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The 5 O’Clock Club: Reviewing preseason predictions for the worst team in every division

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The 5 o’clock club is published Wednesday to Saturday during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

Back in the beginning of August, before the first preseason game, I published an article that aimed at predicting the worst team in each division in 2018.

Now that every team has played 11 games, the cream has had the opportunity to rise to the top, and the dregs to fall to the bottom. I thought it might be entertaining to look back to where my mind was prior to the start of preseason with regard to the worst teams in the league.

AFC

AFC East

  • Prediction: Bills
  • Actual: Jets (3-8)

The Bills have certainly made an effort to suck this season. Let’s remember that the Bills started Nathan Peterman in Week 1, 47-3 loss to the Ravens. However, they shocked the Vikings, their fans, the NFL in general, and... let’s face it... the entire world, by winning at Minnesota in Week 3.

The key game for our purposes, though, was the Week 10 game in which the Jets, playing at home, managed to give up 41 points to a Buffalo team that had only scored 46 points in the previous 6 weeks... combined.

Buffalo Bills v New York Jets Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Jets were 3-3 at the end of Week 6, but have since dropped 5 straight games to a pretty good lineup of opponents: Vikings, Bears, Dolphins, Bills, Patriots (remembering that three of those games were against division rivals).

AFC North

  • Prediction: Ravens
  • Actual: Browns (4-6-1)

The Ravens have actually played pretty good football, and sit in 2nd place in the AFC North at 6-5.

This is what I wrote in the August article:

Nope; I’m not picking the Browns. I think Cleveland has done enough in the last couple of drafts to have a good, young, hungry team with talent and attitude. In fact, I’m ready to predict an 8-8 season for the Browns (though that Corey Coleman trade has me wondering if I’m overestimating John Dorsey and Co). For me, the wooden spoon in the AFC North comes down to Baltimore or Cincinnati.

I’m thinking that the 8-8 prediction for the Browns may end up being no so terribly wrong. It looks like the Browns could still muster a 7-win season.

The Bengals, who are currently ahead of the Browns, look like they could be sailing towards the rocks, and may actually end up at the bottom of the division by the end of 17 weeks. Hug Jackson takes the magic with him.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

AFC South

  • Prediction: Colts
  • Actual: Jaguars (3-8)

Boy, I got it wrong with the Indy team, but in my defense, I wasn’t alone.

Somebody has to lose some games, and I think it’ll be the other division team that lost a lot last season: the Indiannapolis Colts. Yes, I know... Andrew Luck is healthy again. Quentin Nelson and Braden Smith are a matched set of rookie guards that should help the team’s passpro and run game improve. Still, Ryan Grant is penciled in as one starting wideout, and Marlon Mack appears to be the lead back in a group of middling runners. Malik Hooker will help the defense, but any team that has a new head coach is likely to struggle (yeah... I know... I remember Sean McVay). I just think there’s way too much talent in the rest of the division, and way too much bad karma stacked up against this team in recent years for Luck to be enough to put them back on the winning side of the ledger.

I did get something right, though, in my August predictions. Most people had the Jags winning the division, but I put my chips on the Texans (though I felt pretty foolish with that prediction when they opened the season with 3-straight losses while Jax won 3 out of 4):

I think the Houston Texans bounce back with the return of QB DeShaun Watson. They have excellent skill players on offense (Hopkins, Fuller, Davenport, Miller, Foreman), and a loaded defense (Mathieu, Joseph, Clowney, Merciless, Watt). The rest of the division is tough, though, so the Texans aren’t likely to have a dominating 12-win record. Still, I see them as one of the better teams in the league. The Jaguars are also a loaded team, but — last year’s division championship and playoff run aside — a lot of people still aren’t sold on Blake Bortles.

AFC West

  • Prediction: Raiders
  • Actual: Raiders (2-9)

I think the Raiders are gonna come out the worst for the wear and tear. I don’t have faith that Jon Gruden, after 9 years in the booth, has what it takes to lead the Silver & Black to any sustained success. During the off-season he seems to have placed a premium on adding older players, prioritizing veteran experience and ‘old school’ attitude over youth and skill. The franchise is living in anticipation of its upcoming move to Vegas; the coach wants to throwback to 1998; Gruden complains about the CBA and rule changes on the field; he shows the players game tape from the ‘60s and ‘70s. I just ain’t a believer in what he’s doing.

The only question in my mind is how many years of suckitude it will take before Mark Davis realizes the horrible mistake he made, and fires Jon Gruden despite his 10-year contract. I’m putting the over-under at the end of Year 6.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

NFC

NFC West

  • Prediction: Cardinals
  • Actual: Cardinals (2-9), 49ers (2-9)

I’m buying the hype on the Rams. First, I believe in Sean McVay. Second, I think they had a good offseason with an ‘all in’ approach on veteran free agents while they have Goff on a rookie contract. I think the team is hungry, well coached and stocked with talent. I’ll be shocked if they don’t repeat as division champs.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Chandler Jones, Haason Reddick, Deone Buchanon, Patrick Peterson and Budda Baker, this team has the talent to compete, but when in doubt, bet against the rookie head coach

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

I figure I get a bit of a pass on the Niners due to the Jimmy G injury, but I think the Cardinals will come through for me by Week 17 and end up with the first pick in the 2019 draft. They are truly bad.

NFC South

  • Prediction: Buccaneers
  • Actual: Buccaneers (4-7), Falcons (4-7)

This team just ‘feels’ too dysfunctional right now, with the ‘star’ of the shit-show being former first round draft choice and franchise quarterback, Jameis Winston. I’m less concerned by the talent on the field than I am with the drama off of it. I expect this team to be distracted and dismayed for much of the season, and to be overwhelmed by the competition inside the division and the conference. The Bucs feel like the team most likely to implode in 2018.

Washington Redskins v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Will Vragovic/Getty Images

The Bucs may have a slightly better record than I would have predicted in August, but that’s largely a product of the 2-0 start (which seems a million years ago) and this past weekend’s game against the Niners.

I definitely missed on the Falcons, who I thought would be neck and neck with the Saints all season long.

NFC North

  • Prediction: Bears
  • Actual: Lions (4-7)

I figure I get a lot of latitude for picking the Bears (currently leading the division) to finish in the basement. I figure the Khalil Mack trade was that big, and no one in the world would have predicted that trade in early August.

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Rookie head coach, second-year quarterback, first-round draft pick holding out. Oh yeah, and the Bears have six combined games against the Packers, Lions, and Vikings, plus they play the same killer lineup outside the division (Rams, Niners, Seahawks, Patriots). That looks like nine or ten losses right there. Bears fans should be posting mock drafts by late October. It’s gonna be a bloodbath in the Windy City.

Talk about a prediction that didn’t age well.

I also missed on my Packers projection, but at least my context makes me sound a little smarter than I sound when you read what I had to say about Chicago:

I’ve been saying for a while now that the Green Bay Packers would win the division in ‘18, but if the pace of early season injury reports continues, I may end up eating my words. For now, I stand by my earlier prediction that the division championship returns to Titletown with a healthy Rodgers.

At least I didn’t pick the Vikings. I think I’m the only one on the planet who didn’t.

The Vikings are good, but they’re not close to being a 13-win team, and this year they play the NFC West (Rams, Niners, Seahawks), the AFC East (Patriots), and improved teams in their own division with a healthy Rodgers (twice) and improved Lions (twice). The outcome for this team should be far different, and much more disappointing than last year’s playoff run... but they won’t have a losing record. I see the Vikings finishing a game over .500.

NFC East

  • Prediction: Cowboys
  • Actual: Giants (3-8)

Boy. It’s hard to imagine that I could get the NFC East so completely wrong.

Clearly the Redskins should win the East, and the defending NFL champion Eagles are likely to qualify for the playoffs as well. The question is: who will finish third, and who will finish last in the NFC East? The Giants have a new RB in Barkley, but the Cowboys have Zeke. When you add Derrius Guice into the mix (and Jay Ajayi) it’s obvious that the team that wants to win the NFC East this season will need to be able to stop talented running backs.

The ‘Skins new Dline will completely reverse last year’s ineffectual run defense, and Chris Thompson will provide the Redskins with the offensive X-factor that will make the Redskins the Beast of the East in 2018.

The Cowboys are hamstrung by having Garrett as a head coach, but the Giants go into the season with a rookie head coach (though having a mannequin as a head coach would be an improvement on Ben McAdoo). The Cowboys have to muddle through with a limited talent at QB in Dak Prescott, but is that really worse than entering the season with a 37 year-old turnover prone quarterback and no proven backup?

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

While I’d be surprised if either the Giants or the Cowboys can muster a winning record this season, I’m gonna give the (slight) edge to the Giants since they have a quality receiving group (OBJ, Sterling Shepard) while the Cowboys enter the season looking for leadership at WR, with a group led by Terrance Williams, Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley. I’d say the Giants win 7 games and the Cowboys win 6.

I called it right on the Redskins, but I vastly overestimated the Eagles and Giants, and underestimated the Cowboys.

Evaluating my predictive talents

With 4 teams in each division, and 8 divisions in all, if I had a monkey picking team names out of a barrel at random, it would be reasonable to expect the monkey to get 2 correct out of 8.

I got 3 (sort of). I got one free & clear, and tied on two. It’s hard to swallow that two teams that I picked to finish last (the Bears and Cowboys) are actually in first place in their respective divisions.

Poll

Which of these AFC teams is most likely to win at least 3 games out of the remaining 5 this season?

This poll is closed

  • 75%
    Browns
    (103 votes)
  • 7%
    Bills
    (10 votes)
  • 15%
    Jaguars
    (21 votes)
  • 0%
    Jets
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Raiders
    (1 vote)
136 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which of these NFC teams is most likely to win at least 3 games out of the remaining 5 this season?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    Packers
    (83 votes)
  • 28%
    Falcons
    (40 votes)
  • 0%
    Bucs
    (1 vote)
  • 3%
    Lions
    (5 votes)
  • 7%
    Giants
    (10 votes)
139 votes total Vote Now