Here’s a look at how I fared on my preseason predictions:
Preseason Prediction: Peyton Manning
Actual Winner: Peyton Manning
Before the season started, I wrote about how Manning’s new receiving threats would help him capture his 5th MVP award. Peyton had a lot of things going his way, including improved arm strength and a pass heavy offense, but I don’t think anybody expected him to put up record setting numbers. Peyton bamboozled defenses with audibles and pre-snap shenanigans that looked silly, but helped him torch the NFL to the tune of 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. This was no contest. Nobody even came close to Manning’s masterful performance. Manning did all this with the weakest arm in the league. His passes, however ugly, always found their target-who was usually wide open due to a fault the coverage that Manning’s encyclopedia of football knowledge had discovered. Though he faltered at the end, Manning put up perhaps the finest passing performance we will ever see in 2013.
Super Bowl Matchup
Preseason Prediction: 49ers over Broncos
Actual Winner: Seahawks over Broncos
If Colin Kaepernick threw his last pass about a foot farther, my preseason prediction could have become a reality. Instead, it was tipped by Richard Sherman into the awaiting arms of Malcolm Smith. Game over. So it was the Seahawks, not the 49ers, who traveled to MetLife stadium to take on the high flying Denver Broncos offense. In a game that should have been a fantastic matchup-No.1 offense vs No.1 Defense-the Broncos looked lost and confused. This game looked like a matchup between Varsity and JV. Or Division 1 versus Division 3. It was like Duke going up against Southeastern North Dakota State or something. Ugh.
Comeback Player of the Year
Preseason Pick: Alex Smith
Actual Winner: Phillip Rivers
While Smith excelled in a fine bounce back season in KC, his successes pale in comparison to the year Phillip Rivers had. Rivers would have made an excellent MVP candidate if Peyton Manning hadn’t rewritten the record book this year. Coming off 2 frustrating years where he threw gobs of interceptions, Rivers returned to his Pro Bowl form with a quicker release and pinpoint accuracy. The Comeback Player of the Year award for Rivers was well deserved.
Surprise Team of the Year
Preseason Pick: Arizona Cardinals
Actual Winner: Carolina Panthers
The Cardinals came off a depressing 2012 campaign that saw them lose their last 12 games. Arizona made 2 big offseason moves: Hiring Bruce Arians as Head Coach, and trading for Quarterback Carson Palmer. Both moves worked out in the best way possible for AZ. They won 10 games, and were the only team to beat Seattle at home. Despite all their accomplishments, they were squeezed out of a playoff berth while the 8-7-1 Green Bay Packers not only received a berth, but secured home field advantage. Maybe the playoff setup needs an update. The reason I’m not giving it to the Cardinals is because of the incredible ascent of the Carolina Panthers. Coming into the season, Cam Newton was thought of as selfish, Coach Ron Rivera was thought of as too cautious, and critics were convinced that a weak running game would doom them to the NFC South cellar. Instead, Newton elevated his play, Rivera earned the nickname “Riverboat Ron” in reference to his newfound gambling instincts on 4th down, and the Panthers possessed a fearsome defense that led them to a 12-4 record and a first round bye. Although their fantastic season was brought to an end by the 49ers in the divisional round, Rivera captured Coach of the Year honors and the Panthers have a great young nucleus to build around.
Breakout Player of the Year
Preseason Pick: Blaine Gabbert
Actual Winner: Julius Thomas
You know when a pitcher is feeling pretty good out there on the mound, and his confidence is growing, and he’s got the guy in an 0-2 count? That was me on this one. I tried to get a little too fancy-and ended up sailing one to the backstop. “Juuuuust a bit outside.” Gabbert was straight up awful and his future in the NFL doesn’t look too good. Meanwhile, Thomas, a third year tight end for the Broncos, snagged 65 passes and 12 touchdowns. He emerged as one of the league’s best red zone threats. A terrific athlete and a college basketball star, he possessed the size to box out defensive backs and the speed to blow by linebackers. He reminds me of Vernon Davis. Gabbert reminds me of JaMarcus Russel.
Worst Drop-off (Team)
Preseason Pick: Dallas Cowboys
Actual “Winner”: Atlanta Falcons
I’m convinced that the Cowboys are doomed to go 8-8 until the end of time. There will always be a game they should have lost that they pulled out (Raiders), and a game they should have won where they blow it (Packers). The Cowboys are 136-136 since 1997.
The Falcon’s fall from No. 1 seed in the playoffs to drafting in the top five caught many of us by surprise. A subpar year from Matt Ryan and the injury to Julio Jones hurt them badly, but the terrible play in the trenches and on the defensive side of the ball doomed them to a 4-12 season. It’ll be tough sledding in the NFC South next year. The Saints and the Panthers both went to the playoffs this year and the Buccaneers have a mountain of talent that was misused by Greg Schiano last year. Noted defensive specialist Lovie Smith will take over and turn the Bucs into contenders. The Falcons will be hard-pressed to return to the playoffs in 2014.
Worst Drop-off (Player)
Preseason Pick: Robert Griffin the Third
Actual “Winner”: Robert Griffin the Third
I don’t think anybody’s going to argue with me on this one. Griffin was coming off major surgery and I don’t think anyone expected him to be the player he was in 2012 at the beginning of the 2013 season. But Griffin was just plain awful. He can’t take all the blame, as his team in general was garbage, but played terribly when he was given the chance. Reports of a feud with Coach Mike Shanahan and a weird front office situation turned the whole thing into a melodrama. Griffin was eventually benched for Kirk Cousins in the team’s final three games. Griffin was probably anxious to avoid a situation like the one Derrick Rose fell into, where he was cleared to play but chose not to, and heard it from the fans. As a professional athlete, you can’t let the mutterings of the fans and media dictate your decisions, as Griffin was probably luck he didn’t suffer another injury behind that O-Line of Swiss Cheese. I wish Griffin the best, and perhaps with a full year of rehab, he will be ready to go come September. It will be a good thing for football if he is.