NFL season predictions

Using preseason results to make predictions about professional sports is generally a waste of time. Anyone who uses numbers knows extrapolation is risky business, but often in sports we try to find the line between meaningless tune-ups and trends we should have seen coming.

Glad Marcell Dareus is having a training camp to smile about, but it's just the preseason. Even that waste-of-a-draft-pick Aaron Maybin had five sacks for the Bills in the preseason.

In Major League Baseball, they say you can flip the Spring Training standings to get an idea of how the regular season will go. Kansas City had the best record of any team in the spring and now sits in the AL Central cellar. The Yankees and Red Sox finished near the bottom of the Grapefruit League but are far and away the best teams in the American League.

But for every worst-to-first club, there is a Houston Astros-type story. They finished dead last of any team in the spring, and now (wouldn’t you know it) it’s August and they’re already eliminated from NL Central contention.

“Mid-season form” has its name for a reason. The preseason lets players adjust back to the speed of the game and, more importantly, gives players time to ease back into the routine of a professional athlete. Winning is great, but it’s not the No. 1 priority of preseason games. They’re tune-ups for the real thing; backups get most of the work, anyway.

With the NFL, I don’t lose any sleep seeing the Bills at the bottom of the AFC East through three preseason games. Partially because we’ve grown numb to our cellar-dweller role, but mostly because it’s just the preseason.

However, I feel that football’s preseason gives you a better look into the regular season than most other sports. It doesn’t worry me that the Detroit Lions, rather than the Packers, are leading the NFC North. That will change. Other numbers, like Aaron Rodgers’ league-leading 79.1 completion percentage, give you a window into the regular season. The Bills’ struggles aren’t the shake-off-the-rust kind, they highlight serious problems the team will have deal with (and we’ll have to suffer through) all season.

I’m going to pick games again this year along with The Buffalo News, and hopefully I do better picking against the spread with a year of experience under my belt. Week 1 is still a little ways away, so here are my season-long NFL predictions. Feel free to comment with yours.

Bills final record: 5-11
Division wins: 1 (wishfully thinking the home game vs. Miami)
Breakout/rebound season: Nick Barnett
Bust: Buster Davis
All eyes on: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Major story: Can C.J. Spiller be a productive NFL running back?
Minor story: Will Brian Moorman rebound from a down year?
How did we live without ____?: Marcell Dareus
Can’t stand living with ____:  Entire offensive line
What the heck happened to ____?: Jairus Byrd
Hoping ____ can get some playing time: Michael Jasper
At least ____ will be interesting: Packages designed for Brad Smith
Player to watch: Andrew Luck

AFC East: Patriots
AFC North: Ravens
AFC West: Chargers
AFC South: Texans
Wild Cards: Jets, Steelers

NFC East: Eagles
NFC North: Packers
NFC West: Rams
NFC South: Falcons
Wild Cards: Saints, Buccaneers

AFC Championship: Jets over Ravens
NFC Championship: Falcons over Eagles
Super Bowl: Jets

MVP: Mike Vick
Defensive Player of the Year: Clay Matthews
Offensive Player of the Year: Vick
Coach of the Year: Rex Ryan
Comeback Player of the Year: Who knows. Frank Gore? Tony Romo? Could Peyton Manning be eligible? Everyone loves voting for him.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Julio Jones. Honorable mention: Everyone not named Cam Newton.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Von Miller. Honorable mention: Da’Quan Bowers; hopefully Dareus but I’m biased.

Tough calls leaving the Colts and Cowboys out of the playoffs, but you do what you have to do. I think Tony Romo will have a great season but Tampa is a more complete team, and hungrier one after watching the playoffs from home despite a 10-6 record; reciprocal of the Cowboys’ 6-10.

It’s amazing what a Hall-of-Fame quarterback can do for you. The Indianapolis Colts had a lot of issues last year that got covered up because of what Peyton Manning could do for the team. With him at any less than his best this year, I expect those flaws to be exposed. Down year in Indi, at least by their standards. Still better than the Bills.

I don’t like Mike Vick, but if he plays a full season at anywhere near the level he was at last year, he’ll be the MVP.

And yeah, I picked the Jets for the Super Bowl. I didn’t go into this post thinking they are the favorites, it just kind of worked out that way. I dislike the Jets and their loud-mouth coach just like every other fan of an AFC East team, but it’s hard not to be jealous of what they’ve been doing. When the Pats and Jets square off, it’s hard to remember the Bills play in the same league.

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