The NFL is back at a fever pitch to the applause of millions of football fans around North America.
The season began Thursday night and it did not take long for the first upset.
The Detroit Lions rallied for a 21-20 victory over the Chiefs in Kansas City.
The Lions go ROARING to victory 🦁 pic.twitter.com/YS652Bw2p6
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) September 8, 2023
It was only the fourth time in the last 23 openers, but second in a row, that the defending champions lost the season opener.
Patrick Mahomes this season:
– Worst record in the league 📉
– Most INTs in the NFL 👨🏾🦯
– More incompletions than any other QB 👎
– Averaging a Pick-6 per game 😂😭
– Has never beaten Jared Goff 🙅♂️❌ pic.twitter.com/F7zE7BwpOU
— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) September 8, 2023
This is the third year fans are treated to 272 games (up from 256 in 2020 and before) as 32 teams play 17 games.
With more games come more choice, more drama, and more suspense.
A word of caution, do not put any stock into the preseason results.
For example, in the NFC East, Washington won its three exhibition games while Philadelphia went winless (0-2-1).
With the regular season now on, the Eagles should again be atop the division while we can expect the Commanders to be at or near the bottom.
Did you know that in each of the past 32 years, at least one NFL team has increased its win total by five or more games from the previous season?
Last year, for example in the AFC, the Jacksonville Jaguars went from a 3-14 record in 2021 to 9-8 and a division title in 2022.
There are even more examples in the NFC: Philadelphia (9-8 in 2021 to 14-3 in 2022),
Minnesota (8-9 in 2021 to 13-4 last year), NY Giants (4-13 in 2021 to 9-7-1 in 2022) and Detroit (3-13-1 in 2021 to 9-8 last year).
So who will be those teams that will have at least five more wins this year compared to the previous season?
In the AFC, with Aaron Rodgers calling the shots, the New York Jets should be improved and despite a tough early schedule, they may have a legitimate shot at going from seven wins (7-10) to a dozen.
Do not rule out Tennessee going from 7-10 to 12-5, especially with an easy schedule on paper that includes playing the four teams from the lowly NFC South.
Denver could double its win total from five to 10 but the Broncos, under new head coach Sean Payton, may need time to peak with the new playbook.
In the NFC, Chicago would need just eight wins to increase by five after a miserable 3-14 record in 2022 and the LA Rams may rebound to 10 victories from five.
It was only 19 months ago the Rams won the Super Bowl.
The best division from top to bottom would appear to be the AFC East.
Three of those AFC East teams (Buffalo, NY Jets and Miami) are in the top 10 in terms of odds of winning the Super Bowl and the fourth team, the New England Patriots should never be counted out for a playoff spot even though they are listed 22nd out of 32 at 60-1.
The worst team appears to be Arizona although both the Cardinals and the Houston Texans are a 200-1 longshot.
That means if you bet five bucks on the Cardinals to win the Super Bowl, you will lose five bucks.
Here are the odds for each team to win the 2024 Super Bowl (courtesy of cbssports.com).
Kansas City Chiefs 6-1
Philadelphia Eagles 15-2
San Francisco 49ers 9-1
Buffalo Bills 9-1
Cincinnati Bengals 10-1
Dallas Cowboys 15-1
New York Jets 16-1
Baltimore Ravens 20-1
Detroit Lions 22-1
Miami Dolphins 25-1
Jacksonville Jaguars 25-1
Los Angeles Chargers 25-1
New Orleans Saints 35-1
Cleveland Browns 35-1
Seattle Seahawks 40-1
Denver Broncos 40-1
New York Giants 40-1
Minnesota Vikings 40-1
Las Vegas Raiders 45-1
Green Bay Packers 50-1
Chicago Bears 50-1
New England Patriots 60-1
Pittsburgh Steelers 60-1
Atlanta Falcons 70-1
Carolina Panthers 70-1
Los Angeles Rams 70-1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 80-1
Washington Commanders 80-1
Tennessee Titans 100-1
Indianapolis Colts 125-1
Arizona Cardinals 200-1
Houston Texans 200-1
— Ron Bohning (@RonBohning) September 3, 2023
In 18 of the last 20 NFL seasons, there has been at least one team going from worst to first in its division.
Jacksonville accomplished that last year (in the AFC South) following its last-place finish in 2021.
The last-place teams in 2022 were NY Jets, Cleveland, Houston and Denver in the AFC plus Washington, Chicago, Atlanta and Arizona in the NFC.
In this group, I give Atlanta, Cleveland and the New York Jets the best chance of climbing from worst to first in their division.
Since 1990 when the playoffs expanded to 12 teams, (now there are 14) a minimum of four teams have advanced to the playoffs in every season that was not in the post-season the year before.
Last year, a whopping six teams, Minnesota, New York Giants and Seattle in the NFC plus Jacksonville, Miami and Baltimore in the AFC qualified for the post-season after missing the previous year. (Note: There was an extra playoff team from each Conference added to the post-season in 2020).
This season, NY Jets, Cleveland and Tennessee in the AFC plus Detroit, Green Bay and New Orleans in the weaker NFC look like the best bets to qualify after missing out a year ago.
Here are the 14 teams I am picking to make the playoffs.
In the AFC, Buffalo and NY Jets from the East, Kansas City and LA Chargers from the West, Cincinnati and Baltimore from the North, and Jacksonville from the South.
(I hate leaving out Miami but I do not want to take one of those seven off the list)
In the NFC, Dallas and Philadelphia from the East, San Francisco and Seattle from the West, Minnesota and Detroit from the North and New Orleans from the South.
(I left off Green Bay which would have been my next choice if there was an eighth spot)
FROM THE QUOTE RACK:
The Kansas City Chiefs were the pre-season pick to win the Super Bowl this year. So is it too soon for the 1972 Miami Dolphins to pop champagne?
American college football’s Pacific-12 Conference, soon to be defunct due to most of its members leaving for greener pastures elsewhere, was 13-0 against other leagues in Week 1. Yes, but wasn’t the Titanic also undefeated before the iceberg?
*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California
BBC News reports Tokyo companies are paying for workshops to teach staff how to cry. Not to be outdone, several Toronto firms have bought employees Maple Leafs tickets.
Hartley Miller is the news and sports supervisor plus morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT and Country 97fm. After growing up in Winnipeg, he has lived in Prince George for the last 44 years and is entering his 11th season as the radio colour commentator on the Prince George Cougars home games. Hartley is the author of You Don’t Say (sports quotes).