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NFL Best and Worst: Preseason Predictions Rarely Pan Out

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Every preseason, fans and media make predictions based on what personnel moves have been made around the league, what they've seen in the NFL Draft and training camp, what they remember from last year, and mostly whatever else may influence what amounts to little more than guess work. Six weeks in, we take a look at how some predictions have been panning out thus far.

Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

How strange has this season been? The Saints were expected to be unstoppable juggernauts, yet they found themselves floundering at the beginning of the season.  And they weren't the only high-caliber team to have a rocky start, either.

It's always difficult to predict how teams will do, much less which players will top the charts in any given category, but that doesn't stop us from trying.  So when Luke Thomas of Charged.fm asked me to face off against writer Anthony Brown in predicting the best (and worst) players and teams in certain categories over the first eight weeks of the season, I was glad to represent our fanbase with my picks.  As we approach the season's halfway mark, I follow our bye week by looking at how each of us fared in response to the following fourteen questions.  Unsurprisingly, I have only nailed a few of them thus far; but I have matched or beaten my Redskins counterpart in every category but one.

Take a look at the following questions, and consider what you would have guessed, and how far the reality of the season thus far has strayed from our expectations.

1.  Which running back will lead the league in rushing yards?


Player
Rushing Yards
NFL Ranking
Current Leader DeMarco Murray 785 1
CSC Prediction Arian Foster 513 3
RHH Prediction LeSean McCoy 422 4
Best Saint Khiry Robinson 304 18

Neither of us picked Adrian Peterson to lead the league in rushing.  But who would have expected DeMarco Murray to be running away with the lead in this category? The Cowboys running back is the only person in NFL history besides Jim Brown to rush for more than 100 yards in each of his first six games in a season, and it was 1958 when Brown accomplished that feat.  With a seventh 100-yard performance this weekend, against the Giants, Murray will be the sole owner of his new record.

2.  Which wide receiver will lead the league in receptions?


Player
Receptions
NFL Ranking
Current Leader Julio Jones 44 (of 69) 2
CSC Prediction Pierre Garcon 30 (of 47) 21
RHH Prediction Brandon Marshal 25 (of 46) 38
Best Saint
Jimmy Graham 34 (of 46)
12
Best Saints WR
Brandin Cooks 32 (of 42)
16

Matt Forte leads the NFL, with 46 receptions on 55 targets; but as a running back, he doesn't fit the bill for this question.  And Pierre Garcon actually has a better reception percentage than Julio Jones, but the Falcons receiver has been targeted more times than any other player in the league.  Saints fans should appreciate the fact that there is only one player in the entire NFL that has more receptions than either Jimmy Graham or Brandin Cooks despite having also sat out for a bye week:  Emmanuel Sanders, who has pulled in 35 of his 48 targets from Peyton Manning.

3.  Which quarterback will lead the league in touchdowns?


Player
Touchdowns
NFL Ranking
Current Leader Andrew Luck
17 1
CSC Prediction Peyton Manning
15 2
RHH Prediction Peyton Manning
15 2
Best Saint Drew Brees
9 14

Andrew Luck has performed very well at the reigns of Peyton Manning's former team, but the more experienced veteran is only two touchdowns behind him despite having only played 5 games, instead of six.  At that rate, Manning is on pace to take the lead in this category before the end of Week 8.


4.  Which quarterback will lead the league in passing yards?


Player
Passing Yards
NFL Ranking
Current Leader Andrew Luck
1987 1
CSC Prediction Drew Brees
1574 9
RHH Prediction Drew Brees
1574 9

The bye week threw a kink in this one.  If we were to base the results on yards per game, Andrew Luck would still be leading the league at 331 yards per game; but Drew Brees would be right behind him in second place with 315 yards per game.

5.  Which quarterback will lead the league in interceptions?


Player
Interceptions
NFL Ranking
Current Leader Kirk Cousins
8 1
CSC Prediction Tony Romo
5 10
RHH Prediction Matthew Stafford
4 14
Love Potion #9
Drew Brees
6 7

The bye week may have helped Drew Brees out a bit on this one, as the only other quarterbacks in the top ten (or would that be bottom ten) in this category after playing only five games in the past six weeks are Ryan Tannehill and the Oakland Raiders rookie QB Derek Carr, both of whom are tied with Tony Romo and Eli Manning at five interceptions in six games.  As a side note:  Andrew Luck and Matt Ryan are among those quarterbacks with seven interceptions each.

6.  Which defensive player will lead the league in interceptions?


Player
Interceptions
NFL Ranking
Current Leader * See below
3
1
CSC Prediction Jason McCourty, CB
2 8
RHH Prediction Byron Maxwell, CB
1 32
Best Saint
Patrick Robinson, CB
1 32

The following seven players each have three interceptions thus far, tying them for the lead:
Malcolm Jenkins, FS
Roman Harper, SS
Antrel Rolle, SS
Harrison Smith, FS
Jerraud Powers, CB
Parrish Cox, CB
Kyle Fuller, CB

This past offseason, the Saints let Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper go to the Panthers and Eagles, respectively; and they have collectively nabbed six interceptions thus far.  Jairus Byrd, the free safety brought in at a premium price tag to be a turnover machine for the Saints, didn't manage a single interception through his four weeks of struggling before suffering his season-ending knee injury.

Besides Dan Kelly, who would have expected Patrick Robinson to have the only interception for New Orleans going into the seventh week of the season? If the Saints had the six interceptions by Jenkins and Harper added to the mix, they would be among the NFL's top five in this category, rather than at the bottom of the league with the Jets and the Jaguars.

7.  Which team will lead the NFC North?

Team NFL Record Division Record Division Standing
Current Leader Detroit Lions 4-2 2-0 1
CSC Prediction Detroit Lions 4-2 2-0 1
RHH Prediction Green Bay Packers 4-2 2-1 2

It has been a bit of an off year for the NFL, or perhaps an on year for parity.  Several high-calibre teams have had shaky starts to the season, and it didn't take long for the last undefeated team to fall this season.  The Packers are one of those teams that got off to a shaky start, but their three-win streak has them back in the running with a Lions team that sorely misses Calvin Johnson.  Saints fans should hope that the Packers take the division lead this week, as Green Bay hosts the Panthers while Detroit hosts the Saints... and then hands it back to the Lions the following week, when the Packers visit New Orleans and the Lions travel to Atlanta.

8.  Which team will lead the NFC South?


Team
NFL Record
Division Record
Division Standing
Current Leader
Carolina Panthers
3-2-1
1-0
1
CSC Prediction
New Orleans Saints
2-3
1-1
2
RHH Prediction
New Orleans Saints
2-3
1-1
2

There were great expectations for the New Orleans Saints at the beginning of the season, with most predictions ranging from a single playoff appearance to winning the Super Bowl again.  Even fans of NFC South opponents were largely debating who would finish in second place behind the Saints this year.  However, Sean Payton's uninspired offense hasn't been able to compensate fully for Rob Ryan's unexpectedly poor defense.  With no team in the division grabbing a win during the Saints bye week, New Orleans is up to second place, and not far behind the Panthers.  Carolina is likely to have the division lead at the halfway point, but it is completely feasible for the Saints to take the lead three weeks from now.  It all depends on how well the Saints come out of the gate following their week off.

9.  Which team will lead the NFC East?


Team
NFL Record
Division Record
Division Standing
Current Leader
Philadelphia Eagles
5-1
2-0
1
CSC Prediction
Philadelphia Eagles 5-1
2-0
1
RHH Prediction
Philadelphia Eagles 5-1
2-0
1

The Dallas Cowboys are tied for the lead in the NFC East (and the NFL) with a 5-1 record.  Not yet having played any division games, Dallas loses the tiebreaker to the Eagles, who have won both of theirs.  However, the Cowboys have been surprising during their five-game winning streak, having defeated the Saints in Dallas a few weeks ago and then heading to Seattle to beat the Seahawks in their own home.  For a division which has often deserved its sobriquet of NFC Least in recent years, it's surprising that the Eagles and Cowboys are currently tied for the best records in the entire NFL.

10.  Which team will lead the NFC West?


Team
NFL Record
Division Record
Division Standing
Current Leader
Arizona Cardinals
4-1
1-0
1
CSC Prediction
Seattle Seahawks
3-2
0-0
3
RHH Prediction
Seattle Seahawks
3-2
0-0
3

Not many fans of teams outside of the NFC West likely expected Seattle to be in third place at this point in the season.  Even fewer would have predicted that the Cardinals would be beating both the 49ers and the Seahawks for the division lead.  There are still plenty of games ahead, so the division lead is by no means secured.  But what makes Arizona's performance thus far even more impressive is the fact that they were without starting quarterback Carson Palmer for over a month.  It will be interesting to see how well his shoulder holds up moving forward, and how well the team performs with their leader back at the helm.

11.  Which team will lead the AFC North?


Team
NFL Record
Division Record
Division Standing
Current Leader
Cincinnati Bengals
3-1-1
1-0
1
CSC Prediction
Cincinnati Bengals
3-1-1
1-0
1
RHH Prediction
Baltimore Ravens
4-2
2-1
2

The Cincinnati Bengals are one 36-yard overtime field goal away from having four wins in their first five games this season.  Instead, ending their game with a tie against the Panthers was like suffering the NFL equivalent of kissing your sister.  The Saints still have both of these teams on the schedule ahead, and they may present more of a challenge than some expected, as they continue to compete for the division lead throughout the season.

12.  Which team will lead the AFC South?


Team
NFL Record
Division Record
Division Standing
Current Leader
Indianapolis Colts
4-2
3-0
1
CSC Prediction
Tennessee Titans
2-4
1-1
2
RHH Prediction
Indianapolis Colts
4-2
3-0
1

I decided to go out on a limb with this one, and it's the one category in which Anthony is currently beating me in the predictions.  Andrew Luck has been a leader on his team and in the stats column this year, and the third-year quarterback is on pace to win the unimpressive AFC South with the Colts this year.

13.  Which team will lead the AFC East?


Team
NFL Record
Division Record
Division Standing
Current Leader
New England Patriots
4-2
1-1
1
CSC Prediction
New England Patriots
4-2
1-1
1
RHH Prediction
New England Patriots
4-2
1-1
1

Despite rumors of Tom Brady's decline, and his uncharacteristically unimpressive showing to start the season, he has managed to get them on top of a weak AFC East division.  Buffalo isn't far behind them, but thus far it doesn't look like this is the year for New England to miss the postseason.

14.  Which team will lead the AFC West?


Team
NFL Record
Division Record
Division Standing
Current Leader
San Diego Chargers
5-1
1-0
1
CSC Prediction
Denver Broncos
4-1
1-0
2
RHH Prediction
Denver Broncos
4-1
1-0
2

Lately, Philip Rivers has been doing a great job leading Drew Brees' old team.  The AFC isn't as competitive as its counterpart, but having the best record in the conference is nothing to scoff at, for any team.  The Broncos are right on San Diego's heels for the lead in the division, and the conference, but either way it looks like both of these teams will be playing in January.