Just wanted to kick off some lively discussion about some midseason predictions from around the NFL. We mostly focus on the 49ers here on Niners Nation, and rightly so, but I'd like to bring some focus to discussions of teams from around the league. Feel free to post your own predictions, as well as rail against my own ideas. Enjoy!
1. The Bears will take the #5 seed in the NFC.
The Bears are, for lack of a better term, for real. They run hard, Jay Cutler is making passes off his back foot for perfect strikes, and their defense is solid. They have a big home game coming up this weekend against the Lions, and I expect Forte to make some big plays against the recently struggling run defense Detroit has had since losing to the Niners a few weeks ago. But the real reason I think the Bears will make the playoffs and lock up the 5th seed is this: after playing the Lions, their next five games are a 4 games IN A ROW against the miserable AFC West, and then a home game against Seattle. They then visit Lambeau Field, which will likely end a timely winning streak, and then cruise to the finish with the Vikings in Week 17. Detroit, on the other hand, has two more games against GB and a visit to NO and CHI to look forward to. Given the improvement I've seen from the Bears in recent weeks, together with a reasonably soft schedule and a tie-breaker over the Atlanta Falcons, I see the Bears finishing 11-5 with the top WC spot.
Note: If the Bears lose to the Lions tomorrow, I will concede this is an unlikely scenario. I do think the Bears are good enough to nab a spot in the playoffs, so a loss tomorrow would merely knock them down to 6th seed, in my opinion.
2. The Packers will go, at best, 13-3.
I believe almost any team in the NFL can beat the Packers. That is not to say that they would, in all likelihood, overcome such a great offensive effort led by one of the best QBs I've seen, but that they could. This is not your typical AGS argument, however. There are serious flaws in Green Bay's game, which I believe at least 3 teams on their remaining schedule will be able to exploit and eke out a game against the current NFC leaders.
The Packers cannot close a game. Their rushing effort is lackluster, and any team with a semblance of a rush defense has the upper hand, defensively, when Green Bay is attempting to nurse a lead in the 4th quarter. On three separate occasions a game was decided by a final, failed offensive effort by the opposing team in the waning minutes of the game (SD, MIN, CAR). If any of those drives end differently, GB would likely not be undefeated right now.
Also, the Packers defense relies too heavily on big plays. This boom or bust mentality will lead to the occasional bust, and just like your amazing fantasy team may suffer a 60-point game, so the Packers will suffer a no-interception game. All it takes is one less-than-superb effort by Rodgers and a couple untimely mistakes, and the Packers lose. This will not happen every game, and in some cases the lead is too great to be lost: however, a balanced team can and will give the Packers a run for their money.
3. The Jets will win their division.
I hate the Jets. I hate Rex Ryan, in fact I hate both the Ryans, I hate that some people that Mark Sanchez is better than Alex Smith, I hate that they're from New York, I hate that they get so much national coverage, and I hate the color green. But the Jets are designed to beat pass-first teams. They are built to shut down the Patriots and the Bills. And that's all you need to win the AFC East. The Patriots and Bills are in a slump right now, and if that carries on much longer, the division will be out of their reach. Personally, I'd love to be wrong on this one, as I like the Bills and want them to take the division. My dream is that the Dolphins knock the Jets out of the playoffs in week 17 and put an end to Ryan's blustering so I can enjoy the playoffs without him. But sometimes, folks, the bad guys win. That's life, and it sucks.
4. The winner of the AFC West will not have more than 9 wins.
I believe I've seen this prediction elsewhere (nfl.com, maybe?) but I have to include this. Watching the Raiders-Chargers game, I was struck by the fact that these were two bad teams trying desperately to lose the game, at least in the second half. The Chargers have a starting LT and they win that game, but the point is that if these are the front-runners in the AFCW, then the division has officially become the new NFCW. They're better, but only slightly. One final note: a win today puts the Denver Tebows one game behind the lead. Case closed.
5. The 49ers will get more wins than the rest of the division combined.
The Seahawks, Rams and Cardinals have combined for 5 wins so far, two games behind the 49ers. Two of those wins were divisional games amongst themselves. That means they are guaranteed no more than 9 wins on the season (4 more intra-divisional games). Assuming they pick up 2 or 3 more wins outside the NFCW, and maybe one game against the Niners, that puts their tally up to... 12 or 13 wins. It'll be difficult, but I believe the Niners can do it. Now we have another reason to root against our divisional opponents down the stretch!