With this year’s Super Bowl already set, I wanted to look back at various NFL experts’ preseason predictions to see how accurate they were. This quickly escalated into an entire post to see which popular sports websites’ experts had the best season. I looked at FOXSports.com, CNNSI.com, ESPN.com, and USA Today. This seemed to be an accurate cross-representation of various experts.
Most of these experts picked four division winners, two wild card teams, two Super Bowl teams, and a Super Bowl winner. I used a completely arbitrary rating scheme – 2 points for correctly picking a division winner or wild card, 1 point for correctly picking a playoff team but incorrectly naming them a division winner or a wild card, 4 points for picking a conference championship team, and 6 points for picking a team to make the Super Bowl.* I also docked 2 points if a playoff pick missed the playoffs by two or more games, 4 points if a conference championship pick missed the playoffs, and 6 points if a Super Bowl pick missed the playoffs.
* Turns out that three of the four websites I looked at only gave an AFC or NFC champion and did not predict the championship game matchup. I left the numbers in for the CNNSI though because a) I’m too lazy to count again and b) if they’re going to pick them on their website, I might as well give them credit for their picks. That explains why the CNNSI scores are so high/low. The three sites with an asterisk below only picked the Super Bowl participants.
John Czarnecki (11 points)
The best FOX Sports expert didn’t fare particularly well, scoring 11 of a possible 28 points. Czarnecki nailed the AFC, correctly picking five of the six playoff teams, though he picked the Jets and Ravens to win their respective divisions and New England and Pittsburgh to win wild cards. Amazingly, Czarnecki was the only FOX Sports expert to pick the AFC champion Steelers to even make the playoffs, and even he picked them as the second wild card.
Roger Rotter (9 points)
Adam Schein (8 points, picked Green Bay as Super Bowl winner)
Alex Marvez (8 points)
Nancy Gay (4 points)
Nancy actually didn’t do so bad on her picks – she nailed seven of the 12 playoff teams. But when she missed, she missed badly. She picked the Chargers to win the Super Bowl and picked the 6-10 49ers, Cowboys, and Vikings and the 4-12 Bengals to make the playoffs.
Peter Schrager (2 points)
I actually liked Peter’s picks, even though he whiffed on most of them. He picked the Raiders would grab the second wild card. They did not, but were one of the league’s most improved teams, so he had the right idea. Unfortunately for him, he was the only FOX Sports analyst not to pick Green Bay to win the NFC (he went with New Orleans) and it hurt his total.
WhatIfSports.com (-5 points, picked Green Bay as Super Bowl winner)
FOX Sports partnered with WhatIfSports.com, which simulated the NFL season and churned out these outrageous predictions. They picked the Packers to make the Super Bowl, so they get six bonus points in my system. Without those points, they would have scored negative 11 points. They correctly picked only five of the twelve playoff teams and picked the Chargers to win the AFC Championship. Their playoff selections included Carolina (missed by eight wins), Tennessee, Houston, Minnesota, and Dallas (all missed by four wins). Unfortunately for them, they also put a more in-depth projection out there. Among their other hilarious picks were the Jets, Patriots, and Dolphins tying for the AFC East title at 8-8, the Chargers finishing 13-3 with actual division winner Kansas City finishing 5-11, the Cowboys finishing 11-5, and the Bears finishing 6-10. The four teams that received first round byes all missed the playoffs completely in their projection. Only one team (the Eagles at 10-6) actually finished the season with the record that WhatIfSports projected. Discounting ties, there are 17 possible records a team could have (16-1, 15-0, etc.); theoretically, then, just by throwing out random guesses, you should be able to get two teams right. I’m not so good with numbers, but I think it might be time for a few tweaks in their system.
The biggest problem with FOX Sports’s analysts is the apparent groupthink that was going on. Excluding the WhatIfSports.com predictions, the six analysts had extremely similar picks. All six picked the Packers, Saints, Ravens, Colts, and Chargers to win their divisions (none did). Five picked the 49ers and four picked the Cowboys (they didn’t win, either). Five picked Green Bay to win the NFC Championship (kudos). Perhaps it would have been best if they just got together and made one prediction between them.
Peter King (26 points, picked Pittsburgh to win Super Bowl)
For as much crap as Peter King takes for cozying up to players too much, the guy can pick a football season. He was the only expert anywhere to pick the Green Bay/Pittsburgh Super Bowl matchup. I’m sure he wishes that he had the Dallas and Carolina wild card picks back, but hey, if you pick the Super Bowl matchup in the preseason, anything else is a bonus.
Damon Hack (19 points)
Hack hit a high of eight playoff teams for the CNNSI crew (King only hit seven). He was one of only three analysts to pick Pittsburgh to make the playoffs (he had them falling in the AFC Championship Game). Unfortunately, he also picked the Cowboys to make the NFC Championship Game.
Jim Trotter (16 points, picked Green Bay to win Super Bowl)
Trotter is a guy who likes to live a little. He was the only analyst to pick the Falcons and the Dolphins to win their division. One of those picks turned out brilliant. So what that the Dolphins didn’t even come close – at least he added some value to the equation with the Falcons, and didn’t fall for the FOX Sports groupthink trap.
Don Banks (13 points)
Kerry J. Byrne (10 points, picked Green Bay to win Super Bowl)
Byrne is lucky I don’t take give out style points. The Green Bay Super Bowl pick looks pretty good…but the fact that he picked the Carolina Panthers to make it to the NFC Championship Game makes me think that he was guessing. The Texan and Redskin playoff picks didn’t work out so well either.
Did I miss something on the Carolina Panther bandwagon? Byrne is the third guy on the first two sites to pick the Panthers to make the playoffs. Um…weren’t they always going to suck? I can’t think of a logical argument for why they should even have been considered a contender. And if there was, I think the words “Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen” would have served as an effective rebuttal.
If anything, you can’t say the CNNSI team was afraid to pick terrible teams. The six worst teams in the NFC were the 2-14 Panthers (two picks), 5-11 Cardinals (zero), 6-10 49ers (nine), 6-10 Cowboys (nine), 6-10 Redskins (two), and 6-10 Vikings (three). Actual playoff teams Chicago, Philadelphia, and Seattle received zero picks combined.
Dominic Bonvissuto (2 points)
Dominic, if anyone makes fun of you for picking the Cowboys to win the Super Bowl or the Texans and Bengals to make the playoffs, just remember: you were the only analyst on any of the four sites that picked the Chiefs to win the AFC West. I call that a victory in my book.
Jerome Bettis (-3 points)
Tim Layden (-4 points, picked Green Bay to win Super Bowl)
Andrew Perloff (-6 points)
Bettis, Layden, and Perloff engaged in an epic battle to be the worst CNNSI predictor. Amazingly, Perloff tied with Hack with eight playoff teams picked correctly. Unfortunately for him, the Chargers Super Bowl pick and Cowboys NFC Championship pick didn’t work out so well.
Bettis and Layden’s picks were bigger train wrecks and were saved only by Green Bay. Bettis picked the Chargers to beat the Packers in the Super Bowl and whiffed on the Bengals, Texans, Vikings, and Cowboys – all of which missed the playoffs by four or more games. Layden also correctly picked the Packers to make the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, he picked the Chargers to win the AFC Championship and the Vikings and Cowboys to make the playoffs. He decided that the Titans, Dolphins, and Redskins were better picks than the Bengals and Texans. It’s just too bad that those teams performed just as poorly.
This trendy San Diego pick confuses me too. Unlike the Carolina pick, at least there’s some rationale behind this one: the Chargers did finish 13-3 last year and have a stud young quarterback in Phillip Rivers. But coming into the season, they had won the AFC West four consecutive years and made it to the conference championship game a grand total of one time. This wasn’t like the Packers pick in which many analysts predicted a young team to make the leap this season – the Chargers seem to have stagnated. They really gave us no indication that they were a Super Bowl team during that streak and unsurprisingly came crashing down this year.
Paul Kuharsky (15 points, picked Packers to win Super Bowl)
Adam Schefter (13 points, picked Packers to win Super Bowl)
Kuharsky and Schefter are the runaway winners for the best predictors among ESPN writers. They were among the six (of 17) ESPN analysts to pick the Steelers to make the playoffs and among the five to pick the Eagles. Both correctly picked the Packers to make the Super Bowl (Kuharsky picked the Ravens and Schefter picked the Colts to join them). Schefter gets kudos for being one of only three analysts to leave the Cowboys out of the playoffs. In retrospect, Kuharsky probably wants his Dolphin pick back and Schefter would like his Bengal and Texan picks back.
Matt Williamson (11 points)
Pat Yasinskas (8 points)
Finally, Yasinskas becomes the first analyst to pick someone other than the Packers to win the NFC North. Unfortunately, he went with the Vikings (he picked the Packers as a wild card). I can’t really fault any of these guys – the Packers are the Super Bowl representative from the NFC, so they clearly are one of the best teams in the conference. But in fairness, they didn’t actually win the division and didn’t even qualify for the playoffs until the very last week of the regular season.
Unfortunately, Yasinskas doesn’t join the top group because of his Chargers for the AFC Championship pick.
Tim Graham (8 points)
Graham was one of four analysts to pick the Bengals to win the AFC North. Um…why? It didn’t really take a rocket scientist to realize that Palmer, TO, and
Ochocinco Johnson were washed up. I’m almost as puzzled by this pick as I was about the Panthers.
James Walker (8 points)
Bill Williamson (8 points)
Jeffri Chadiha (7 points, picked Packers to win Super Bowl)
KC Joyner (7 points)
Lot of in-the-box FOX Sports-like thinking here in the middle pack. These guys all seemed to like the Colts, Ravens, and Packers and fell in the Bengals, Chargers, Cowboys, and 49ers traps. And aside from Chadiha, they all liked either the Ravens or Colts to win the Super Bowl.
John Clayton (4 points)
Clayton would have fallen into the same category as above, except for his Cowboys to the Super Bowl pick. Clayton, Seifert, and Sando all picked the Cowboys to make the Super Bowl but lose to the Colts or Ravens. If you’re going to go with the Cowboys to win the NFC, don’t you have to pick them to win the Super Bowl? Did they really expect them to lose a home game for the championship? Seems odd.
Bill Simmons (4 points)
Unfortunately, I don’t have the conference championship picks for the rest of the ESPN staff, so I can’t take points away for Simmons’ outrageous Bengals to the AFC Championship pick. Simmons gets points for being one of the few to correctly pick the Falcons as NFC South champion – he even had the right idea and picked the Falcons to make it to the Super Bowl – and not drinking the Cowboys’ Kool-Aid. He loses points for the aforementioned Bengals pick and his 13-3 prediction for the 49ers and wild card berth for the Redskins.
Kevin Seifert (0 points)
Seth Wickersham (-1 points, picked Packers to win Super Bowl)
Wickersham gets the award for most off-the-wall pick – the Packers over the TEXANS in the Super Bowl. That’s bold. Particularly considering that he picked the Texans as the #6 seed. Shouldn’t he have waited until they made their first playoff appearance in franchise history before picking them to win the AFC with three straight road victories?
The bright side for Wickersham is that no one will make fun of him for his Dolphins as AFC East champion pick.
Matt Mosley (-4 points)
Matthew Berry (-4 points)
Both of these guys were undone by their NFC Champion picks – the 49ers for Berry and the Giants for Mosley.
Berry was the first analyst to pick the 49ers to make the Super Bowl, even though 31 of 32 so far picked them to win the NFC West. That fits in with the general thought on the 49ers – that their division sucks and they would win it basically by default. Now I probably would have agreed with that at the start of the season…but if it was a crapshoot, shouldn’t someone have at least stepped out on a mini-limb and picked another team? 39 of 41 total analysts felt that strongly about Alex Smith and a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs in seven years. Yeah, the division sucks…but still – Alex Smith?
Mike Sando (-5 points)
Chris Harris (-6 points)
Sando and Harris finished neck-and-neck in the race for the worst ESPN predictor. Sando escapes the cellar by picking the Patriots to win the division; Harris went with the Jets. Pretty sure these guys shared picks. Their only other difference was the Texans (Harris) and Dolphins (Sando) as an AFC wild card. Both uncannily picked the Titans and Vikings to make the playoffs and picked the Cowboys to make it to the Super Bowl.
My biggest beef with the ESPN analysts: only four picked Ndamukong Suh as defensive rookie of the year. This was the easiest layup of any of the picks. I believe you call that overthinking.
Scott Zucker (9 points)
Zucker wins the USA Today award largely because he was the only analyst on any of the four sites I looked at to pick the Seahawks to win NFC West.
Nate Davis (8 points)
Tom Pedulla (7 points)
Jim Corbett (6 points)
Gary Mihoces (6 points)
Skip Wood (4 points)
If all of these scores looked bunched up, that’s because they are. There was some serious group think going on at USA Today. Five of the eight USA Today writers picked Green Bay to win the Super Bowl. Of the top six, only Corbett did not.
Six analysts picked the Ravens to win the AFC, but only Bell picked them to win the Super Bowl. Six picked the Vikings to grab a wild card, by far the most of any site.
Sean Leahy (0 points)
Jarrett Bell (-3 points)
Leahy and Bell both get a swing and a miss for their Cowboys’ NFC Championship pick. Bell became the fourth analyst to pick the Cowboys to make it to the Super Bowl and lose. Overall, seven people thought the Cowboys would make it to the big game, but only three thought they would actually win it in their home stadium.
Leahy gets the off-the-wall pick award for the USA Today as the only analyst on any of the four sites to pick the Raiders to win the AFC West.
I thought this would be a lot easier to make fun of a few way-off analysts and applaud the ones that got it right. Instead, most of them seem to have a built-in defense mechanism: if they just pick the same picks as everyone else, they can’t stand out.
Check out these overall numbers (actual division winners and wild cards in bold):
AFC East: New York Jets 19, New England 18, Miami 3, Buffalo 0
AFC North: Baltimore 31, Cincinnati 7, Pittsburgh 3, Cleveland 0
AFC South: Indianapolis 39, Houston 2, Jacksonville 0, Tennessee 0
AFC West: San Diego 39, Kansas City 1, Oakland 1, Denver 0
NFC East: Dallas 31, New York Giants 8, Philadelphia 2, Washington 0
NFC North: Green Bay 40, Minnesota 1, Chicago 0, Detroit 0
NFC South: New Orleans 29, Atlanta 11, Carolina 1, Tampa Bay 0
NFC West: San Francisco 39, Arizona 1, Seattle 1, St. Louis 0
AFC Wild Card: New England 15, Houston 12, New York Jets 11, Pittsburgh 11, Cincinnati 9, Miami 8, Baltimore 6, Tennessee 6, Indianapolis 2, Oakland 2
NFC Wild Card: Minnesota 24, New Orleans 11, Atlanta 16, New York Giants 10, Philadelphia 7, Dallas 6, Washington 5, Carolina 2, Green Bay 1
AFC Champion: Baltimore 17, Indianapolis 12, San Diego 7, New York Jets 3, Houston 1, Pittsburgh 1
NFC Champion: Green Bay 27, Dallas 7, New Orleans 4, Atlanta 1, New York Giants 1, San Francisco 1
Super Bowl Champion: Green Bay 14, Indianapolis 9, Baltimore 8, Dallas 3, New Orleans 3, San Diego 2, New York Jets 1, Pittsburgh 1
The division winner picks are groupthink at its finest. Only the AFC East was a race even close. The other seven divisions had runaway favorites; the 21 teams picked to finish second through fourth in these divisions had 39 votes combined. And only one of these seven favorites even won its division. Three of them – San Diego, Dallas, and San Francisco – missed the playoffs entirely.
As much as we hear about NFL parity, it’s just bizarre that all of these experts picked the exact same teams over and over. All 41 used some variation of the same basic formula: pick the same division winners as everyone else, pick one off the wall pick, and make the Super Bowl Green Bay versus either Indy or Baltimore.
How else do you explain trendy, semi-off the wall picks Cincinnati (16) and Houston (14) getting as much support as eventual AFC Champion Pittsburgh (14 votes)? If someone approached you before the season and gave you 50 bucks that you had to put on one of those teams to win the Super Bowl, how long would you think before putting it on Pittsburgh? A minute? Fifteen seconds? Three seconds?
I suppose I learned two things from this exercise:
Experts aren’t going to make crazy predictions, lest hack bloggers like me make fun of them four months later.
And if you’ve read one expert, you’ve read them all.