Column: Line Drives — Playoff outcome hard to predict

[This is my column in the Sept. 10 issue of The Commercial Review.]

I hate making predictions.

Especially when it comes to trying to predict the outcomes of games.

Trying to foresee the future of the entire NFL season is, well, nearly impossible.
There are so many variables that can happen.

Players get hurt. These days, they get suspended too.

But it’s always fun to see how these NFL preview columns turn out. More than likely I’m always wrong. But sometimes I’m right.

In the past two years, I’ve made some bold predictions. Without hesitating I’ve picked the Detroit Lions to win the NFC North. Detroit hasn’t won its division since 1993. Last season I had the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. The 49ers did not make the playoffs for the first time in four years.

Alas, it’s time to predict the next six months of professional football.

AFC
Perhaps the division with the most parity in 2014 was the AFC North because the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens all made the playoffs.

That won’t happen again. Despite being without one of the best running backs in the league for the first two weeks, the Steelers will repeat as division champions. The Bengals will still be a playoff team, but they’ll do so by being a wild card.

The New England Patriots have a quarterback that, if I was him, would be all about proving everyone wrong this season. Tom Brady’s four-game suspension was thrown out, and instead Brady will throw copious amounts of touchdowns to help the Patriots win the AFC East.

I’m confident in the fact that the Indianapolis Colts can win the AFC South, but I feel they will be neck-and-neck with the Houston Texans for the entirety of the season. The Colts will win the division in one of the final two weeks of the year.

Peyton Manning is aging, but he’s still Manning. He and the Broncos will successfully defend their AFC West division title.

For some odd reason, my gut is telling me that the Kansas City Chiefs will be the second wild card team from the AFC. I know they are in the same division as the Broncos, but the other two teams — San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders — won’t put up much of a fight.

NFC
Historically, the Detroit Lions have not had a very good season the year after they make the playoffs. Sadly, the same may be true this year. They lost defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in the offseason, and they were a critical part of one of the (surprisingly) better run defenses in the league.

I don’t see the Lions having another 11-win season, and despite not having Jordy Nelson, Aaron Rodgers is just too good to bet against. The Green Bay Packers are my pick for the NFC North.

It always seems that no matter what the pundits say about the NFC East, something else tends to happen. I think the Eagles got an upgrade at the running back spot with DeMarco Murray instead of LeSean McCoy, and I have an inkling that quarterback Sam Bradford is going to have a successful year. Eagles claim the division, ousting the Dallas Cowboys.

There was no worse division last year from top to bottom than the NFC South. The Carolina Panthers won the division with a 7-8-1 record. Quarterbacks Cam Newton (Panthers), Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints) and Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) have suspect offenses surrounding them. While the Atlanta Falcons don’t impress me much either, I like them better than the other three.

The NFC West was a two-team race in 2014 with the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals, and I see the same story playing out this year. But I’m giving the edge again to the Seahawks and its defense to win the division, but Arizona will again be a wild card team. The Lions are a Wild Card team as well.

Wild card/divisional round
This is where things get a little tricky, especially in the NFC. I think there is one clear favorite in the conference, but who will also be in the conference championship is about as questionable as this column.

I do know this, though. Atlanta and Detroit will be the first two out in the NFC. I think both teams have enough to squeak into the playoffs but nothing more.

(It really pains me to pick against Detroit twice in one column, but I’m trying to be realistic).

I think Green Bay and Philadelphia follow suit and get bounced from the postseason the next week, leaving the two teams from the NFC West — Seattle and Arizona — as the two teams in the conference championship.

In the AFC, I think the Chiefs and Bengals will suffer the same fate as the Falcons and Lions, losing their first playoff game.

The Colts and Patriots are out the next week, leaving Pittsburgh and Denver in the AFC title game.

Championships
Unlike my counterpart, I think the Seahawks have what it takes to be the first team to reach the Super Bowl in three straight years since the Buffalo Bills did it in 1993. I don’t even think the NFC Championship game will be close between the two division rivals.

On the other side, as much as it would be cool to see Manning win the Super Bowl then retire; I just don’t see it happening.

Perhaps my biggest surprise, even to me, is seeing the Pittsburgh Steelers reach the Super Bowl from the AFC.

Heck, I’ll even pick the Steel Curtain over the Seahawks in San Francisco.

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