For the last few years I’ve produced a – prediction seems like too considered a word, a conjecture? – conjecture of what the coming AFL season would turn out to be.
Instead of thinking about teams’ form line and development and basing a prediction on that, I’ve instead utilised a randomiser to provide an order of the teams and attempted to justify whatever mess it gave me.
With the spring starting here, that means winter is coming to the northern hemisphere. That brings with it one of my other favourite sports: gridiron. I have problems aplenty with the sport and administration but, putting those aside, I find the tactics and interplay compelling.
I thought about doing a college football prediction, but decided I’m not mad enough to try and do 129 teams. Instead, I decided to do the NFL. I randomised the two conferences and ensured that each division was represented according to the playoff conditions. Here is part one of my twp-part randomised prediction of the coming NFL season. We start with the American Football Conference.
With Philip Rivers lost to retirement, the Colts have tapped former Eagle Carson Wentz to take over under centre. This is a franchise that thinks they have a competing squad and wants to go for a Super Bowl now.
Young running back Jonathan Taylor gained over 1100 yards on the ground last year so they’ll be looking to continue to lean on him. Plus a really good offensive line should keep Wentz safe. However, Rivers threw for over 4000 yards though so there’s a lot of yards to make up and with Wentz coming off his worst season, there’s a good chance he won’t recapture the form that nearly got him MVP in 2017.
Obviously, that must be what will happen and he’ll wind up benched for Sam Ehlinger, the most middling QB in Texas Longhorns history. Otherwise, the randomiser effed me on the first team. Get ready for a lot of 10-7 and 14-10 losses.
15. Las Vegas
The Raiders were unlucky last year. Getting an 8-8 record was pretty impressive but it didn’t matter as they were three games out of the playoffs. The lack of their rabid crowds definitely affected them and hopefully the Death Star will be able to have some fans in so Raider Nation can get properly settled in Sin City.
However, Jon Gruden is still the coach and they are still in one of the hardest divisions in football. Plus their quarterback corps consists of Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota and Nathan Peterman. I can’t even think of an example of such inconsistency apart from the COVID vaccination rollout.
The Raid-and-pillagers will be a much more entertaining mess but, unlike the Golden Knights, Vegas will have to wait to have a competitive football team.
The Broncos tried really hard to lure Aaron Rodgers to Mile High all offseason. It now appears that he will stay with Green Bay this year.
I guess the Wild Horses couldn’t drag him away. Which is a huge relief because I’d hate to have to come up with an excuse of why the Broncos are 14th in the conference with him at QB.
Instead, I can fall back on the much simpler explanation that Drew Lock is their quarterback. Denver might want to try tanking so they can start building around a new starter. Or maybe they can try getting Jeopardy! to start filming in Colorado to get Aaron Rogers there.
I’m interested to see how they can improve at all after a middling year on defence and a bottom-ten ranking on offence. Maybe head coach Vic Fangio can at least get his speciality side of the ball working.
This year is probably the most-watched the Jaguars have ever been in a preseason, every gridiron fan has been eager to see how Trevor Lawrence would go since it became clear he was going to the river city. When Urban Meyer came out of (snort laugh) retirement to become their head coach, the spotlight only brightened. And with Tim Tebow coming back into the league to pretend to be a tight end for all of two weeks, how could the hype not be overwhelming?
That’s not to say either would struggle with the attention, instead it’s the expectations that will bring the Jags undone. Since he was 15, Lawrence has lost just twice: once in the most recent Sugar Bowl, the other in the 2020 National Championship Game. It is likely that he will lose more in his first month in the NFL than he ever has before. Knowing how to deal with defeat is an important part of success and it’s possible that this isn’t something Lawrence has developed yet.
On the coaching side, Meyer lost a total of 35 games across his 17 years as head coach in college. His worst record was 9-5. He could well have five losses before December.
Plus the Jaguars were really bad last season. I know they were tanking but you still have to be absolutely terrible to not accidentally win in 15 starts. That’ll take more than one offseason to fix.
12. Kansas City
Patrick Mahomes gets hurt.
I’m serious. That’s the only way this will happen. Much like the Pats in 2008 with Tom Brady going down, losing a player like Mahomes will devastate the team. As seen in the Super Bowl they have weaknesses on the o-line that can be exploited. Without Mahomes running the offence to cover some of those weaknesses, I could see KC falling precipitously.
Andy Reid will use this as an opportunity to plot for next season. If Kansas City does end up missing the playoffs, I could see them sweeping the league the season after.
In a passing league, the Titans are unique for still basing their offence on the running game. When you have a running back like Derrick Henry in the backfield, you can understand the thinking.
It does have its downsides though, a strong defensive line or weak o-line leads to many three-and-out drives. That’s not to say that Ryan Tannehill is a useless quarterback and they have AJ Brown catching his throws, so their air attack is capable of moving the ball.
That being said I do think the ex-Oilers are vulnerable. Their defence gave up the fifth-most yards last year. If their offence stalls, they will be blown out of this season.
10. New England
Could Mac Jones be the Mac Daddy? One of the most intriguing and hard to read sides this year, the Patriots have decided to go with a completely fresh start after releasing Cam New-England-ton before that name change could be made official. Instead, they’ve gone for former Alabama quarterback and rookie Mac Jones. That is a bold move by Bill Belichick but betting against the big man is bound to blow up in one’s brainpan. But I digress.
The Patriots have really worked on their offence, giving their rookie the best chance of making an immediate impact. Picking up a number of receivers, most notably Nelson Agholor and tight end Hunter Henry along with turning over their o-line. A rookie of the year-level campaign would not be beyond the reach of Mac the Knife.
Their defence was pretty middle-of-the-pack last season and they haven’t made any huge moves on that side of the ball. The East division is going to be harder this season so I see them staying exactly where they were. But get ready for a Mac Attack on the AFC in the next few years.
The second-most popular professional gridiron team in Ohio does have some things going for it. They’ve got an exciting young play-caller under centre in Joe Burrow, one of the best receivers out of college ever in Ja’Marr Chase, a d-line star in Trey Hendrickson and a nickname for the largest area called a bay on Earth. That last one is a bit confusing but I suppose if you can have a team nickname after a packing company, almost anything is fair game.
They have a lot of issues though. Their offensive line was one of the worst in the league and it nearly cruelled Burrow’s career before it started with all the pressure the defence was able to put him under. What’s even more galling is that the Shere Khans don’t have an indoor practice facility. That will need to be rectified if they’re ever going to win a playoff game again.
The other second-most popular professional gridiron team in a specific region, the Jets also have things to feel positive about. While Sam Darnold was a disappointment, what are the odds that former second-worst FBS religious school BYU quarterback Zach Wilson will wind up being the same?
New head coach Robert Saleh will bring a far tougher Airplanes squad into the AFC East. However, much like the Jags, they were a really bad team last year tanking or not. You don’t go from the worst offence to competing with just a new QB.
It will require a patient build for this New Jersey-based franchise to return to the postseason. They’ll look likely before losing their spot with tight losses to the Bills and Dolphins late in the season.
The Browns are getting good. For the first time since they moved to the AFC, Cleveland fans can start to dream about a Super Bowl. Members of the Dawg Pound and Drew Careys everywhere started to get excited.
They won their first playoff game since they returned to the NFL in 2002 last year before falling short to Kansas City but that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Their offence clicked behind the much improved Baker Mayfield and the two backfield threats of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Plus they have Myles Garrett on the defensive line threatening the opposing quarterback on nearly every snap.
The Browns are missing something though, aside from a better city, an extra defensive piece most likely. Right now they’re a wildcard round team.
The Ravens are at a bit of a crossroads. The ex-Browns of Baltimore have one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in Lamar Jackson. They’ve designed the playbook around his strengths in a remarkable demonstration of good sense and it’s paid off with back-to-back ten-win seasons.
The significant downside of those two years is that they have just one playoff win. Baltimore fans would find that almost as annoying as a hypothetical Hairspray/The Wire crossover. Despite Jackson’s obvious talents, it’s the Ravens defence that’s got them to the postseason, just as it was with their two Super Bowl championships. The difference is that Jackson is a much better quarterback than either Joe Flacco or Trent Dilfer. There’s every reason the Ravens could compete for the Lombardi trophy.
It’ll be tough for any of the (three good) AFC North teams to break away. However there’s one that the randomiser has put on top and it’s not the Ravens this year.
The Buffalo Bills are good. A statement that for much of this century seemed as sensical as pitching a Wallace and Gromit remake with Warhammer miniatures.
But good they are indeed. With an offence that was second in the league for yards per game, they can move the ball almost at will. That will get them a lot of wins this year, especially with another year of experience for Josh Allen. He’s my tip for MVP this year.
Their one weakness, if you can call it that, is their defence. It is only of a middling level and in the AFC that will be a problem, particularly with the Jets and Patriots going to be much stronger than last. The Bills will get into the playoffs, but only as a wildcard.
4. Los Angeles Chargers
The sadly not-anymore-San Diego Chargers have been consistently one of the most inconsistent teams for the time I’ve been following the NFL. They had Philip Rivers as their QB for years and he was remarkably productive.
However the Chargers themselves only occasionally looked like they were competing for a championship. Often getting bundled out in the wildcard or divisional round, their final decade in San Diego was one of missed opportunities on and off the field.
Now they have Justin Herbert as their fresh-faced offensive leader, a promising talent to be sure. A 7-9 record in the difficult AFC West was more than most were expecting for his first year, but his second will be even more spectacular.
With Mahomes going to be injured (according to the randomiser) it’s clear that the West will belong to LA’s fifth-most popular gridiron team. A spot in the AFC title game isn’t beyond their reach and that may move them up a slot.
It’s Tua time! The former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has had mixed results since he took his talents to South Beach. Oftentimes being switched out with Fitz-magic (Ryan Fitzpatrick), the lack of consistency has hurt his image. But this year (I’m stabbing my finger into the table) this year will be the year it clicks.
The Dolphins were a solid team last year and the AFC East is there for the taking. Between the Patriots’ struggles to deal with a lack of Tom Brady, the Jets’ attempts to build a whole new squad and the Bills’ history of being the Bills there is a space for Miami to take over.
Despite only a middling season stats-wise, Miami still ended up with a 10-6 record and only barely missed the playoffs. A slight improvement will see the Dolphins on top in the East and playing weeks after Christmas.
Pittsburgh have been competing for so long, it’s hard to imagine them not being a threat in the playoffs. Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season as the Steelers’ head coach and the randomiser says this won’t be the year that he does. It’ll be hard to see it end, except for the fact that I absolutely can’t stand Pittsburgh.
The Bumblebees still have a Super Bowl-winning QB, even if age has caught up with him, and a defence that gave up the third-fewest yards last season. Clearly Tomlin hasn’t lost his edge when calling the defence.
Their offence has fallen a long way. They barely gained more than Jacksonville last year, less than a first down per game, and haven’t made significant moves to address moving the ball this offseason. That shows that while they will again be a threat, they won’t be able to make it to the final game this season.
Well now, this is a doozy. There are a number of reasons why the Texans should not be playing in the Super Bowl for the AFC. The third-worst defence last season, better than only Jacksonville and Detroit, would seem to be a big sign that they aren’t going to charge into January football.
Plus there’s the fact that the franchise in their history has only won four playoff games. That’s the total number of playoff games a team needs to win the Super Bowl if they start in the Wild Card round. Four playoff wins, with all of Houston’s coming in the Wild Card round, suggests that the team itself has problems playing into the new year, especially when two of the four were against the only team with a worse playoff record: the Cincinnati Bengals.
However, the randomiser has decried that the Texans will be the AFC’s representative in the Super Bowl. If I have to come up with a reason as to why I’d have to put my money on the quarterback who will carry the offence unlike any QB has. I’m of course talking about Tyrod Taylor.
Despite the fact that Taylor led the Bills into the playoffs for the first time in the 21st century, he has been forgotten about as he slipped behind the new hotnesses in Buffalo, Cleveland and Los Angeles: Allen, Mayfield and Herbert. Tyrod Taylor was a Pro Bowl-level quarterback and is a dual-threat, maybe not quite in the same way as Lamar Jackson, but he has thrown over 3000 yards and rushed for nearly 600 twice in his career. That’s nothing to sniff at and with the right system this year he will lead the Texans to the Lamar Hunt Trophy.
So that’s how the randomiser has projected this season of the AFC will go. Agree or disagree, we can only wait and see how close we got. Next time I will cover the National Football Conference and will make a prediction of who will take the Lombardi Trophy.