Commentary

A season's hits and (many) misses

Our man made 45 predictions for 2010. So what did he get right? Um, not much

Originally Published: February 3, 2011
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

The easy part is making preseason NFL predictions. The hard part is admitting to them six months later.

As always, I can endure the shame.

The scoring scale:

35 to 45 correct answers -- Tom Brady introduces you to Gisele.

25 to 34 -- Chris Berman gives you nickname and says you … could … go … all … the … way.

15 to 24 -- You know the difference between 2-technique and 3-technique.

5 to 14 -- You pretend you know the difference between 2-technique and 3-technique.

0 to 4 -- Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder offers you head-coaching job.

1. AFC North

What I said then …

(Order of finish)

Baltimore Ravens -- The offense is filet mignon and should score more than enough points as the infirmed slowly return to the Ravens' lineup.

Pittsburgh Steelers -- Schedule guessing is dicey stuff, but the Steelers might have lucked out as Ben Roethlisberger serves his four-game suspension.

Cincinnati Bengals -- I'll pick the Bengals to win this division when Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens take vows of silence.

Cleveland Browns -- Picking the Browns to finish last. (2011 prediction: It won't stay that way forever, not with Mike Holmgren as team president.)

What actually happened …

OK, I whiffed on the Steelers winning the division, but not on preseason chic pick Cincy crumbling into bite-sized Reeses Pieces. … By the way, the Ravens and Steelers finished with identical 12-4 records, so it's not like I have to apologize for much. And the Schedule Gods did do the Steelers a favor during Roethlisberger's suspension -- they went 3-1. … The Ravens' offense was admittedly a disappointment (34 fewer points than a year ago). That's why Jim Zorn just got cut loose and why the usually mime-like Joe Flacco recently lost his Joe Cool status. … I am sticking to my 2011 prediction that the Browns will finish ahead of somebody in this division. Now if somebody can explain how the Browns' Eric Mangini got whacked before Marvin Lewis of the 4-12 Bengals did.

Score: 1/2 point

2. MVP finalists

What I said then …

Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans; Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts; Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers; Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens; Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints.

What actually happened …

Bleepin' ESPN.com editors. I originally had Houston's Arian Foster, New England's Tom Brady and San Diego's Philip Rivers on my list. But because of space considerations, I was asked to reduce the number of candidates to five.

And, uh, the sun was in my eyes.

And Steelers linebacker James Harrison hit me helmet-to-helmet and I lost consciousness.

And …

Yeah, like you had Foster for 1,616 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns this season? This was the same guy who was an undrafted free agent in 2009 and actually got cut by the Houston Texans in September of that year.

Brady didn't do much, except throw 33 touchdowns and only four interceptions. And Rivers only led the league in passing yardage.

Johnson didn't have a crummy year (1,364 yards and 12 TDs), but his yards-per-carry average was down a considerable 1.3 yards from 2009 and his total rushing yards were down by 642. That sort of falloff contributed to the Titans' 6-10 record and didn't help coach Jeff Fisher's case with Bud Adams, another whack job owner who thinks he knows it all.

Manning and the Colts' equipment guy, I think, are the only two members of the organization who weren't injured this season.

Rodgers wasn't a Pro Bowl selection, which proves once again how bogus those picks are.

Rice and Brees had nice season, but were not MVP-worthy. Brees' 22 interceptions were only six fewer than he had the previous two seasons combined.

Score: 0 points

3. MVP

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireChris Johnson fell short of his lofty 2009 yardage totals -- and the MVP award.

What I said then …

Johnson, if he breaks Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record. Rodgers, if he doesn't.

What actually happened …

Johnson just missed Dickerson's record -- by 741 yards.

Rodgers is in the discussion, but Brady is the pick.

Score: 0 points

4. If they gave the MVP to someone who tackled, it would go to …

What I said then …

Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers linebacker.

What actually happened …

Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and his hair happened.

Sorry, Patrick.

Score: 0 points

5. Runners-up

What I said then …

Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers and Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

What actually happened …

I don't apologize for either of those picks. And with all due respect to the great Troy Polamalu, I would have voted Peppers and Matthews over you this season.

Score: 1 point

6. AFC East

What I said then …

(Order of finish)

New England Patriots -- So why do I have them winning the AFC East? I have no idea. Maybe it's because I think Bill Belichick will glue gun the defense back together.

New York Jets -- So what if Rex Ryan has a potty mouth?

Miami Dolphins -- Whatever happens, they'll be a tough out every week.

Buffalo Bills -- The Bills haven't reached the playoffs since 1999 and haven't won a postseason game since 1995. The streak continues this season.

What actually happened …

Ding, ding, ding! Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

The Patriots won the division, but the Jets reached the AFC Championship. … Third-place Miami botched its season and then Stephen Ross put two clothespins on coach Tony Sparano and hung him on the line as the Dolphins owner romanced Jim Harbaugh. … And if you can overachieve with a 4-12 record, the Bills did it.

Score: 1 point

7. AFC Rookie of the Year

What I said then …

Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers -- But only if coach Norv Turner keeps his promise about giving Mathews at least 250 carries.

What actually happened …

Turner fibbed. Mathews ended up with just 158 carries and 678 yards and was an afterthought for chunks of the season.

But for what it's worth, Mathews put together a 120-yard, three-TD day against the Denver Broncos in Week 17.

Score: 0 points

8. Runners-up

What I said then …

Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs; C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills.

What actually happened …

I ralphed. Pats cornerback Devin McCourty, a steal at No. 27 in the draft, is the easy choice. That's two AFC ROY winners for the Hoodies in the past three years (linebacker Jerod Mayo was the pick in 2008). Berry had a solid first year (four INTs, 77 tackles), but really needs to learn how to tackle Steven Jackson in Pro Bowl games. Spiller was mostly a nonfactor (74 carries, 283 rushing yards, one total TD).

Score: 0 points

9. NFC Rookie of the Year

[+] EnlargeJahvid Best
Jason Miller/US PresswireJahvid Best didn't live up to the hype. His teammate (Ndamukong Suh) had no such trouble.

What I said then …

Jahvid Best, RB, Detroit Lions -- Won't make Lions fans forget Barry Sanders (nobody can do that), but Best will remind them of the great No. 20.

What actually happened …

Does it count that I at least got the team right?

Score: 0 points

10. Runners-up

What I said then …

Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys; Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions; Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams.

What actually happened …

Suh was a game- and franchise-changer. He had 10 sacks, including three after veteran D-lineman Kyle Vanden Bosch was hurt in Week 12 (Vanden Bosch was eventually put on IR).

Bradford was as dependable as a 10-year vet and actually had more completions and passing yards (and fewer interceptions) than Chicago's Jay Cutler and more TD passes than the Jets' Mark Sanchez.

And it's hard (actually, impossible) to argue with Jerry Jones taking Bryant with the No. 24 pick. Great get by Jerry.

Score: 1 point

11. AFC South

What I said then …

(Order of finish)

Indianapolis Colts -- Boring, isn't it? But who else do you pick?

Houston Texans -- Arian Foster looks like a keeper in the backfield.

Tennessee Titans -- Vince Young might win a Heisman Trophy as a fifth-year NFL quarterback (if Reggie Bush has to return his). That's nice, since he's not going to win the AFC South.

Jacksonville Jaguars -- If Maurice Jones-Drew's knee problems are more serious than the Jags are letting on, then here's the hyphen that will count: 3-13 -- their 2010 record.

What actually happened …

Was right about the Colts and the division being dreadful. … Upon further review, I didn't totally miss out on Foster's potential. … Texans let me down -- again. … Jags hung in there, didn't they?

Score: 1/2 point

12. Words sure to be spoken by commissioner Roger Goodell next April

What I said then …

"With the first pick in the 2011 NFL draft, the Buffalo Bills select University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker.''

What actually happened …

Well, Goodell will say, "With the first pick in the 2011 NFL draft …'' but it won't be the Bills doing the selecting and it won't be Locker walking onto the stage for the first photo op with the commish.

The 2-14 Carolina Panthers made the Bills look like the '85 Bears. John Fox lost his coaching job, and if quarterback Andrew Luck had bolted from Stanford early, Jimmy Clausen would have lost his job, too. In fact, he still might lose it if the Panthers choose Mizzou QB Blaine Gabbert.

Score: 0 points

13. Dead coach walking

What I said then …

Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears -- Another non-postseason appearance will seal his pink slip fate.

What actually happened …

[+] EnlargeLovie Smith
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireDoubt Lovie Smith? Who would ever do such a thing? Oh, wait.

An 11-5 season and NFC Championship appearance are going to earn Smith a contract extension, not walking papers. Give Smith credit for reconfiguring his staff, for keeping his team together when it lost three out of four games in October and for convincing/ordering offensive coordinator Mike Martz to mix in a running play every now and then.

But even with an extension, Smith isn't off the hook. The Bears were ranked 30th in total yards per game, 22nd in rushing yards and 28th in passing. The offensive line is a mess. The wide receivers terrify no one. And you still don't know what you're going to get out of Jay Cutler from week to week.

Even the biggest Bears honk has to admit that three of those 11 wins came against teams without their starting QBs. And rule or no rule, Detroit's Calvin Johnson caught the damn ball in Week 1. You know it. Smith knows it. Johnson knows it.

The Bears were 1-2 against the Packers. Given the talent level on each roster, the Packers are in better position to make consistent postseason runs.

Don't get me wrong -- this isn't a Lovie bash-a-thon. Just saying that Smith's job might actually get harder, not easier.

Score: 0 points

14. Dead coach walking Jr.

What I said then …

Wade Phillips, Dallas Cowboys.

What actually happened …

I called this one in a February 2007 column, when Jones first hired Phillips.

"Phillips won't last long. They never do. … Jones can rationalize all he wants, but in the end there isn't anything about the decision that is defining. Instead, it's an uninspired choice disguised as prudent."

I'm not gloating, just saying …

Anyway, Phillips is back where he belongs -- as a defensive coordinator.

Score: 1 point

15. Best NFL candidate to replace a dead coach walking

What I said then …

Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator.

What actually happened …

I was sort of right. Just didn't know DCW would be Brad Childress.

Score: 1/2 point

16. Honorable mentions

What I said then …

Brian Schottenheimer, New York Jets; Ron Rivera, San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator; Mike Zimmer, Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator; Mike Heimerdinger, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator.

What actually happened …

Rivera got the Panthers' head-coaching gig.

Score: 1/2 point

17. Best college candidate to replace a dead coach walking

What I said then …

Bob Stoops, Oklahoma.

What actually happened …

One of these days he's going to leave Norman for the NFL and I'll finally get a point for this one. If any college coach can make that transition, it's Stoops.

Score: 0 points

18. Honorable mentions

What I said then …

Jim Harbaugh, Stanford; Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (not that you'll ever pry him out of Iowa City now that he's agreed to essentially a lifetime deal at the school); Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech.

What actually happened …

It was only a matter of time with Harbaugh, who had his pick of jobs and chose the Bay Area and the Niners.

Score: 1/2 point

19. AFC West

What I said then …

(Order of finish)

San Diego Chargers -- The Chargers are still going to win the West because they have the best quarterback (Philip Rivers) and Vincent Jackson Jr. in Malcom Floyd.

Kansas City Chiefs -- Matt Cassel knows Charlie Weis' offensive system from his Patriots days and how can you not like a tag-team backfield of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones?

Denver Broncos -- I don't think it will be a huge surprise if the Broncos finish higher than the Chiefs.

Oakland Raiders -- I've got them winning as many as seven games, a two-win bump up from 2009.

What actually happened …

Thought the Chiefs would be better, but not that much better. They finished 10-6, while the Chargers were playoff no-shows. … Tom Cable wins eight games for Al Davis, but gets fired. … Josh McDaniels doesn't even make it to the end of the season.

Score: 0 points

20. Five players destined for breakout seasons

What I said then …

LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles; Floyd, WR, San Diego Chargers; Felix Jones, RB, Dallas Cowboys; Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos; Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers.

What actually happened …

One out of five barely gets me to the Mendoza Line.

McCoy did his part, but Floyd, Moreno and Finley suffered assorted major and minor injuries. Jones didn't miss a game, which is a start. But his numbers weren't McCoy-ish.

Score: 0 points

21. Breakdown candidates

What I said then …

I'm a teensy-weensy worried about the 2010 health prospects of Jones-Drew, New England's Randy Moss, Miami's Ronnie Brown, Indy's Joseph Addai and Chicago's Cutler.

What actually happened …

Jones-Drew missed two games and played the season with a bum knee. … Addai missed half the regular season. … Cutler missed one game with a concussion and half a playoff game because of a sprained knee. … Brown didn't miss a start, but his rushing numbers were down. … Moss was healthy, but he produced like he had a slug in his leg (28 receptions).

Score: 1 point

22. NFC North

What I said then …

(In order of finish)

Green Bay Packers -- Rodgers oversees a Packers offense that looks like The Greatest Show on Tundra.

Minnesota Vikings -- The Vikes would have been my division pick, but then WR Sidney Rice had hip surgery and Percy Harvin kept getting migraines.

Chicago Bears -- Right now, they have the look of 8-8.

Detroit Lions -- The Lions are still going to be awful, but at least they'll be less awful.

What actually happened …

The Vikings were the single most disappointing and yet fascinating team in the league. OK, them and the Cowboys. Minnesota finished with the same 6-10 record as the Lions. But the Vikings will start 2011 with a different quarterback (no Brett Favre) and head coach (no Chilly) than they began 2010 with. … The Bears fooled me; the Packers didn't.

Score: 0 points

23. Comeback player of the year

What I said then …

Brian Urlacher, LB, Bears -- After missing all but one game last season because of a dislocated wrist he'll have something to prove.

What actually happened …

Urlacher proved it -- with a Pro Bowl selection. But no way I can ignore the comeback distance traveled by Michael Vick of the Eagles.

Score: 0 points

24. Runners-up

What I said then …

Mike Williams, WR, Seattle; Vince Young, QB, Tennessee; Wes Welker, WR, New England.

What actually happened …

Williams was amazing and Welker was, well, Welker.

Thanks to another disastrous season and his eventual release from the Titans, VY has yet another chance to win the Comeback Award in 2011.

Score: 1 point

25. NFC East

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
Alan Maglaque/US PresswireMichael Vick's resurgence surprised many, including our so-called expert.

What I said then …

(Order of finish)

New York Giants -- The D-line is still formidable and Eli Manning-led offense has enough weapons to leave bruise marks.

Washington Redskins -- The real question is how quickly the Redskins' defense adapts to the 3-4 and if NT Albert Haynesworth can play with a pacifier in his mouth.

Dallas Cowboys -- The Cowboys are trying to make history by becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium, JerryWorld. Don't like their chances.

Philadelphia Eagles -- Wouldn't stun me if they struggled. Wouldn't stun me if they won the division.

What actually happened …

Never saw the Vick resurgence coming. … Never saw the Donovan McNabb benching. … Saw the Cowboys' meltdown. … The Jints finished with the same 10-6 record as the Eagles -- not that it mattered.

Score: 0 points

26. Coach of the Year

What I said then …

Flip a coin between Jim Schwartz of the Lions and Mike Singletary of the 49ers.

What actually happened …

Did I say Singletary? The guy who got fired? Please hit me with a forearm shiver.

The Schwartz pick sort of, kind of holds up. But the truth is, Belichick was the year's best coach. K.C.'s Todd Haley, Tampa Bay's Raheem Morris or your two Super Bowl coaches, the Packers' Mike McCarthy or the Steelers' Mike Tomlin, also deserved consideration.

Score: 0 points

27. The AFC team most likely to surprise us

What I said then …

Denver Broncos -- Outside of Denver, I might be the only one who thinks so. Heck, maybe inside of Denver I'm the only one.

What actually happened. …

And as it turned out, I was the only one.

Score: 0 Points

28. Runner-up

What I said then …

Pittsburgh Steelers -- Some coaches have IT. Tomlin is one of those coaches.

What actually happened …

What can I say -- I'm a Tomlin guy.

Score: 1 point

29. The NFC team most likely to surprise us

What I said then …

Detroit Lions -- Good for a few upsets this season.

What actually happened …

How about wins over Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Miami and Minnesota?

Score: 1 point

30. NFC South

What I said then …

(Order of finish)

New Orleans Saints -- No team in the NFC South has ever won back-to-back division titles. Unless Brees retires to join the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, that no-repeat stat is out the window.

Atlanta Falcons -- The defense should be better and the schedule has some spots as soft as Pat Williams' tummy.

Carolina Panthers -- I'm not quite sure how you become a better team when you lose Julius Peppers. Wait, you don't!

Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Lots of intriguing young talent (QB Josh Freeman, WR Mike Williams, DTs Brian Price and Gerald McCoy), but also lots of L's this season.

What actually happened …

The NFC South Curse lives. No team has ever repeated as division champ. Memo to me: Don't pick Falcons in the 2011 predictions.

Score: 0 points

31. AFC team most likely to flop

What I said then …

Cincinnati Bengals -- Gee, what could go wrong? Ochocinco and T.O. on the same team. … Cedric Benson pressing in a contract year. … toughie schedule.

What actually happened …

This pick was too easy! We're going to Sizzler.

Score: 1 point

32. Runner-up

What I said then …

New England Patriots -- Injuries and youth aren't often a great combination.

What actually happened …

Yes, the Patriots flopped all the way to a 14-2 record. It was all part of my motivational plan to inspire Belichick. And it worked perfectly.

Score: 0 points

33. NFC team most likely to flop

What I said then …

Chicago Bears -- This is a high-risk/high-reward team.

What actually happened …

I believe this is the part of predictions review where I crumple into a tearful hot mess.

Some flop -- the Bears finished 11-5.

Score: 0 points

34. Runner-up

What I said then …

Dallas Cowboys -- Because it's fun to get e-mails from angry Dallas fans.

What actually happened …

The truth is that Cowboys fans write some of the best e-mails I receive. Smart, funny and light on the F-bombs.

Score: 1 point

35. NFC West

[+] EnlargePete Carroll
Kim Klement/US PresswirePeter Carroll turned around the Seahawks. Yes, seven wins counts as a turnaround in the NFC West.

What I said then …

(Order of finish)

San Francisco 49ers -- It shouldn't take more than nine wins, tops, to walk away with the division title.

Seattle Seahawks -- New coach Pete Carroll will get the Seahawks turned around. It just won't be this season.

Arizona Cardinals -- Uh, what happened to the up-and-coming, perennial playoff-caliber Cardinals? They were here a minute ago.

St. Louis Rams -- Four or five wins wouldn't be a shock.

What actually happened …

I was wrong on the Niners. … I was wrong on how many victories it would take to win the division (it took seven!). … I was wrong on Singletary. … I was wrong on the Seahawks' "turnaround.'' … I was right about the Cardinals. … I was wrong about the Rams' win total.

Let's move on , please.

Score: 0 points

36. Team with the best chance to go undefeated

What I said then … Indianapolis Colts.

What actually happened …

The Colts lost their opening game.

Score: 0 points

37. Undefeated honorable mentions

What I said then …

New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers.

What actually happened …

The Saints and Packers both lost in Week 3.

Score: 0 points

38. Your Week 1 upset special

What I said then …

And by special, I mean it would be an upset if I ever got one of these right. Cincinnati over New England at Gillette Stadium and, as a bonus, Baltimore over the Jets at New Meadowlands Stadium.

What actually happened …

Patriots 38, Bengals 24.

Ravens 10, Jets 9.

I'll take the split anytime.

Score: 1/2 point

39. AFC playoffs -- last team in

What I said then …

New York Jets.

What actually happened …

The Jets were No. 6 seed.

Score: 1 point

40. AFC playoffs -- last team out

What I said then …

Miami Dolphins.

What actually happened …

Not the Dolphins. They didn't come close to sneaking in.

Score: 0 points

41. NFC playoffs -- last team in

What I said then …

Minnesota Vikings.

What actually happened …

Who had a worse year: me with my NFL predictions picks, or the Vikings? I'm going with the Vikes on this one. They finished tied for last in the division. They fired their head coach. Favre got injured and was chin-strap deep in off-field allegations. And the Metrodome collapsed.

Score: 0 points

42. NFC playoffs -- last team out

What I said then …

Washington Redskins.

What actually happened …

I picked the Redskins. What a lively sense of humor I have.

Score: 0 points

43. AFC Championship

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireInstead of a trip to Disneyworld, the Colts' Peyton Manning got a first-round playoff exit.

What I said then …

Indianapolis vs. Baltimore -- A rematch of last year's divisional playoff game. No way is Manning deprived of a return trip to the Super Bowl.

What actually happened …

Except for the part that it was the Jets vs. Steelers, I nailed this one.

Score: 0 points

44. NFC Championship Game

What I said then …

New Orleans vs. Green Bay -- The Saints squeeze past the Pack, 38-35.

What actually happened …

Or the Pack squeeze past the Bears, 21-14.

Score: 1/2 point

45. And the Super Bowl winner is …

What I said then … Manning is going to Disney World!

What actually happened …

No, he's not!

The depressing total of correct Geno answers: 14½.

I must leave now. Daniel Snyder might be trying to call.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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