Predicting NFL is more difficult than forecasting weather
Predicting what's ahead in an NFL season is no easier than forecasting the weather. Given all the variables, it's probably harder.
The team of September, the Chiefs, went mediocre on us in October and early November. Those struggling Patriots who were 2-2 now seem on course for yet another hosting role in the AFC playoffs.
Early season woes for the Giants that were dismissed as temporary have become chronic. That ugly 0-2 start for the Saints has turned into a beautiful six-game winning streak.
No matter. Here are some things to look for as we move through November and December.
MORE QB INJURIES
This has been the overriding story of the season, with Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer, sensational rookie Deshaun Watson and Sam Bradford all going down. Ryan Tannehill didn't even make it out of the preseason, and Andrew Luck's shoulder didn't heal enough after winter surgery for him to suit up.
Speculating who might be the next quarterback or three who will suffer a major injury is ghoulish. Consider, though, that nine teams (Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Green Bay, Arizona, Tennessee, Oakland, Houston, Miami and Baltimore) have had to go to backups because of injured starters.
This one is unavoidable, and will occur weekly. Seems as if no weekend goes by without a pool reporter being sent to talk to game officials about a decision.
As video replay becomes more refined — we can just about count the blades of grass under a receiver's hands as he cradles (or doesn't) a pass — and the NFL rulebook remains far too complex, officiating will continue to play a huge role in outcomes of games.
One request: no more reversals like what we saw in Falcons-Lions and Patriots-Jets that fans will be questioning into the new year.
Other than Hue Jackson in Cleveland, the fire figures to burn very hot under the Buccaneers' Dirk Koetter; the Giants' Ben McAdoo; the Bengals' Marvin Lewis, whose contract is up this year; the Colts' Chuck Pagano, who could get a pass because he's had no, ahem, luck with his passer; and possibly the Lions' Jim Caldwell. New York and Detroit are among the league's biggest underachievers, and that likely won't change in 2017.
PASSION IF NOT SKILL
It would be difficult to find a club that would trade its roster for what the Jets or Bears have. It also would be tough to point out any teams that play with more passion and dedication.
There's no reason to believe either of them will stop giving their all for 60 minutes. New York is 4-5 in a year some projected it wouldn't win a game and was tanking for the top overall draft pick. With any finishing power, the Jets would be in the playoff hunt.
Chicago is 3-5 despite an inept passing game, and has beaten Pittsburgh and Carolina. The Bears simply don't go away. Maybe they aren't the Monsters of the Midway, but they sure are pesky.
Give tremendous credit to coaches Todd Bowles and John Fox. And expect more of the same from both teams the rest of the way.
A TIE OR TWO
One thing we've learned from the reduced overtime period (from 15 minutes to 10) is that a tie is hardly unlikely. Indeed, getting more than one possession in OT can be problematic.
So expect at least one deadlock down the stretch, and let's hope it won't figure into playoff tiebreakers.
With two highly regarded divisions, the AFC West and North, turning soft, watch for the Steelers and Chiefs to be selling playoff tickets by mid-December. Same for the Patriots, but that's a yearly occurrence in the mediocre AFC East.
Barring a stunning turnaround, the Eagles, at 8-1 the league's top team, will be making postseason plans about a month from now. The Saints, too, if their defense remains stout.
A WIN FOR SAN FRANCISCO. AND FOR CLEVELAND.
Actually, the 49ers beating the Giants this Sunday hardly is farfetched, though the odds would be much shorter if Jimmy Garoppolo was ready.
San Francisco then has a bye before hosting Seattle, visiting Chicago and Houston, home for Tennessee and Jacksonville and at the Rams.
The road for Cleveland has a trip to Detroit, home for Jacksonville, at Cincinnati and the Chargers, home for Green Bay and Baltimore, then road games at Chicago and Pittsburgh.
You decide which team — if either — has a better shot at a victory.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL