington Redskins’ passing attack and overlooked their glaring faults. At least I was correct with my prediction of the Dallas Cowboys falling apart without running back Ezekiel Elliot, even if some tried to find a silver lining. Of the Eagles, I said “good luck keeping Alshon Jeffery healthy all season. Torrey Smith was dreadful in San Francisco, and I have a feeling Carson Wentz is closer to those 49ers quarterbacks than the Ravens’ Joe Flacco.” I was right about Torrey Smith not being a factor, but Jeffery was healthy (and thus great) and Wentz is apparently the second coming of <fill in your favorite franchise quarterback>.
And speaking of the Minnesota Vikings, how different would the NFC North have been if Aaron Rodgers didn’t break his collarbone? Sure, the team had other issues, like a running back caurosel and a subpar defense, but if the 2017 season taught us anything it’s the quarterback is absurdly important to a NFL’s team success. Just ask the Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, and Houston Texans. On the flip side, ask the San Francisco 49ers after they acquired Jimmy Garoppolo. Which raises the perrenial question: what happens to the Patriots when Tom Brady has to finally retire? With the Patriots still being the favored team to win the Super Bowl this season, one has to wonder how much longer they can keep a good thing going.
It feels like there’s going to some major shake-ups during this NFL off-season. Already we’ve seen multiple coaches fired, so we already know that game of musical chairs will go into overdrive. But many teams appear to need a tune-up, such as the ailing Seattle Seahawks and the disjointed Green Bay Packers. The Cleveland Browns have to do something after being one of the worst teams in history. The New York Giants completely muffed their potential transition to a new quarterback. Even the Buffalo Bills, who made the playoffs, attempted to botch their season with an inexplicable quarterback change.
It was nice to see the league, media, and fans move along after the kerfuffle about players taking a knee during the National Anthem. And we haven’t heard much from Colin Kaepernick lately. While it was an important topic at stake, and national icons like NFL athletes should certainly be able to voice their opinions, watching sports is supposed to be fun, not political. With the reinstatement of touchdown celebrations, the NFL remembered it should be about the joy of playing a game. And what exemplifies that better than performing shenanigans after scoring six points?
Quick playoff updates!
I will crow a bit about my pick to win the AFC South, the Tennessee Titans, upsetting the heavily favored Kansas City Chiefs in the first wild card game. And we got to see a quarterback pass a touchdown to himself for the first time in 20 years. Obviously this loss likely means even more changes with the Kansas City Chiefs; will Andy Reid or Alex Smith be around next season?
And Paul should stay away from Vegas as his vaunted Los Angeles Rams just lost to the Atlanta Falcons.
My division winner pick Titans pulled off a huge upset and Paul’s division winner picks Rams couldn’t even make it out if the first round? Excellent…
So my picks didn’t do so well, certainly not by the scoring system we’re using. I earned 5 for the easy pick of the Patriots taking the AFC East and lost 5 for picking the Broncos to take the AFC West, but failing miserably. I picked up one more point for picking the Falcons to win the NFC South, and while they didn’t do that, they did make the playoffs–but so did the Panthers and the Saints. In that division, the only pick that ends up hurting is Paul’s lunatic pic of the Buccaneers.
But enough digging at Paul’s picks, I’m here to eat crow for my own. So let’s start with the worst, the Broncos.
The Broncos went 5-10 in a stunning display of something other than the game of football. The worst part is how they finished their season, losing to the Redskins, a team that was, to outside observers, playing for draft positioning. There are two ways to read that, either the Redskins are so inept that they can’t throw a game, or the Broncos are so bad that they lost anyway. Without a doubt, the quarterback position is single most important factor in determining how a team will do. I tried to use that in my prediction of the teams, but picked the Broncos anyway because I put too much faith in the Bronco’s defense and the general ineptitude of the rest of that division. I even hedged my bet saying. “I will certainly admit that I could be wrong about the Broncos winning the AFC West. This is not the same team that won the Super Bowl two years ago.” So this was far from a swinging endorsement. But to take last place means that they fell behind both the Raiders and the Chargers, so I clearly got this one wrong all the same. I do think they would have avoided the cellar position if Siemian hadn’t been sent to the IR. That’s a story that is common in these picks for all of us, make a pick, and see it destroyed by injury. That’s football, though.
While the Broncos were my biggest failure of a pick, I wasn’t exactly singing their praises. I did however go overboard with praise for one team. The Dallas Cowboys received a lot of hype from me in my pick of them for the NFC East. While they took second, it was ahead of the hapless Giants and the Redskins, hardly a vote of confidence, and they didn’t even make the playoffs, which I thought was a certainty, even if they lost the division somehow–which obviously they did. There is a lot to dig into on the Cowboys under-performance. The most obvious topic is the handling of the Ezekiel Elliot suspension. What a bungled job that was. The NFL shot itself in the foot, but so did the Cowboys. As a result, it was a complete toss up for most of the early season as to whether Zeke was playing or not. If the Cowboys had just eaten the suspensions–warranted or not–Zeke would have been fresh for the end run, as I predicted. Instead he was in-and-out and then out, and then while in and fresh, not in prime yet by the time those critical December games came around. The constant confusion and the lack of planning probably cost the Cowboys the game or two they needed to steal that second wildcard away from my other pick of the Falcons. Clearly, though, the team had other problems, this was not the same team that rolled over folks last year. This was a sophomore slump of epic proportions for Dak Prescott and the entire team.
My other egg of a pick was the Indianapolis Colts. I neither made nor lost points here, but it was egregiously bad in hindsight, based on the results. But not based on the reasoning, I think. I picked the Colts based on the assumption that Luck would play and that the team would be sufficient to hold off until he got back. Both were not true, and one just may have had an impact on the other. I know if I were Luck, I’d be in no hurry to get on the field and put my newly rehabilitated body on the line for a losing effort. Where I will walk the pick back some, though is in this, “The Titans are a solid middle-team, but only a threat to the division title if Luck is gone for more than the projected time, and of course, there is Jacksonville. For all of that we mock them, Jacksonville could be the team that picks up the most value of any extra downtime from Luck. The Jaguars added a lot of premier players, deciding to finally spend some of their cap space, These new bodies will fill starting roles on defense and the offensive line. Those are my favorite kinds of acquisitions: defense and the line. With young talent at the skill positions, including rookie Leonard Fournette, this is a team that seems Bortles-proof. And that is being hard on him. Last season Bortles was above average, on a below-average team. All of this is to say that even if I am wrong about the Colts winning the division […] take it to the bank. The Jaguars have more of a shot at winning the AFC South than either the Texans or Titans.” In the absence of Luck, I actually predicted the division surprisingly well.
My most successful pick came from off the gridiron itself, “If there is a storyline in football right now it is that the game is in decline. […] Except for the wash of nostalgia, I find myself wondering, if football were gone tomorrow, would I even miss it?” I spent the largest portion of the football season not watching football. I tried to stay current with the games and I had these Rampant Reactions to keep me interested. I had fantasy football teams to manage. I had all kinds of reasons to want to watch, but I didn’t. And it was not because of the political controversy, but because I found that more than not even missing it, I rather liked having my time back for other things–things that were actually more enjoyable than the game of football. I still love the game, but I haven’t intentionally watched professional football since about week 4. And I’ve missed not a thing, except for the Rampant Reactions. My general apathy is reflected in the larger stories around football. The political debate is only possible because football is weaker now than it was 15 years ago. 15 years ago, even if we’d had the same debate, which obviously we couldn’t have, given the political climate change, football would have won. There are a handful of interesting games that buck the trend, but the trendlines are pretty clearly down. This site has done an excellent job of compiling the viewership data. That is a lot of red. And while the data looks bad, the data analyst stays rosy about the NFL and advises against panic for the league. I think otherwise. The stadiums are emptier. There is a general grumbling from the consumer, for whatever reason. Clearly my predictive power is not the best, but I do still predict problems ahead for this game, though we will probably see several more seasons of decline before it is too obvious to ignore.
To avoid ending it on too much of a downer, let’s talk about the two best weeks of football, the wildcard and then the divisional games. These tend to be much more interesting than the eventual conference championships, or even the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl will still be a massive and gaudy experience, and I expect to have a lot of fun analyzing the most important part of that game again, the commercials. With the Wild Card games down we can see that the Jaguars are for real and that the Rams while much improved still aren’t as good as Paul wants them to be. Both of those games backed up my gut feelings and my initial predictions. Meanwhile the Titans beat the Chiefs to reiterate my points about the AFC South. Really the only game that didn’t reaffirm something I said was the NFC South matchup, because I didn’t say anything about either team, really. So, here are my predictions for next week, as worthless as they are.
Falcons top the Eagles in a stunning upset. This is not as stunning as it would have been prior to yet another significant QB injury, but I’d be making this prediction even if the Eagles had Wentz available.
Patriots waltz over the Titans in a yawner. The most entertaining part will be when Brady makes a mistake to give the Titans some life before crushing their dreams. Was the mistake just intentional to give them some hope to enjoy crushing it all the more? We may never know.
Jaguars live the dream and squeak past the Steelers. It will be another low-scoring affair. This is the hardest game to predict, in my opinion, and it comes down to Big Ben. If he can scramble and make a key play, the Steelers can easily win. If the Jaguars keep contain or hit him hard and early and force mistakes, they can shut down the Steelers and find a way to make some points somewhere.
Vikings pillage the Saints at home. That doesn’t even make sense. It doesn’t have to.