Three years ago when my crystal ball (CB) predicted the Denver Broncos would win Super Bowl 48, I mentioned that their QB, Peyton Manning, wasn't about to retire having won fewer Super Bowl rings than his younger brother, N.Y. Giants QB Eli Manning. Having now evened the score with Eli (two years later than expected) at 2 rings apiece following the Broncos' 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers 7 months ago in Super Bowl 50, Peyton can retire in peace. And he can send a great big thank you note to the Broncos' defense, because it was only because of them that he was able to go out on top. I mean (and I know this sounds blasphemous, considering how great a career Peyton has had) it was almost as if the Broncos won the championship in spite of him. I say almost because the Broncos' offense wasn't totally inept; more often than not they got done what needed to get done - barely. But for the most part that offense - led by Manning in 12 of their 19 games - almost messed it up for one of the best defenses in NFL history.
I know, 296 points allowed (18.5 per game) hardly sounds like one of the best defenses ever; but when you consider the Broncos' offense turned the ball over a whopping 31 times, 18.5 is outstanding. Despite recording 27 takeaways (7th best in the league) the Broncos still had a negative turnover margin for the season at -4. That makes them only the 7th team in the 50-year Super Bowl era (and the first since the 2007 Giants) to win the championship with more giveaways than takeaways.
Broncos fans had to know the season was going to be special when it was the defense that scored the winning touchdown in their first 2 games. And the defense didn't rest there. In Week 6, when Manning threw an interception in overtime to give the Browns the ball at the Denver 39-yard line, the defense tackled them for losses on all three plays on the ensuing possession and forced them to punt. When the Bears scored a TD with :24 on the clock in Week 8, the defense stopped the 2-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game. After falling behind 14-0 in the must-win game in Week 16, the defense held the Bengals to just 3 points on their final 8 possessions of the night. When the offense went 8 straight possessions without scoring - including 5 turnovers - in the must-win game vs. the Chargers in Week 17, incredibly the defense kept the team in the lead. With the team on the ropes late against both the Steelers and Patriots in the playoffs, CB Bradley Roby (photo above, celebrating at the end of the Super Bowl) came to the rescue with a couple of big plays. And in the Super Bowl, with the offense producing only 194 yards and turning the ball over twice, the defense saved the day one more time.
It was the first time a Super Bowl had ever been won by a team gaining fewer than 200 yards (the previous low was 244). Three times during the season Manning threw pick sixes. No problem - the Broncos won all 3 of those games. The Broncos' defense scored 5 TD during the season. Right - the Broncos won all 5 of those games. I described the Week 16 and 17 games as must wins; but actually they needed all 12 of the games they won, because for real, one more loss during the regular season and we're talking about somebody else winning the Super Bowl. I don't care how great the defense was, going on the road for the playoffs with that offense would have been fatal.
Being a huge Kansas City Chiefs fan, I do not like the Broncos. And I really, really don't like Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward. But I have to tip my hat to the Broncos because what they pulled off was very impressive.
Much less impressive were the predictions made by CB. It earned a grade of D or F (3 games or more off) for 17 of the 32 teams. Ouch! The pick of a Steelers-Cardinals Super Bowl was at least kind of close. But overall - and as usual - it's not a report card to be very proud of:
1. MIA 11-5 1. NE 12-4
2. BUF 11-5 2. NYJ 10-6
3. NE 10-6 3. BUF 8-8
4. NYJ 5-11 4. MIA 6-10
Teams nearly finished in the opposite order CB predicted ..... GRADE: D ... (L7Y - the grade for the last 7 years, starting with 2014 and going back to 2008: D, D, C-, C, C-, B-, D)
CB also said Bills CB Stephon Gilmore (photo below, picking off a pass with 1:32 to play to seal a Week 5 win at Tennessee) would lead all NFL players with dreads with 6 INT, helping the Bills make the playoffs. Well, the Bills are never going to make the playoffs, and Gilmore's 3 picks were only good for a tie for 4th place among players with dreads. Bengals S Reggie Nelson finished first with 8 INT.
1. PIT 10-6 1. CIN 12-4
2. BAL 9-7 2. PIT 10-6
3. CIN 7-9 3. BAL 5-11
4. CLEV 6-10 4. CLEV 3-13
CB way off on everyone but Steelers. Bengals keep doing their thing ..... GRADE: D+ ... (L7Y: C, C, C+, B-, C-, C, F)
1. IND 12-4 1. HOU 9-7
2. HOU 10-6 2. IND 8-8
3. JAC 5-11 3. JAC 5-11
4. TEN 2-14 4. TEN 3-13
Maybe if Andrew Luck doesn't miss 9 games due to injury, CB nails this. Texans' big 16-10 win at Indianapolis in Week 15 was their first ever at Indy in franchise history, snapping a 13-game/year losing streak ..... GRADE: C+ (best ever for this division!) ... (L7Y: C, D+, D-, D, D-, D-, C-)
1. KC 11-5 1. DEN 12-4
2. DEN 10-6 2. KC 11-5
3. SD 7-9 3. OAK 7-9
4. OAK 4-12 4. SD 4-12
CB picks Broncos to miss playoffs; instead they win it all ..... GRADE: C- ... (L7Y: C, C, D, B, A-, B, B)
AFC TIEBREAKERS: Broncos clinched #1 seed due to head-to-head victories over Patriots (Week 12) and Bengals (Week 16). Patriots clinched #2 seed due to better record than Bengals in common games (NE 4-1, CIN 2-3). Steelers clinched #6 seed due to better record than Jets in common games (PIT 4-1, NYJ 3-2)
1. PHIL 12-4 1. WASH 9-7
2. DAL 11-5 2. PHIL 7-9
3. NYG 7-9 3. NYG 6-10
4. WASH 2-14 4. DAL 4-12
Wow. CB 7 games off on Redskins and Cowboys ..... GRADE: D ... (L7Y: C+, D, D+, B-, D, C, C-)
1. GB 12-4 1. MIN 11-5
2. DET 12-4 2. GB 10-6
3. MIN 8-8 3. DET 7-9
4. CHI 3-13 4. CHI 6-10
Bears, Vikings much better than CB expected; Packers, Lions much worse ..... GRADE: D ... (L7Y: D+, C-, C-, B-, C, B, C-)
1. ATL 9-7 1. CAR 15-1
2. NO 8-8 2. ATL 8-8
3. CAR 6-10 3. NO 7-9
4. TB 3-13 4. TB 6-10
CB's pick of Panthers to finish 6-10 was its worst of the 32 teams, but I bet a lot of other people's crystal balls were pretty far off for the Panthers too ..... GRADE: C- ... (L7Y: C, D, C-, D, B+, A, D)
1. ARIZ 12-4 1. ARIZ 13-3
2. SEA 9-7 2. SEA 10-6
3. SF 6-9-1 3. STL 7-9
4. STL 5-10-1 4. SF 5-11
For 2nd straight season CB picked this division better than any other. Cardinals were CB's only correct choice to win a division ..... GRADE: B- ... (L7Y: B+, C, B+, D, D-, D, D-)
NFC TIEBREAKER: Packers clinched #5 seed over Seahawks due to head-to-head victory (Week 2).
Only 1 of 8 predicted correctly ..... GRADE: D- ... (L7Y: C-, C-, C, C-, D, C-, F)
1. IND 1. DEN
2. KC 2. NE
3. MIA 3. CIN
4. PIT 4. HOU
5. BUF 5. KC
6. HOU 6. PIT
1. ARIZ 1. CAR
2. GB 2. ARIZ
3. PHIL 3. MIN
4. ATL 4. WASH
5. DET 5. GB
6. DAL 6. SEA
5 of 12 teams predicted correctly ..... GRADE: C- ... (L7Y: B-, C, C, B, C-, B-, C-)
Predicted: ARIZ over PIT
Actual: DEN over CAR
Both conference champions were teams CB picked to miss the playoffs ..... GRADE: F ... (L7Y: D, D, A, F, F, A-, F)
OVERALL GRADE: D+ .... (L7Y: C, D+, C, C-, D+, B-, D)
That's it. I promised action if CB didn't get the grades up, and now I'm following through, putting CB into retirement.
That's not all, folks, for the 2015 NFL season. Not even close. Never mind that we're only a few hours away from the start of 2016. Over the next few weeks I'll be doing several dread galleries featuring 2015.