Where prognosticators and I went wrong this season
Posted: Thursday November 17, 2005 9:53AM; Updated: Thursday November 17, 2005 11:09AM
Curtis Martin won the rushing crown last season, but he has struggled this season as the Jets have failed to live up to expectations.
Al Bello/Getty Images
Dr. Z will answer select user questions each week in his NFL mailbag.
I never much liked handicapping the NFL season at mid-year. It seems like cheating. OK, here's our updated forecast. Then with the postseason about to begin, you handicap the playoffs, then the Super Bowl, then the Pro Bowl ... no, we'll draw the line there. It just becomes a handicapping hall of mirrors. Make your selections before the season starts, I say, and live with them, good or bad. None of these second and third shots.
Thus, I will do a different type of forecasting for you. I'll go backwards and look at everyone's preseason predictions, mine included, and see where we went wrong, either a little bit or a lot, or, in a few rare cases, when we were on the money. I can't call up everyone's forecasts, naturally. (There are still three people in Lake Hiawatha whom I haven't polled), but at the time I did record the consensus picks of SI's 32 correspondents around the league and I'll draw on them. This is mainly to show you that I'm not the only idiot out there.
This is the season the Jets would make their move. There were a few way out predictions that they'd reach the Super Bowl, but most handicappers, myself included, had them runners-up to the Patriots in the division and a wild-card team. No one thought they'd go in the tank, but losing two QBs in the same game just about decided their fate. Plus CurtisMartin's fall off, mostly because of lingering injuries, didn't help. I didn't figure the defense, minus nose tackle Jason Ferguson, would be as sturdy as it was last year. And that seems to be the case.
The Patriots got a few nods for a repeat Super Bowl. The big problems were replacing their inside linebackers, plus Charlie Weis, their offensive coordinator. Those problems seem tame now, compared to all the injury woes. Everyone had them winning the division. They still could, unless Buffalo, which plays them at home, sneaks in. But the Bills have a tougher schedule.
Buffalo was the consensus No. 3 in the division, Miami was No. 4, and that's holding up. J.P. Losman was a gamble for the Bills, and he still is. I didn't like their offensive line, and I still don't, but their failure to stop the run caught everybody by surprise. Nick Saban was, admittedly, a bright new face in the Dolphins' coaching department, but it didn't reflect in the record people predicted for them. I will admit that my 5-11 was a bit harsh. Maybe.
Well, I wanted to go bold here so I gave Baltimore the title and allowed Pittsburgh the chance to reach the playoffs as a wild-card entry. That view was shared by no one else. Everyone had Pittsburgh coasting in. Why did I love Baltimore? Oh, all those pretty new faces -- Derrick Mason, one of my favorite receivers, cornerback Samari Rolle; another fine receiver, No. 1 draft Mark Clayton, to go with Mason, and on and on. I figured that finally, they'd give Kyle Boller enough weapons to mount a decent offense, to go with a big league defense. Maybe it's time for a fresh mount.
Mostly, though, I just wanted to get away from the Steelers. I thought people would gang up on their running, forcing Big Ben to carry too much of the load. Obviously my thinking was tainted by the idea of trying to get someone new in there, rather than just going with an old face. So things fell apart in Baltimore and I took the pipe big time.
Cincy was pegged as a middle of the roader -- by me, too. Improving defense, still not there yet, trying to catch up with a superior offense, and all the rest of the crap you had to read. No one saw a rise in fortunes based on an influx of good young defensive talent. Cleveland was seen as a struggler. We got that one right.