If sportswriters could actually predict the outcome of games, they wouldn’t be writing about sports; they’d be Biff Tannen in “Back to the Future Part II.” Prognostication is the oddest part of sports journalism. It’s one thing to review the game and make thoughtful assessments about everything from individual performance to coaching decisions to personnel schemes. It’s something else entirely to presage future events, especially when the game’s outcome is largely contingent on details like injuries, weather, and officiating that are beyond anyone’s foresight or control.
Yet still we try. The preseason playoff predictions made by many of America’s best and brightest NFL writers look hilarious in retrospect, often because of those capricious circumstances outlined above. Injuries to key players decimated the playoff chances of preseason favorites like the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans. The playoff fortunes of more common picks like the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys came down to a single play in the final minutes of the last game of the season. If the Chicago Bears come up with stop on that fateful 4th-and-8, many of these writers suddenly look a lot less smart.
The following list uses a rigorous formula to determine the quality of each writer/ outlet's preseason predictions. All writers were scored with two points for correctly picking the division winner or wild card team, and one point for teams that were projected to make the playoffs but not in the spot they finished. For example, if a writer picked the Broncos to win the AFC West and the Chiefs as a wild card, they would be scored four points, but the reverse (the Chiefs winning the division and the Broncos as a wild card) would only net two points. Because not all sites differentiated between the fifth and sixth seeds, no extra point consideration was given to them (for instance, a prediction that New Orleans would make the playoffs as the fifth seed was scored with 2 points, even though they finished with the sixth seed). For sites with multiple writers, the scores were tallied up and divided by the number of writers to reach an average. With six playoff teams in the two conferences, a perfect ballot would net 24 points.
Got all that? Good, because despite spending several hundred words hemming-and-hawing about the ridiculousness of the task, projections are nevertheless an integral part of an sportswriter's job. This list should provide clear insight into whose playoff predictions you should be paying attention to next preseason.