Sports Outside the Beltway

NFL 2006 Season Predictions – What the Experts Say

Sports Illustrated picks all four teams in the NFC East to finish 9-7, with the Redskins, Giants, and Cowboys all making the playoffs. Their playoff predictions are even crazier, with the defending conference champs both losing their first game:

NFL 2006 Predictions Sports Illustrated

A Dolphins-Panthers Super Bowl strikes me as fanciful, especially given the amount of turnover in key positions for the Dolphins, but that’s why they play the games.

The experts at picked the offensive and defensive MVPs, best rookies, Super Bowl winners, surprise QBs, and other superlatives. Here’s how they came down: Expert Predictions

AP’s Barry Wilner doesn’t guess at the award winners or playoff outcomes but picks the eight division champs:

    NFC EAST: NEW YORK GIANTS (10-6) Why they will finish first: They have enough leadership and stars to hold off Dallas.

    NFC NORTH: MINNESOTA VIKINGS (8-8) Why they will finish first: Best of a bad lot.

    NFC SOUTH: CAROLINA PANTHERS (11-5) Why they will finish first: The Panthers are Super Bowl material.

    NFC WEST: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-5) Why they will finish first: Seattle could win 12 or 13 games in this weak division. Regardless, it should run away with the West.

    : NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (11-5) Why they will finish first: Bill Belichick uses his personnel better than anyone.

    AFC NORTH: PITTSBURGH STEELERS (12-4) Why they will finish first: The most talent, a terrific coaching staff and an ultraconfident attitude.

    AFC SOUTH: INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (12-4) Why they will finish first: The Colts probably would win every division in the league.

    AFC WEST: KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-5) Why they will finish first: They were 10-6 last year and Edwards will get the defense straightened out.

Charles Robinson (Yahoo Sports)

Finally, the NFC has balanced the ledger.

After years of the AFC dominating the season-opening edition of the power rankings, the top 12 features an even split among the two conferences. Thanks to some heavy-hitting offseason additions (Terrell Owens in Dallas, Julian Peterson in Seattle, LaVar Arrington with the Giants and Maake Kemoeatu and Keyshawn Johnson in Carolina) the NFC’s elite look stronger than ever and more than capable of competing against the AFC. And for the first time in three years, an NFC team starts the season in the No. 1 slot. Seattle follows New England’s nod in 2004 and Indianapolis’ perch

His Top 12:

1. Seattle Seahawks (13-3 last year) – Seattle’s defense should be ready to shine, but the offense is opening with plenty of question marks. Unless Darrell Jackson and the rest of the wideouts can prove they’re reliable, Seattle may not hold the throne in the rankings for very long.

Indianapolis 2. Indianapolis Colts (14-2) – The first eight games should be a passing bonanza for Peyton Manning as the running game finds a groove.

Carolina 3. Carolina Panthers (11-5) – The defensive line might be the best in the NFL. If Kris Jenkins gets back to even 90 percent of his previous form, he and Kemoeatu could both be Pro Bowlers.

Pittsburgh 4. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) – No Ben Roethlisberger and no Hines Ward? Willie Parker will have to tough it out on his own against the Dolphins.

Cincinnati 5. < Cincinnati Bengals (11-5) – Losing Chris Perry for the first six games of the season hurts, but with Carson Palmer healthy, this offense is still in the league's top three.

Dallas 6. Dallas Cowboys (9-7) – Facing Jacksonville in one of the best games of the weekend, we get to find out right away what this offense can do against one of the league's top defenses.

Miami 7. Miami Dolphins (9-7) – With Travis Daniels limping, it looks like the starting cornerbacks will be Will Allen and Andre Goodman. Not a good sign for what many are billing as a Super Bowl-caliber team.

Denver 8. Denver Broncos (13-3) – Jay Cutler was impressive in the preseason, but if the Broncos have to look to him as a starter, they've got big problems.

Chicago 9. Chicago Bears (11-5) – That defense might have gotten a little too cocky in the preseason, but ultimately should be fine. And there's nothing better for a mediocre offense than a season opener against Green Bay's defense.

N.Y. Giants 10. New York Giants (11-5) – Eli Manning is still developing, but with Tiki Barber on the wrong side of 30, there is some urgency to compete for a Super Bowl right now.

Tampa Bay 11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) – Chris Simms might be the nicest guy in the NFL, but this is a pivotal season for him in Tampa. Particularly after rookie Bruce Gradkowski showed he's got the skills to eventually develop into a starting quarterback.

New England 12. New England Patriots (10-6) – No Deion Branch? It could spell Pro Bowl numbers for tight end Ben Watson.

Michael Wilbon (WaPo, ESPN)

In the AFC, the Patriots, Steelers, Colts and Broncos will win their divisions. The Dolphins and Bengals will go in as wild cards. The Colts will beat the Steelers in the AFC championship game.

And in the NFC, the Giants, Bears, Panthers and Seahawks will win their divisions. The Redskins and Cowboys will go in as wild cards. The Giants will beat the Panthers in the NFC championship game to reach the Super Bowl, where the Manning brothers will end the season just as they started it in Week 1: facing each other, but with just a little bit more at stake than family bragging rights.

Chris Mortensen (ESPN)

1. Dallas Cowboys (11-5)
2. New York Giants (10-6)
3. Washington Redskins (10-6)
4. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

1. Chicago Bears (12-4)
2. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)
3. Detroit Lions (6-10)
4. Green Bay Packers (6-10)

1. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
2. Carolina Panthers (11-5)
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8)
4. New Orleans Saints (2-14)

1. Seattle Seahawks (9-7)
2. Arizona Cardinals (7-9)
3. St. Louis Rams (6-10)
4. San Francisco 49ers (4-12)

1. New England Patriots (12-4)
2. Miami Dolphins (10-6)
3. Buffalo Bills (4-12)
4. New York Jets (4-12)

AFC NORTH 1. Cincinnati Bengals (13-3)
2. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12)

1. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)
3. Tennessee Titans (5-11)
4. Houston Texans (4-12)

1. Denver Broncos (11-5)
2. San Diego Chargers (9-7)
3. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)
4. Oakland Raiders (4-12)

NFC Wild cards: Carolina Panthers, New York Giants
AFC Wild Cards: Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens
AFC Champion: Cincinnati Bengals
NFC Champion: Dallas Cowboys
Super Bowl Champion: Dallas Cowboys

That’s the jocks and pundits. What about the professional gamblers?

Brandon Lang (

    NFC East: “Look for the Cowboys’ defense, not T.O., to be the biggest factor in helping Dallas edge the resurgent Eagles for the division crown. The Giants will get eaten alive by their schedule — the toughest in the league — and finish third, while the Redskins, who have major issues at quarterback, fall from playoff team to the cellar.”

    NFC North: “Even as the Bears (11-5, 10-5-1 ATS) were running away with the division last year, posting mind-boggling defensive stats along the way, I told anybody who would listen that their Pinto-of-an offense wouldn’t go anywhere with Rex Grossman or Kyle Orton in the driver’s seat. . . .
    My sleeper in this division is the Vikings (9-7 SU and ATS). They have a quality coach in Brad Childress and a smart veteran QB in Brad Johnson who won’t repeat the bad mistakes of his predecessor, Daunte ‘Who Wants It?’ Culpepper. Minnesota will outlast the Bears.”

    NFC South: “My money is on sweet Carolina for three reasons: unassuming QB Jake Delhomme, electrifying WR Steve Smith and a dangerous defense. If you followed the league in the off-season, you know that there has been a lot of Super Bowl hype surrounding the Panthers — believe it!”

    NFC West: “Barring injury or natural disaster, Seattle will run away and hide in this sad-sack division.”

    AFC East: “If there is one sure thing in the NFL, it’s that you should always be skeptical of the ‘It’ team. And this year, the ‘It’ team is the Miami Dolphins (9-7, 7-9 ATS). The Fish closed 2005 with a six-game winning streak, and immediately became the chic pick to be this year’s Cinderella story. Sorry, ‘ain’t happening. This division belongs to Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots (10-6, 8-8 ATS).”

    AFC North: “Most of you would probably quickly hand this division crown to the defending Super Bowl champs. Not me. Sure, the Steelers (11-5, 9-6-1 ATS) are going to be in the mix, especially since QB Ben Roethlisberger survived his Evel Knievel experiment. But something in my gut tells me Pittsburgh is going to have hunger issues and that Bill Cowher’s team will miss Jerome Bettis a lot more than anyone realizes. And that’s why I like the Bengals (11-5, 8-7-1 ATS) to repeat as division champs; but that pick hinges entirely on the health of Carson Palmer. If he goes down, the Bengals instantly morph back into the ‘Bungles.’”

    AFC South: “My sleeper of all sleepers comes from this division: the Jaguars (11-5, 8-6-2 ATS). They dealt with a lot of injuries last year and still made the playoffs, and if quarterback Byron Leftwich stays healthy, they will be one dangerous team — especially when you consider how tough they have played against the Colts in recent years.

    So, do I have the balls to call for the mother of all upsets? Alas, no. Not with an opening schedule that goes Dallas, Pittsburgh, Indy, and Washington, with the latter two on the road. But if the Jags somehow make it through that gauntlet, I reserve the right to change my mind. Regardless, Jacksonville is at the very least a lock for second place behind Peyton Manning and the Colts (14-2, 9-6-1 ATS), who figure to take a step back due to the loss of Edgerrin James.”

    AFC West: “And now we come to what I feel is the strongest division in the NFL. The NFC East is intriguing, but man-for-man and team-for-team, it doesn’t quite match the AFC West, where three teams — the Broncos (13-3, 11-4-1 ATS), the Chiefs (10-6, 9-5-2 ATS) and the Chargers (9-7, 9-6-1 ATS) — can legitimately call themselves Super Bowl contenders.”

    “When the dust settles, I see San Diego finishing on top. LaDainian Tomlinson is flat-out scary good, and the Chargers’ defense — particularly the front seven — is as good as it gets in the game. Those two things, along with the best all-around kicking game in the league, will compensate for the team’s two biggest negatives: conservative coach Marty Schottenheimer and rookie QB Philip Rivers — he is going to surprise a lot of people.”

Maddux Sports

    NFC East: “Look for a tight race as this is the best division in the national football league this year, watch for key injuries and pay attention to tough out of division contests. These will all be key to one of the teams winning the 2006 NFC east division.” (Predicted finish: Redskins, Cowboys, Giants, Eagles)

    NFC North: “The Bears will dominate the North division in the NFC. Head coach Lovie Smith has created a nicely balanced defense and is hoping that a healthy Rex Grossman at quarterback will invigorate what was one of worst passing games in the league.”

    NFC South: “The Panthers are the team to beat and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be able to beat them. John Gruden and company may have made the fewest changes of any team in the league this year (3), counting on returning players to mature and others to have comeback seasons. The Bucs look solid at just about every position and dominant at running back. Their defense was the best in the NFL last season. They’re worthy opponents for the Panthers.”

    NFC West: “Mike Holmgren’s Seattle Seahawks are still the best in the NFC West. And they may be the best all-around team in the NFL. With the Seahawks, Holmgren has molded a club that’s efficient on both ends of the ball. Last year’s Super Bowl loss to Pittsburgh seems to have been a minor setback for a team so well positioned to take advantage of the near future.”

    AFC East: “The Patriots are the chosen ones again this year, with the Dolphins becoming a worthy rival. Miami has closed the gap but 2006 AFC east division still belongs to the Pats.”

    AFC North: “Pittsburgh to win the division? Probably… but then again the AFC North is the biggest crap shoot and all 4 of the teams have a shot at winning the title.”

    AFC South: “The Colts will take the division with the Jags a playoff possibility.”

    AFC West: “This division has one sure winner—Denver. The Broncos return a potent team that has a well balance attack and a fine defense. Mike Shanahan is a superior coach and despite longtime offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s departure to coach the Texans, the offense should purr along.”

Anthony Oxley (BetUs) has two amusing lists of bads: The 5 Worst NFL Coaches and The 5 Worst NFL Teams. For the former, I’ll provide only the list and refer you to the link for the explanations:

    No. 5: Scott Linehan, St. Louis Rams
    No. 4: Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
    No. 3: Dennis Green, Arizona Cardinals
    No. 2: Herman Edwards, Kansas City Chiefs
    No.1: Dick Jauron, Buffalo Bills

The choices are amusing but, frankly, Edwards and Green are pretty solid head coaches who would get snapped up in an instant if they were on the market.

The worst teams?

The stinky of the stink. The reekers of the reek. The losers of the lost. You can say it any way that you want to say it… these NFL teams are bad beyond bad. These are the teams that will need divine intervention to hoist up Lombardi’s trophy. Pure miracles. I bring to you the five worst teams in the NFL for this upcoming season, starting with number 5. Their 2005 records follow their names.

No. 5: New Orleans Saints, 3-13

This ought to incite some debate here, putting these cats at the fifth numeric after they obtained a fantastic quarterback in Drew Brees from the San Diego Chargers and a dynamic runningback in all-college Reggie Bush.But after a dreadful 2005 in which the Saints literally went through hell and back, I wish I could provide some optimism, but alas, I cannot. In spite of these acquisitions, this team is downright brutal on defense, and they definitely did not address that problem in the offseason as they did with the offense. You cannot win games if you cannot prevent the other team from scoring.

No. 4: Tennessee Titans, 4-12

This team has nothing but themselves to blame for the disaster that this franchise has become. First, they draft a player prior to last season in Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones who they knew, entering the draft, that he may exhibit off-the-field problems previously demonstrated. Well guess what? They are presently being demonstrated. Then they get a trainer to tell the name of their team, QB Steve McNair, that he cannot come to their facilities. Because of that, they have unproven players now at quarterback. Did head coach Jeff Fisher, who is absolutely adored in Nashville, have any say at all in any of these decisions? Because I’m trying to find out who did… and have them fired.

No. 3: Oakland Raiders, 4-12

I will say it here for the world to read and register: Al Davis needs to call it a career, and give this franchise to another person. The everlasting owner of the Raiders has truly buried this team after they reached the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, and I am personally offended that he continues to do so, with the Raiders forever being my favorite team. Oakland finished the preseason with a nice 4-1 record, but do not be fooled. Other than WR Randy Moss, this team has absolutely nobody. And has had nobody for quite some time, due to the choices of Mr. Davis, who looks like he is going to drop at any moment. The offensive line stinks, the defense stinks, and the starting quarterback stinks too. Don’t get me started again about the Raiders passing on QB Matt Leinhart. Don’t do it.

No. 2: San Francisco 49ers, 4-12

I’m a fan of the old school, so even mentioning this storied franchise within this article brings pain to my heart. But holy #$##… did this team reek last season or what? And I can put it squarely on one name, which may not be fair, but I’m going to do it anyway. That name is Alex Smith. The starting quarterback was picked first overall in the 2005 NFL draft, and based on his performance, should have been picked last. I will tell this in true honesty; I believe that I saw the worst season of a starting quarterback in the history of the NFL… that is how bad Alex Smith was. If he even becomes a mediocre quarterback this year, he should receive the Comeback Player Of All Time award.

And No. 1: Houston Texans, 2-14

This newest franchise of the NFL began operations in 2002 and finished that season with a 4-12 record. They followed up that season by being 5 and 11… slight improvement. In 2004, they ended up 7-9 and people were beginning to believe in the potential of a positive future. Well that belief went down the drain like a new wedding ring last year after this team stunk the house up to the tune of a 2 and 14 record. They easily beat Arizona 30-19 December 18th last year at home entering the game 1-12, and they barely won that first game against Cleveland at home 19-16 after rallying from a halftime deficit. They just lost their leading rusher of the last three seasons, RB Domanick Davis, for this season after he was placed on injured reserve for a knee problem. As if they needed that news. The Houston Texans… the worst team in the NFL without question.

Robert Ferringo of DocSports lists the odds for each team winning it all:

Arizona Cardinals (40/1) – Dennis Green has them on the right track.

Atlanta Falcons (15/1) – Franchise has never had back-to-back winning seasons. Their schedule is brutal.

Baltimore Ravens (14/1) – This defense isn’t as good as the one that won it in 2000. But it’s close.

Buffalo Bills (35/1) – I know it’s pretty much impossible for a rookie QB to win a Super Bowl. But who say’s that Losman will be under center all season?

Carolina Panthers (14/1) – SI cover jinx, anyone? Oh, and Steve Karsay’s kickoff out of bounds in 2003 is the most underrated Super Bowl choke ever.

Chicago Bears (65/1) – They’re a QB and a WR away from being a serious contender. I’m dead serious. But I guess you could say that about a lot of teams.

Cincinnati Bengals (40/1) – If they were in the NFC, I’d have them in the playoffs. But they’re not.

Cleveland Browns (150/1) – Don’t get crazy.

Dallas Cowboys (22/1) – Parcells’ last stand. Nice value here for a team with talent and veteran leadership.

Denver Broncos (33/1) – Do you trust Jake Plummer? After last season I vowed never to defend him again.

Detroit Lions (40/1) – I still don’t see a playoff team here.

Green Bay Packers (38/1) – Favre will go down with his guns blazing. Too bad he’ll have to because the defense is easier to score on than Tara Reid.

Houston Texans (60/1) – Front office has mismanaged this team horribly. They should be a contender by now.

Indianapolis Colts (5/1) – If they get home-field advantage it’s over. Manning better restructure his deal soon so they can get some defense. Why do I see him not realizing that until it’s too late and he’s past his prime?

Jacksonville Jaguars (25/1) – I like this team a lot. Defense is smothering, and Leftwich is going to have a breakout year.

Kansas City Chiefs (20/1) – Last stand for an old team. If they had this defense two years ago they’d have a ring.

Miami Dolphins (100/1) – Still good for an upset or two.

Minnesota Vikings (15/1) – Very rarely does a team undergo as much turnover as they have and make the Super Bowl the next year.

New England (6/1) – Who’s going to bet against them? Three of four is ridiculous. However, no team has ever won three straight Super Bowls.

New Orleans (60/1) – It’s hard to even talk about this team, given everything that’s happened. I feel obtuse even saying it, but if there were no Katrina, they may have been a sleeper.
New York Giants (65/1) – Week 6: “Plexi sucks! Plexi sucks! Plexi sucks!”

New York Jets (20/1) – High odds for the third best team in their division.

Oakland (30/1) – Every week this is the team no one wants to play. And if they somehow make the playoffs, watch out.

Philadelphia (6/1) – The last four Super Bowl losers didn’t even make the playoffs the next year.

Pittsburgh (14/1) – If this team gets healthy, they have the toughness to make a run in January. That’s a big if.

San Diego (28/1) – Marty Schottenheimer’s career record in the playoffs is 5-12. It’s too bad because this is a well-balanced team.

San Francisco (200/1) – Think Alex Smith has gone gay yet?

Seattle (28/1) – They still have a team out there?

St. Louis (35/1) – Mad Martz will do something to screw up all of this talent. Bet on that.

Tampa Bay (50/1) – In some warehouse there’s a few thousand Chucky dolls that will never see the light of day.

Tennessee (65/1) – All I’m going to say is that two years ago they were 13-3 and a bad intentional grounding call away from the AFC title game.

Washington (40/1) – This franchise is a wreck. The defense isn’t.

Just for fun: ESPN SportsNation

When you ask fans of a team to assess their team’s chances prior to any given season, you are more than likely going to receive a more optimistic forecast than from an impartial source.

We asked SportsNation to go through their favorite team’s 2006 schedule game-by-game and decide which games they will win and lose. There are many observations to make from the results, but one thing is abundantly clear: SportsNation is full of homers! While parity certainly reigns supreme in the NFL these days, only three teams came up with losing records in the poll (all in the AFC).

The breakdown:

    NFC East: Dallas (14-2)
    NFC North: Chicago (13-3)
    NFC South: Carolina (14-2)
    NFC West: Seattle (14-2)
    AFC East: Miami (12-4)
    AFC North: Pittsburgh (15-1)
    AFC South: Indianapolis (15-1)
    AFC West: Denver (14-2)

Here’s hoping we can agree on something real quick, before we move on here. In nearly every NFL game, there is a winner and a loser, right?

Just checking because the combined records above are 358-154, for a sterling .699 average winning percentage. While you expect a little “homerism”, it’s not even close. Naturally, there have to be the same number of wins as losses, so the “homerism” epidemic is apparently widespread. How bad is it?

It’s so bad that SportsNation only has two teams finishing below .500 (Texans and Titans at 7-9). In addition, six teams were voted to win 14 games or more, including a trio of AFC heavyweights going 15-1.


[NOTE: I have updated this post as I have found additional commentaries worthy of inclusion.]

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