Story of the Week

YOU CAN'T PREDICT THE NFL

    There is absolutely no explanation for human behavior, there is absolutely no scenario that should ever surprise any seasoned player at a poker table, and there is absolutely no way to predict the NFL.

    Once again, the two teams that fought each other in last yearís Super Bowl, Tampa Bay and Oakland, failed to make the playoffs in 2003. Note; "once again" are the operative words. Only Indianapolis and Tennessee were repeat playoff teams from the AFC in 2003. Only Philadelphia and Green Bay were repeat playoff teams from the NFC in 2003.

    For craziness, just look at the final week of the 2003 regular season. All the St. Louis Rams had to do was beat the pathetic Detroit Lions to assure themselves of home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. They got beat! All the Minnesota Vikings had to do was beat the horrific Arizona Cardinals to win their division. They lost, and were eliminated from playoff competition altogether. Cincinnatiís Bengals, finally a legitimate NFL team, had a shot at the playoffs by beating the lowly Cleveland Browns. They couldnít!

    No one can predict the outcome of any given NFL season, and that is precisely what makes the NFL so great and exciting. If you donít believe me, just buy each and every football publication that prognosticates the standings for any given season, and what teams will face-off in the Super Bowl. Forget it; they are invariably inaccurate; just hang onto those publications to seasonís end, and youíll find my opinion here to be dead-on. 

    Why? Parity, complacency and injuries are the answer. There is a true salary cap in the NFL; this prevents dynasties. And it seems that Super Bowl rings cause human complacency; they shouldnít, but they do, ostensibly because of the salary levels today. Then thereís the inherent factor of injuries to key personnel; itís a rough and tough sport, and key players can suffer key injuries that can kick the smartest of predictions right out the proverbial window. And, although not nearly as prominent a factor as it is in baseball, free agency permits a player to bolt after his indentured servitude expires. (Not exactly servitude when youíre making seven or eight figures as a salary.)

    For sake of space and confirmation, letís just look at the two seasons prior to the recently concluded one:

    2001: The six division winners were St. Louis, Chicago and Philadelphia in the NFC, and New England, Pittsburgh and Oakland in the AFC. The best regular season records were St. Louis in the NFC, and Pittsburgh in the AFC. The Super Bowl was won by New England over St. Louis.

    2002: The league went to eight divisions. Where were last yearís division winners? St. Louis went from 14-2 to 7-9. Chicago went from 13-3 to 4-12. New England went from 11-5 to 9-7. Pittsburgh went from 13-3 to 10-5-1. So, only two of last yearís division winners improved their records; Philadelphia went from 11-5 to 12-4, and Oakland went from 10-6 to 11-5. St. Louis, a Super Bowl contender last year, won seven fewer games. Chicago fell off the radar screen altogether. The best records in the AFC were Tennessee and Oakland at 11-5, and Philadelphia, Green Bay and Tampa Bay in the NFC at 12-4. Two different Super Bowl teams; Tampa Bay defeated Oakland.

    2003: More of the same as noted above. 2003 clearly stayed with the script of NFL inconsistency. The beat goes on, and it will continue to go on.

    My predictions for 2004. Iím going to do it very scientifically. Iíll put the NFL team chart on the wall, and Iíll toss a dart at both the AFC and the NFC. Those are the teams Iím going to put my proposition bets on. And if the dart lands on Arizona vs San Diego, Iím gonna double-up on the bet. Why not?!

      Last Week's Trivia

    Who are the only two non-baseball personalities honored in the Baseball Hall-Of-Fame Museum in Cooperstown? Bub Abbott and Lou Costello are there because of their brilliant and legendary "Whoís On First?" routine.

Trivia Question of the Week

    Eric Gagne won the Cy Young Award in the National League last year, and deservedly so. Who is the only other Canadian to win the Cy Young? See next weekís Sports Junkie for the answer.