If you could predict the future, would you be a sportswriter? As cool as it would be to state unequivocally during the preseason, “Eli Manning will lead his team to the Super Bowl ” or, “the Vikings and Browns will both finish just one game out of a playoff spot,” if these writers really knew how the season would shake down, they’d be living like Biff Tannen in Back to the Future II.
But that won’t stop them from trying. Each year, usually the week before the regular season kickoff, the nation’s top sporting publications release their NFL preview issues, which include playoff prognostications. While these magazine’s editors certainly hope those issues have hit the recycling bin by the time the Big Game rolls around, yours truly has compiled them into a handy list and put them up against the picks my buddies and I drunkenly forecasted on the night of Sept. 2, 2007. Here’s how we fared against three of the top sporting authorities in the country:
Drunken Buddy #1 Occupation: Student/Women’s Basketball Coach Super Bowl Prediction: Chargers over Cardinals Degree of embarrassment (Out of Ten): 7 The Chargers looked great down the stretch and brutalized our fair Broncos in both meetings this year. But while one could argue that Matt Leinart’s season-ending collarbone injury changed the team’s fortunes, the Cardinals were likely no better than a one-and-done playoff team even with him fully healthy.
Expert #1: Sports Illustrated (Represented by Paul Zimmerman aka Dr. Z) Occupation: Writer/Handicapper/Pro Football Hall of Fame Voter Super Bowl Prediction: Saints over Chargers 31-27 Degree of Embarrassment: 5 In 2006, Sports Illustrated made one of the most infamous Super Bowl predictions of all-time when they picked the Panthers to beat the Dolphins 24-20. Both teams didn’t even sniff the post-season and have since gone a combined 22-42. Last year, SI left the picking up to the revered Dr. Z, who correctly named just five of the 12 playoff teams. His NFC final four included the Eagles, Saints, Panthers and Bears, none of whom made the postseason. Now he’s picking the Giants (a team he had going 6-10) to upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl, based, at least in part, on regretting not taking Joe Willie and the other New York team way back in Super Bowl III. Specious logic, to be sure, but Dr. Z is a legend who’s self-deprecating enough to look back and laugh at his own preseason predictions.
Drunken Buddy #2 Occupation: Restaurant Manager Super Bowl Prediciton: Broncos over Cowboys Degree of Embarrassment: 8 To the casual fan, the biggest obstacle in making picks is homerism. As die-hard Bronco loyalists, my buddies and I all had Denver in the postseason, though most of us saw them as a wildcard team finishing behind San Diego. Still, Buddy # 2 crossed the line that separates wishful thinking from self-delusion, although he partially redeemed himself by picking surprise division winners Green and Tampa Bay, two teams dismissed by nearly all the experts.
Expert #2: ESPN (Represented by Gene Wojciechowski) Occupation: Senior National Columnist for ESPN.com Super Bowl Prediction: Chargers over Bears Degree of Embarrassment: 4 A ton of pros had the Bears making the playoffs, at the very least, and many had them repeating as NFC champs. And though their sharp decline was somewhat surprising, their division was one of the toughest in the NFC. Still, Super Bowl losers have been consistently poor the year following their defeat for quite a while now, so perhaps Wojciechowski should have seen this one coming. In fact, Mean Gene just posted an excellent column revisiting his 100 Predictions prior to the season. Like most of us, Gene didn’t do so well.
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Drunken Buddy #3 Occupation: Chef Super Bowl Prediction: Seahawks over Titans Degree of Embarrassment: 3 At first glance, this prediction somehow looks funky, if for no other reason than the mental image of clashing sky-blue and teal-green uniforms. But closer examination reveals this as the only Super Bowl pick amongst my friends that could have actually transpired. Extra bonus points goes to Buddy #3 for picking Cleveland and Minnesota as surprise playoff teams, although he definitely gets knocked down a peg for picking the post-Michael Vick Falcons to make it in as a wild card.
Pro #3: Sporting News (Represented, presumably, by their collective editors) Super Bowl Prediction: Patriots over Cowboys Degree of Embarrassment: 1 This is truly freaky. While most likely a distant third in the sports periodical popularity race behind Sports Illustrated and ESPN the magazine, the Sporting News is almost dead on in their Super Bowl pick, naming both conferences’ eventual top seeds to square off in the Big Game. Not only that, but they correctly picked four of the eight division winners and had the Pats over the Chargers in the AFC championship. In the pick-making business, the Sporting News comes out ahead by a mile, even if, a few short inches away from their Super Bowl prediction box, they criticize Tom Coughlin by stating that his “tyrannical coaching methods are archaic and no longer mesh with the makeup of today’s players.” Guess you can’t pick them all.
Me Occupation: Freelance writer/ government teat sucker Super Bowl Prediction: Patriots over Saints Degree of Embarrassment: 0 OK, I’m probably being too easy on myself on the embarrassment meter; picking the 7-9 Saints to represent the NFC was both trendy and dead wrong. And it’s not as if the Patriots were some huge underdog coming into this season. But if New England pulls it out and completes the first perfect season of the modern era, I have physical evidence (a piece of paper with barely legible scrawlings) that proves I was more smarter than many “experts” (quotation marks intended) at predicting the eventual Super Bowl Champ. From there, I can state in good conscience that “I picked last year’s Super Bowl winner out of the gate,” and begin building a gambling hotline empire that “names all of this seasons winners for just $3.99 per minute.” ‘I told you so’ never sounded so profitable. -- Mark Schiff