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Final analysis

With the regular season in the rearview mirror, a postmortem

Posted: Tuesday December 31, 2002 5:38 PM

Just to see how much I had really been thrown by this weird season, I dug up my preseason Sports Illustrated forecast on how the teams would do and then compared the records I had for them with what they actually wound up with. On a few teams, such as St. Louis, I was completely flummoxed, along with everyone else. Some of the projections were OK. Just for fun, I thought I'd include them in the final rankings.

Dr. Z's Power Rankings
Rank  LW    Team 
1 3 Oakland Raiders (11-5, Preseason prediction: 10-6)
They finished strong, and they're probably the only team projected right on through to the Super Bowl at this point. Preseason, I thought the age thing would get them and they'd be staggering in late December.
2 1 Philadelphia Eagles (12-4, Preseason prediction: 11-5)
I'm willing to forget the Giants game if you are. They faced a psyched-up, highly motivated team and easily could have won. They had better pray that Donovan McNabb is right for the playoffs because that watered-down game plan they've given A.J. Feeley isn't going to carry them through the heavy going.
3 2 Green Bay Packers (12-4, Preseason prediction: 11-5)
What you saw against the Jets was a team mailing it in, which might surprise some people, since that Lambeau home-field thing is supposed to be such a big motivator. It's not. Getting into the playoffs is the motivator, and the rest is just chit-chat.
4 4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4, Preseason prediction: 13-3)
It surprised me, too. I didn't know that I was so high on them in August, which I hope serves to silence you folks who have accused me of an anti-Bucs bias. Why didn't I raise them above the Eagles and Packers, both of whom lost last weekend? Because the Buccaneers picked the previous week, against Pittsburgh, to have their downer. What's the difference?
5 6 Tennessee Titans (11-5, Preseason prediction: 11-5)
They're banged up. They can use the bye week. They've shown a lot of courage. Everything points to a Titans-Raiders AFC Championship in Oakland.
6 9 Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5-1, Preseason prediction: 11-5)
This was my preseason Super Bowl team, to battle the mighty Rams. Of course that was before the whole Tommy Maddox saga unfolded. I guess they still could make it, but let's see them get by Cleveland first.
7 10 New York Giants (10-6, Preseason prediction: 7-9)
I was focusing heavily on two factors, their lack of free-agency help and the unsettled offensive line. Well, a blazing rookie, Jeremy Shockey, lit the fire that inflamed their whole offense, and the line has held up OK. Not great, but OK. I keep hearing that they're one of those ugly teams no one wants to face in the playoffs. We'll see.
8 14 New York Jets (9-7, Preseason prediction: 9-7)
Hold off on the New York-bias accusations, please. Just look at what they did in their last two weeks of must games: Beat the Patriots at night in Foxboro, routed the Packers at home while going through the nervy stuff of playing scoreboard for most of the first quarter. Granted, while elevating them seven spots I had to clear out some trash ahead of them, all of which was experiencing various elements of collapse, but that's what happens down the stretch.
9 12 Indianapolis Colts (10-6, Preseason prediction: 9-7)
They've split their last two. Deprived of a running game to make the play-action stuff work, Peyton Manning has problems. Hey, wait a minute. I should be saving this for my forecast of the playoff games. Let's just say that Tony Dungy was brought in to improve the defense, and he has. And now they're in the playoffs.
10 8 San Francisco 49ers (10-6, Preseason prediction: 11-5)
Gosh, I don't know, there's just something that doesn't sit right about this team. Maybe it's the secondary or the lack of a dependable second receiver, but I just get the feeling that the 49ers are ripe for an upset. And I'm not even counting that Monday night thing, which was a perfect way to close the season on the right note of weirdness.
11 17 Cleveland Browns (9-7, Preseason prediction: 8-8)
Stay tuned for my handicapping column, when I'll have more to say about this team, which I have trouble understanding. Not anything coherent, mind you, just more.
12 5 Atlanta Falcons (9-6-1, Preseason prediction: 7-9)
What a way to go into the playoffs, laying a nice fat egg but having the competition lay an even fatter one. Anyway, I've managed to get the playoff teams in my top 12. I'll entertain all complaints, put on a show for them, buy 'em drinks, you know.
13 7 Miami Dolphins (9-7, Preseason prediction: 9-7)
Tie between Dolphins (9-7) and Patriots (9-7). Preseason I had Miami 9-7 and New England 10-6. Honestly, I don't know who's better. They staged that heroic struggle Sunday, which ended up getting them both knocked out of the playoffs, kind of like the slaughter of Napoleon's Old Guard at Waterloo. Maybe they can get together in the offseason and jointly pool their problems.
13 18 New England Patriots (9-7, Preseason prediction: 10-6)
See Above
15 16 Denver Broncos (9-7, Preseason prediction: 7-9)
So where do they go from here? Does Mike Shanahan really plan to go into training camp with 38-year-old Steve Beuerlein as his varsity quarterback? Am I the only person who feels that Brian Griese is not past redemption and has it in him to lead this team to something significant?
16 13 Kansas City Chiefs (8-8, Preseason prediction: 6-10)
Hey, I don't hold the Raiders game against them. They gave it their best shot for many weeks and then they finally wore out. It happens. I like their prospects next year for one reason: the best offensive line in football.
17 15 San Diego Chargers (8-8, Preseason prediction: 4-12)
I don't know why I was so down on them in August. I guess I didn't believe in Drew Brees, or the O-line, or something. Embarrassing. I ought to pay more attention.
18 19 Buffalo Bills (8-8, Preseason prediction: 9-7)
I was nervous about their D-line. I should have worried about the front wall on the other side. Not naming any names, but there are one or two guys there who just can't play.
19 11 New Orleans Saints (9-7, Preseason prediction: 5-11)
I didn't believe they had straightened out their problems, and for most of the season I was wrong, and then -- KABOOM! The big crash. I guess having their QB hurt was part of it, but other teams have gone through this, too. There's only one way to get to the bottom of this. Tony Soprano has put through a call to Dr. Melfi for me and she has graciously consented to take the case.
20 21 Seattle Seahawks (7-9, Preseason prediction: 8-8)
Another schizophrenic team. Can beat anybody, can lose to anybody. The gambler's nightmare.
21 20 Baltimore Ravens (7-9, Preseason prediction: 5-11)
Good coaching job here. Spirited team that hung in every weekend. With Ray Lewis coming back next season, and the salary cap in better shape, the Ravens should be ready to make some kind of move.
22 22 Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10, Preseason prediction: 7-9)
So long, Tom. I heard Wayne Weaver's obit on you ... sometimes it's just better to bring in a new face. Does this apply to owners, too?
23 23 Minnesota Vikings (6-10, Preseason prediction: 7-9)
Actually turned out to be a pretty exciting team, with lots of fireworks. The defense needs work, also the QB's fundamentals, and since I'm telling you absolutely nothing you haven't heard before, let's move on to ...
24 24 St. Louis Rams (7-9)
Do you really want to know what I had for them preseason? OK, 12-4 and Super Bowl champion. So what do you want from me? Do I have a medical degree? Was I privy to any information on what exactly was wrong with Kurt Warner? And still is? Maybe? Did you hear the volte-face that John Madden pulled Monday night, telling us he knew all along something was wrong with the QB? Right. I still remember that nonsense he laid on us in September about how he shook hands with him and gave him the squeeze test and he was absolutely OK. All three QBs, not counting that poor helpless slob who started against the Niners, have been hurt this year. Yet the Rams have not seen fit to address the offensive line. They had better catch on. They had better do a lot of things. I am, as you can tell, bitter about my wayward preseason forecast.
25 28 Carolina Panthers (7-9, Preseason prediction: 3-13)
Well, all right, John Fox! Put a package together in the draft, trade up to a higher position than 7-9 will get you, grab a hotshot QB and away we go.
26 26 Washington Redskins (7-9, Preseason prediction: 7-9)
I heard a quick sound bite from Steve Spurrier at a postgame press conference last weekend. Something to the effect that they could improve, they could get worse or they could stay the same. This cleared it all up.
27 25 Dallas Cowboys (5-11, Preseason prediction: 8-8)
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was going on the radio talk shows telling everyone that the Cowboys were my sleeper team because their defense would be so outstanding. Wouldn't be surprised to see them in the playoffs, I mentioned. Of course, having the kind of brain that gets overloaded when confronted with too many elements, I did not consider the quarterback situation. I am considering it now, and I'm sure their new miracle coach is, too.
28 27 Arizona Cardinals (5-11, Preseason prediction: 6-10)
Little mystery here. I'm just glad that Dave McGinnis has saved his job, or at least he has as of this writing.
29 29 Chicago Bears (4-12, Preseason prediction: 11-5)
If I have to hear one more time, "Well, we lost Ted Washington," I'll start screaming and won't stop until they take me away. Lots of things broke down. Injuries were part of it. I've never much cared for their offensive scheme. The arrival of Chris Chandler, which I thought would carry such weight, was a zip. It gets depressing down here, doesn't it?
30 30 Houston Texans (4-12, Preseason prediction: 3-13)
Tackles Tony Boselli and Ryan Young keying an offensive line that would fall into place behind it was the major project that failed, dragging a whole parade of miseries behind it. Their QB is still alive. That's a plus. Now for God's sake, put something in front of him.
31 31 Detroit Lions (3-13, Preseason prediction: 5-11)
The only news we keep hearing is, "We're waiting for news from Ford." It's like they have some new model ready to roll off the assembly line. Actually, more like a recall.
32 32 Cincinnati Bengals (2-14, Preseason prediction: 7-9)
I thought at the time, and still think, that they have good players. Somehow the system grinds them up. What's coming up: new coach, same system.

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