I considered an experiment for the debut of this "re-branded" column at the Partial Observer. Unfortunately, it was delayed a week due to technical difficulties on my end. So now we're already two weeks into the regular season when I'm making my NFL predictions.
It doesn't matter. My predictions have nothing to do with the first two weeks anyway.
My predictions are for the final standings in each division. They start off with one assumption: every team is 8-8. Then I give bumps up or down based on three criteria of equal weight:
1. Confidence in the team's head coach. I will generally give a bump upward in this direction for coaches with great recent successes, such as Mike McCarthy, Bill Belichik, and Mike Tomlin. I also give some bump upward toward bad teams with a "fresh start" of a new coach; often bad teams turn around quickly with a new coaching staff. This is a coin toss, as most NFL coaches by definition are average at best, but who's to know which rookie coach will succeed? At the same time, I give a bump "down" for coaches like Norv Turner and Gary Kubiak, who seem to do less with more. (All the same, I like their talent enough that I have each of their teams finishing first, even though I have no confidence in their playoff performances.) And, at this point, I can't consider Mike Shanahan anything more than an "average" coach despite the Super Bowls he won thirteen and fourteen years ago.
2. Confidence in the team's quarterback. I rely heavily on the NFL's oft-criticized passer rating. Although some of the criticisms are legitimate, the fact is that I can't find any other individual player stat that has correlated so strongly with team success. In 2010:
- The top 5 passers' teams had a combined record of 55-25
- The passers ranked 6-10 played on teams with a combined record of 48-32
- Passers ranked 11-16 played on teams with a combined record of 53-43
- Cumulative record of teams of the top half of passers: 156-90
- Passers ranked 17-21: 34-46, and the won-loss record go downhill from there.
Similar patterns hold in previous seasons.
The farther "above average" the starting qb's rating is, the more confidence I have in him. The lower it is - especially if he's getting older (Collins, Hasselbeck, McNabb) the more likely I'm to downgrade them. I'm also likely to downgrade rookie starters and others such as Alex Smith with no record of success.
3. Confidence in defense. I base this on the team's ranking in points allowed from last year. Yes, things can change quickly in a year. The worst defense will likely be improved, and the best ones will likely not be as good. But I don't believe one can come from "worst to first" in this category, and that points allowed indicate overall talent level on the defense, whose starting lineup can't be completely replaced in one off-season.
Based on these factors, and ONLY these factors - not sacks allowed or made, not yards gained or allowed, not average yards per rush gained or allowed, not third-down proficiency, not the first two games of this season, not anything else - do I make my predictions for the final NFL division standings.
2. Ravens (wild card)
2. Jets (wild card)
2. Falcons (wild card)
3. Buccaneers (wild card)
At the end of the year, I will compare these standing with the actual results, and see what can be learned.