The summer prior to each NFL season, I rank the players at every potentially important position, from back-up quarterbacks to offensive linemen to essential defensive players. Nothing is left out; I even rank the head coaches.
After ranking everything and everyone, I compile those rankings with a unique mathematical system. I use a similar system for my MLB Preseason Predictions, which some of you may have read earlier this year. After arriving upon the totals for each team, I then consider their strength of schedule. The combination of their mathematical ranking and strength of schedule leads me to my final conclusions.
Keep in mind that I know my system isn't perfect. People will disagree regardless of the results, and I welcome that. That said, here we go...
American Football Conference
1. New England Patriots (14-2)
2. New York Jets (10-6)
3. Buffalo Bills (7-9)
4. Miami Dolphins (5-11)
Notes: Believe it or not, the Patriots could actually be better than 14-2. Their schedule is not at all intimidating, and of course they'll be welcoming Tom Brady back behind center. They've added Fred Taylor and Joey Galloway as complementary pieces to an already explosive offensive unit. They have the premier head coach in football (even though I despise him), and their offensive line is fantastic.
The Jets were the biggest surprise of the mathematical system, ranking second in team defense. New head coach Rex Ryan is one of the most intelligent defensive schemers in the league, and he's inherited exceptional talent in Kris Jenkins, Darrelle Revis, Kerry Rhodes, and Shaun Ellis. He also brought Bart Scott over with him from Baltimore. This year's Jets could be like last year's Dolphins.
Speaking of the Dolphins, you can't be too surprised by a potential letdown, can you? They had a joke of a schedule last season, and everything fell into place perfectly. Any team led by Chad Pennington has a ceiling, and the ceiling is low in '09-10. Their defense, with the exception of Joey Porter, is questionable.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (14-2)
2. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)
3. Cleveland Browns (5-11)
4. Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)
Notes: Not surprisingly, the Steelers finished first in team defense. What was surprising, was how easily they blew away the field. Casey Hampton, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, and Troy Polamalu are all amongst the absolute best at their respective depth chart positions. Big Ben has a pair of Super Bowl rings now, and Mike Tomlin is an energetic and impressive young head coach.
The Ravens lost both Rex Ryan and Bart Scott, but they still rank third in team defense. Their offense looks anemic on paper, as sophomore Joe Flacco will dearly miss WR1 Derrick Mason. Recently, Mason opted to retire. Luckily for Ravens' fans, their schedule is bordering on laughable. They ranked 17th in overall talent, but are projected to be over .500 at 9-7, given their schedule.
1. Tennessee Titans (12-4)
2. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
3. Houston Texans (7-9)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)
Notes: Everyone is sleeping on Tennessee this year, labeling last season as a fluke or a fortunate series of events, but this team is solid all the way through. Jeff Fisher is one of the top head coaches, their offensive line is outstanding, and they rank fourth in team defense -- even without Albert Haynesworth. Chris Johnson is an electrifying young running back, and LenDale White plays thunder to his lightning.
About what I expected for the rest of this division; I'm surprised the Jaguars didn't try to do more to improve. Their schedule is brutal, as well.
1. San Diego Chargers (13-3)
2. Denver Broncos (6-10)
3. Kansas City Chiefs (5-11)
4. Oakland Raiders (3-13)
Notes: The mathematical system never ceases to surprise me, and it certainly did so when the Chargers ranked first in overall talent. Now it wasn't mind-blowing, because we all know the Chargers have been talented for years, but first overall? Really? Well, they welcome Shawne Merriman back to a defensive unit that already featured Jamal Williams, Luis Castillo, Stephen Cooper, Shaun Phillips, Quentin Jammer, and Antonio Cromartie. Offensively, they have reliable starters and exceptional secondary options.
Josh McDaniels is creating a PR mess in Denver, but the ultimate reason for their 6-10 projection is a rough out-of-division schedule. The Chiefs and Raiders suffer the same fate in that department. The Raiders ranked 31st in overall talent. Ouch.
National Football Conference
1. Dallas Cowboys (11-5)
2. Washington Redskins (11-5)
3. New York Giants (10-6)
4. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
Notes: Talk about a stacked division. All four teams with at least nine wins? It doesn't seem possible, but in fact, it most certainly is. In my personal opinion any one of these teams could win the division, though my system says the Cowboys are the most talented group of the foursome. Dallas ranks fourth in offensive skill and sixth in defensive skill, but I buried Wade Phillips in the head coach rankings. He's awful.
If the Jets are the surprise of the AFC, then the Redskins are the shocker of the NFC. Off the top of my head, I'd expect the Redskins to finish last in a division with the Giants, Eagles, and Cowboys, but after a closer look at their personnel, Washington is actually very talented. They have elite players at multiple positions, including Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, Chris Cooley, Albert Haynesworth, and London Fletcher. Jim Zorn showed some potential as a head coach last year, as well.
Expect most of the season series' in this division to end in a 1-1 tie.
1. Chicago Bears (11-5)
2. Green Bay Packers (10-6)
3. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
4. Detroit Lions (3-13)
Notes: Like the four in the NFC East, the top three in this division are quite similar, and should be ultra competitive. The Bears rank 10th in overall talent, the Packers 11th, and the Vikings 13th. It can't get much closer than that.
All three of those teams have their strengths, and well -- with the exception of Calvin Johnson -- I can't say the same for Detroit. Should be another long year for them and their fans.
1. Carolina Panthers (11-5)
2. New Orleans Saints (7-9)
3. Atlanta Falcons (7-9)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13)
Notes: If the Dolphins are the letdown team of the AFC, then the same could be said of the Falcons in the NFC. Nearly everything went perfectly for them in last year's regular season, with Matt Ryan thriving as a rookie, and Michael Turner exploding as a RB1. I have faith in the two of them, and the receiving combination of Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, but I have NO faith in Atlanta's defense. Especially when their only potential superstar defensive player, defensive end John Abraham, is one of the most injury-prone athletes in the NFL. Their schedule is rough, and there's so much pressure on their offense.
The Bucs' schedule is brutal, they have a rookie head coach, and their talent pool is depleted. They should be one of football's worst this year.
1. Arizona Cardinals (11-5)
2. Seattle Seahawks (6-10)
3. San Francisco 49ers (5-11)
4. St. Louis Rams (2-14)
Notes: It doesn't appear that it's going to be a standout season for West Coast football, as the AFC and NFC Western divisions are the worst in their respective conferences. The 49ers are getting the hype out of this division, but they don't have the personnel to back it up. In my mathematical system, the 49ers ranked 29th in offensive skill, 23rd in defense, 25th in offensive line, and 25th overall. Certainly nothing spectacular there.
The Cardinals showed that they can play with anyone during the postseason, and they should have no problem winning the division title this year. No team has a better receiving core than Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston. Fitzgerald may very well be the best player in the NFL -- at any position.
AFC Division Winners: Patriots, Steelers, Titans, Chargers
AFC Top Seeds: Patriots and Steelers
AFC Wild Card Teams: Colts and Jets
NFC Division Winners: Cowboys, Bears, Panthers, Cardinals
NFC Top Seeds: Cowboys and Panthers
NFC Wild Card Teams: Redskins and Giants
AFC First Round: Chargers over Jets, Titans over Colts
NFC First Round: Redskins over Cardinals, Giants over Bears
AFC Semi-Finals: Cowboys over Giants, Redskins over Panthers
NFC Semi-Finals: Steelers over Titans, Chargers over Patriots
AFC Championship: Chargers over Steelers
NFC Championship: Cowboys over Redskins
SUPER BOWL PREDICTION: San Diego Chargers over Dallas Cowboys, 27-17.
Now do I necessarily believe the way the system came out? No, not necessarily. My gut tells me that the Patriots or Steelers will win it all...but I'm sticking to my system, because it's been extremely accurate in the past. My rankings insist that the San Diego Chargers will be the best team in football this coming year, and I won't shy away from that.
The NFC is clearly anyone's game, as I can see any of nine teams reaching the Super Bowl. It just so happened that the Cowboys rated the highest in the conference, but not by a significant margin. It wouldn't shock me if anyone from the Vikings to the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl. Notice that neither the Vikings or Eagles even made the playoffs in my system. That's how tight the NFC is, talent wise.
All right, that does it for me. Bring on the complaints, haha.
(The Red Sox are the new Yankees. How did they make the transition? "JFro," aka John Frascella, is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land." It's the first full-length book centered on Boston Red Sox's popular general manager Theo Epstein. Preview or purchase it online at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble or Borders. It's currently stocked in Barnes and Noble stores throughout the U.S. Also, check out John on Twitter.)