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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Most Memorable Super Bowl Moments: 30-21

The national countdown to Super Bowl 50 continues and so does the Banshee Sports countdown of the 50 Most Memorable Super Bowl Moments.

The Most Memorable Super Bowl Moments:  30-21.

30.  Tipped Touchdown.  Although Johnny Unitas was out of the game with an injury when the Colts won Super Bowl V on a last-minute drive, the legendary quarterback did deliver a pivotal first half pass.  With the Cowboys leading the Colts by a score of 6-0 in the second quarter, Unitas dropped back to pass from deep in his own territory.  The ball deflected off the hands of two Cowboys' defenders before John Mackey hauled it in and rumbled for a 75-yard touchdown that tied the game.

29.  Manning to Manningham.  Eli Manning may be a bit inconsistent during the regular season, but when it comes time for the Super Bowl, Eli is super clutch.  In Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants played the New England Patriots.  For the second time in five years, the Giants came into the Super Bowl as underdogs to the Patriots, and for the second time in five years, the Giants emerged victorious.  With under four minutes to play and trailing 17-15, the Giants took possession of the ball on their own eleven yard line.  On first down, Manning threw an unbelievably perfect pass to Mario Manningham. Manningham was double covered and his momentum was taking him towards the sidelines.  Nonetheless, Manningham was able to secure the ball and keep both feet inbounds to complete the reception.  The Giants would score a touchdown on the drive and hold on for 21-17 victory.

28.  Trickeration Gone Wrong.  The Baltimore Colts entered Super Bowl III as 18-point favorites over the New York Jets.  The Jets got off to an early 7-0 lead, but the Colts were primed to tie the game when a trick, flea-flicker play fooled the Jets and left a Colts wide receiver all alone near the goal line.  But, quarterback Earl Morrall did not see the open man and instead forced the ball down the middle.  The pass was intercepted.  The Jets kept the lead and never looked back.

27.  Montana Dominates Denver.  Joe Montana won four Super Bowls during the course of his career.  Although Montana may have had more heroics in other Super Bowls, Super Bowl XXIV was his most dominant performance.  During the 49ers 55-10 rout of the Denver Broncos, Montana was 22-29 passing for 297 yards and no interceptions.  He also threw for a then-record five touchdown passes.

Hank Stram
26.  65 Toss Power Trap.  It takes a special personality to turn a short run up the middle into one of the most iconic plays in NFL history.  That special personality was Kansas City Chiefs' head coach Hank Stram.  In Super Bowl IV, the Chiefs jumped out to a 16-0 halftime lead over the Vikings thanks to a short touchdown run on the "65 toss power trap" play.  It's not the play itself that is particularly memorable.  Rather, it was the fact that Stram's call for the play and his prediction that it "might pop wide open" was captured by NFL Films.  

25.  Saints with a Leap of Faith.  In the seasons following the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, there was a special aura around the New Orleans Saints.  In 2010, the still-recovering Crescent City had something to celebrate when the Saints defeated the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.  The Colts were ahead 10-6 at the half and were set to receive the second half kickoff.  In one of the riskiest plays in Super Bowl history, the Saints executed an onside kick to start the half.  The Saints recovered the ball and drove in for a go-ahead touchdown.  The Saints went on to win the game 31-17.

24.  Perfect Blunder.  The 1972 Miami Dolphins beat the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII to finish off the only perfect season in NFL history.  But this 14-7 victory features one of the least perfect plays of all time.  On this single play, Dolphins' kicker Garo Yepremian manages to have a field goal blocked and to throw a pick six.

23.  The Young and the Record Setting.  When the 49ers traded Joe Montana before the 1993 season, he still owned the Super Bowl record for touchdown passes thrown in a single game.  It only took two seasons for a new signal caller in San Francisco to re-write that record.  In Super Bowl XXIX, the left-handed Steve Young threw for an astounding 325 yards and 6 touchdowns.  That effort carried the 49ers to an easy 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers.

22.  Where's the Beef?  This phrase became a common part of everyday parlance in the 1980's.  The line originated from a series of Wendy's television commercials that aired in 1984.  Although the Wendy's ad originally featuring the line actually debuted earlier in January of 1984, the commercial gained fame and popularity when it aired later that month during Super Bowl XVIII.  

21.  Pregame Party.  In the days before smart phones and social media, the off-field exploits of athletes were more rumor than proven fact.  But, the exploits of Max McGee before Super Bowl I have been repeated so often that they are now widely accepted as true.  The year was 1967.  The scene was Los Angeles, California.  No one knows whether backup wideout Max McGee gave much thought to the likelihood of playing time when he went out on the town on the night before the game. We do know that McGee gave plenty of thought to the beauty of the California girls.  We know this because a drunken McGee called his roommate Paul Hornung late that night to discuss this fact.  McGee eventually found his way back to the team hotel in the wee hours of the morning, but a few brief hours of sleep were not enough to ward off a raging hangover.  As fate would have it, an injury forced McGee into a starring role in the game.  McGee caught two touchdown passes that help lift the Packers to a 35-10 victory over the Chiefs, but it was the off-field performance that elevated McGee to legendary status.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Most Memorable Super Bowl Moments: 40-31

As we get closer and closer to Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Banshee Sports continues its countdown of the 50 Most Memorable Super Bowl Moments.  Like the first installment, this group contains a mixture of athletic excellence, marketing genius and entertainment.

Without further ado, here are the Most Memorable Super Bowl Moments:  40-31.

40.  Silver and Black Star.  In 1981, the Oakland Raiders won Super Bowl XV, on the strength of Jim Plunker's arm and Rod Martin's defense.  By the time the Raiders faced the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII, they had relocated from Oakland to Los Angeles and there was a new star in silver and black.  That star was running back Marcus Allen.  En route to a 38-9 Raiders' victory, Allen rushed for an astounding 191 yards and two touchdowns.  That performance allowed Allen to become the first Heisman Trophy winner to add a Super Bowl MVP award to his trophy collection.

39.  Bud Bowl.  All tolled, there were eight Bud Bowls played between 1989 and 1997.  The first Bud Bowl aired during Super Bowl XXIII.  The contest between Budweiser and Bud Light was announced by Bob Costas and Paul Maguire.  Although two alternate endings were recorded, the official record books record Budweiser defeating Bud Light by a score of 27-24.  Although the novelty of the Bud Bowls quickly wore off after the first few editions, those old enough to remember the original game remember it with fondness.

38.  Scoring Explosion in Super Bowl XXXV.  The New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens are both franchises who are historically remembered for their great defense.  But, when the two teams met in Super Bowl XXXV, it was a special teams explosion in the second half that made this game memorable.  In the third quarter, the Ravens' Duane Starks intercepted Kerry Collins' pass and ran it back for a touchdown.  This TD gave the Ravens a 17-0 lead.  That lead was immediately cut back to ten points when Ron Dixon returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a Giants' touchdown.  The Ravens immediately answered back with a kickoff return of their own for a TD that extended the lead to 24-7.  A Super Bowl record 21 points were scored in that 36-second stretch of game time.

37.  Elway Helicopter.  For folks under the age of 30, it is hard to imagine that the Denver Broncos' John Elway was once considered to be a guy who couldn't win the "big one."  When he took the field for Super Bowl XXXII in against the Green Bay Packers, Elway had no championship rings and had come up short in three prior Super Bowls.  As the third quarter drew to a close, Elway was in the midst of his worst Super Bowl performance to date.  Then the aging 37 year-old quarterback turned back the hands of time with a daring scramble that ended with a vicious hit and Elway helicoptering to the ground to set up a first and goal at the four yard line.  The Broncos would punch it in to take the lead.  Ultimately, the Broncos would need another dramatic drive to win the game in the fourth quarter, but Elway's helicopter was the most iconic moment of his first Super Bowl victory.
36.  It's a Touchdown, Holmes.  The Pittsburgh Steelers' victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLVIII has already made one appearance on this countdown.  With all the success in the franchise's history, this game-winning play seems to get short shrift in NFL lore.  Perhaps if Santonio Holmes had gone on to have a Swann-like career in the Steel City then this catch would be more legendary, but based on athletic excellence alone, this play deserves to be remembered.

35.  Denver Disaster.  When Peyton Manning led the Denver Broncos onto the field to play the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, the possibilities of a story book ending to a storied career were at the forefront of all the sportswriter's minds.  But, for Broncos' fans, what they witnessed was closer to Nightmare on Elm Street than to Cinderella.  The Denver Broncos came into the game as the favorite in Vegas, but the Seahawks defense absolutely manhandled Manning and company to start the game ... and to end the game.  The Seahawks scored 36 points before the Broncos finally got on the scoreboard on the last play of the third quarter.  Seattle won the game by a score of 43-8 to capture their first Super Bowl title.

34.  Buffalo Blunder.  In many ways, the Super Bowl is as much a spectacle as it is a sporting event.  In Super Bowl XXVI, the Buffalo Bills' star running back Thurman Thomas learned this the hard way.  Thomas had a pregame ritual of placing his helmet at the 34-yard line during pregame ceremonies.  Evidently that was of little concern to the production crew at the Metrodome.  In order to make room for Harry Connick to sing the national anthem, someone moved Thomas' helmet without telling him.  The Bills got the ball to start the game, and Thomas missed the opening possession because he could not find his helmet.  The Bills lost to the Redskins by a score of 37-24.  The result of the game certainly cannot be blamed entirely on the missing helmet, but the bizarre nature of this part of the Bills' cursed history is certainly noteworthy.  

33.  U2 Halftime Tribute to 9/11 Victims.  There is a reasonable argument to be made that our nation places too great an emphasis on sporting events.  But, it is undeniable that sporting events can unite and heal a hurting country.  In the wake of 9/11, sports served as a familiar comfort for millions of fans.  During halftime of Super Bowl XXXVI, legendary Irish band U2 added to America's healing with this moving performance.  No further commentary is really needed.

32.  Swann's Super Catch.  A good friend of mine once described football as "the ballet of champions."  Perhaps no other player in NFL history has embodied that description more beautifully that the Pittsburgh Steelers' Lynn Swann.  In Super Bowl X, the Steelers won a dramatic contest against the Cowboys by a score of 21-17.  Lynn Swann was named the MVP of the game, a rare a accomplishment for a wide receiver.  Swann had four catches and scored a touchdown.  Swann's most memorable catch that day was neither his longest play nor a scoring play, but it was one of the most graceful and athletic catches in NFL history.

31.  Lights Out.  Anyone who has ever set foot on Bourbon Street know that weird things can happen in New Orleans.  Super Bowl XLVII in the Louisiana Super Dome was clearly an example.  At the half, the Baltimore Ravens led San Francisco 49ers by a score of 21-6.  The Ravens started the second half by returning the kickoff for a touchdown that extended the lead to 28-6.  Then the lights went out at the Super Dome.  Literally.  After a thirty-four minute delay, the game resumed.  Evidently the extra rest suited the 49ers.  The 49ers mounted a furious comeback and trimmed the lead to 28-23 at the end of the third quarter.  In the end, the Baltimore Ravens held on for a 34-31 victory, but that did not prevent Ray Lewis from publicly declaring that the NFL orchestrated a conspiracy to hand a Super Bowl to San Francisco.  

Moments 50-41
Moments 40-31
Moments 30-21
Moments 20-11
Moments 10-1

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Most Memorable Super Bowl Moments: 50 to 41

In the United States of America, the Super Bowl is far more than a just a football game.  The Super Bowl is one of the biggest cultural events in our county.  On February 7, 2016, our nation will gather to celebrate this game for the 50th time.  The golden anniversary of America's most important game is worthy of more than just the usual prediction column.  To celebrate Super Bowl 50, Banshee Sports is going to count down the 50 most memorable Super Bowl moments of all time.

In this first installment, I present Most Memorable Super Bowl Moments:  50-41.

James Harrison pick six
50.  James Harrison's Pick 6.  The #50 moment is one of the more recent moments on this list.  As the first half was drawing to a close in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Pittsburgh Steelers led the Arizona Cardinals by a score of 10-7.  With 18 seconds left to go in the half, the Cardinals had the ball on the Steeler's 2-yard line.  On first and goal, James Harrison intercepted Kurt Warner's pass on the goal line.  Harrison took the ball 100 yards in the other direction for a Steeler's touchdown.  The Steelers would need every one of those points as they won a thrilling 27-23 game to capture their 6th Super Bowl championship.

49.  Eugene Robinson Pays Dearly for Sex.  Not everything that influences a Super Bowl actually happens on the field.  Some of it happens the night before.  During the 1998 season, Eugene Robinson earned his 3rd career pro bowl selection for his excellent safety play for the Atlanta Falcons.  On the day before Super Bowl XXXIII, Eugene Robinson was awarded the Athletes in Action Bart Starr award for displaying exemplary character on and off the field.  Robinson celebrated that award by trying to pay an undercover police officer for sex.  Thanks to his arrest for solicitation, Robinson got very little sleep the night before the game.  We will never know if that is the reason why the pro bowler got burned for an 80-yard touchdown and missed a key tackle in the Falcons' 34-19 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Jack Lambert and the Steel Curtain in Super Bowl XIV
48.  Jack Lambert Rules the Day.  The Pittsburgh Steelers have won a total of six Super Bowls.  The first three came in the 1970's when the team from the Steel City was led by its Steel Curtain defense.  The 1979 Steelers captured their third title of the decade with a win over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XIV.  Although the Super Bowl MVP went to quarterback Terry Bradshaw, the wisdom of hindsight largely credits Jack Lambert for tallying 14 tackles and capturing interception as the key to the Steelers' victory.

47.  The King of Pop in Pasadena.  As I said in the introduction to this column, the Super Bowl is bigger than just a game in our country.  This was clearly true when the Michael Jackson performed the halftime show in the Rose Bowl at Super Bowl XXVII.  The world stopped for this performance.  Back in 1993, there was no criminal or sexual baggage attached to the King of Pop.  With the California sun setting over the San Gabriel Mountains, Jackson's entrance alone, narrated by James Earl Jones, was worthy of making this list.  If you don't remember this show, then you should just watch it.

46.  Clydesdales on the Gridiron.  As aggravating as it may be for sports fans to hear party guests state that they only watch the game for the commercials, there is no denying that Super Bowl commercials can become pop culture cornerstones.  Budweiser has had many memorable Super Bowl commercials, but perhaps their most beloved commercial involved their iconic Clydesdales playing football on the dusty plains.  The 1996 ad was beautifully shot and ended with classic commentary from a pair of observing cowboys.  The Clydesdales lined up for a rematch in the snow in 2003, but the original will always remain the fan favorite.

45.  To Coin a Term.  It was not until the third year of the AFL-NFL Championship Game that the "Super Bowl" got its name.  Lamar Hunt, the legendary owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, coined the term "Super Bowl" at a league meeting prior to Super Bowl III.  That game between the Jets and the Colts lived up to its new name and will be mentioned again later in this countdown.  Five decades later, it is hard to imagine the game with any other name, but at the time, the moniker was met with a lukewarm reception. Hunt himself admitted that the term was just a derivation of "super ball," his kids' favorite toy at the time.

44.  The Assassin.  Jack Tatum's play from Super Bowl XI is on this list not so much for its impact on the outcome of the game but because it is emblematic of a bygone era in America's favorite sport.  It was an era when catching passes in the middle of the field presented a legitimate health risk.  Not just a risk of a game-ending injury but a risk of a life-altering injury.  It was an era where it was deemed appropriate for a football player like the Raiders' Jack Tatum to embrace the nickname "The Assassin."  Tatum's helmet-to-helmet hit on the Vikings' Sammy White did not draw a penalty.  In fact, White held onto the ball for a completion.  Led by Tatum and the rest of their fearsome defense, the Oakland Raiders defeated the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 in Super Bowl XI.

43.  Twice as Nice.  Pittsburgh Steelers have plenty of fond Super Bowl memories, but in Super Bowl XXX Larry Brown turned the Steelers' championship dreams into a recurring nightmare.  The Cowboys' cornerback picked off Steelers' quarterback Neil O'Donnell twice in the second half.  Those interceptions led directly to 14 Cowboys' points in what turned out to be a 10-point victory for Dallas.

42.  The E*Trade Baby.  Like Joe Montana, the E*Trade Baby basically won four Super Bowls.  The online trading company debuted the talking baby commercials during Super Bowl XLVI.  The baby appeared in numerous commercials between 2008 and 2014, including spots in four different Super Bowls.  Thanks to the E*Trade baby, the term "shankapotomus" is now a golf course staple.

41.  Rookie to the Rescue.  Super Bowl V matched the Dallas Cowboys against the Baltimore Colts.  This game included several unexpected heroes.  Johnny Unitas' name was synonymous with the Baltimore Colts in the 1960's, but injury forced the legendary quarterback to the sidelines in the first half.  Earl Morrall led the Colts on a game winning drive on their final possession of the game.  It was rookie kicker Jim O'Brien who capped off the 16-13 victory with a 32-yard field goal with 5 seconds remaining in the game.

Moments 50-41
Moments 40-31
Moments 30-21
Moments 20-11
Moments 10-1

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Celebrating Super Bowl 50

Super Bowl 50 is set.  The Denver Broncos will play the Carolina Panthers in America's most important sporting event of the year.  But the big game is two weeks away.  Banshee Sports is going to help you all kill the time by counting down the 50 Most Memorable Super Bowl Moments.

This list has been several weeks in the making.  The list was created after considering contributions and commentary from friends, family and fans.  The list will be published in five separate installments.  So, check back regularly during the next two weeks.  And if you have a moment that you want to make sure makes the list, please leave a comment.

Moments 50-41
Moments 40-31
Moments 30-21
Moments 20-11
Moments 10-1

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

NFL Playoff Predictions: Conference Championships

I need to start this column with an apology.  For the first time since this blog has started, I failed to post predictions for the early rounds of the playoffs.  In a way, I am sort of glad about that.  My online betting tickets show that I was not particularly prescient in the early rounds.  But, now we are down to four teams.  Time for me to stop hiding and get back to prognosticating.

New England at Denver:  Sunday at 3:05 p.m. EST on CBS.  The AFC title game features the two top seeds in the conference.  It also features two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.  But this is 2016 ... not 2006.  This is not the quarterback duel that it would have been a decade ago.  At this stage of their careers, Tom Brady is playing much better football than Peyton Manning.  On the other hand, on paper, Manning is surrounded by a better supporting cast.  That being said, the New England Patriots have two things that the Broncos do not.  The Patriots have Bill Belichick and Rob Gronkowski.

Bill Belichick is a defensive genius.  He will devise a game plan that will contain an aging Manning and the rest of the Broncos offense.  Meanwhile, no one can contain Rob Gronkowski.  This is even more true than ever now that Julian Edelman is healthy and back in the Pats' lineup.  This will be a close game into the fourth quarter, but Brady and Gronk will connect when it counts the most and carry the defending champion Patriots back to the Super Bowl.

Arizona at Carolina:  Sunday at 6:40 p.m. EST on FOX.  The NFC championship game is not a matchup that many predicted at the start of the season, but these two teams have proven throughout the course of the year to be the two best and most consistent teams in the conference.  These teams are fresh faces in the conference championships.  They also have some of the most likable players and coaches in the league.

The Arizona Cardinals have the type of team that should travel well.  Solid defense and a straightforward offense.  Also, the 6:40 p.m. kickoff should make the trip from the west to the east a little easier.  But, Sunday will be Cam Newton's moment to shine on the big stage.  Newton is simply the best player in this game, and he gets to touch the ball on every single offensive snap.  Cam will put his team on his back and lift Carolina to the Super Bowl.

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Anniversary Flashback: Richard Sherman's Controversy

Richard Sherman and Erin Andrews shared a memorable TV moment in 2014
2016 is the five year anniversary of Banshee Sports.  To celebrate this event, each month I will be reposting something that appeared on the site during that month in the past.

The first Anniversary Flashback focuses on Richard Sherman and his explosive "interview" with Erin Andrews after the NFC Championship game in 2014.  This post originally appeared on this blog on January 26, 2014.  Normally, Banshee Sports stays away from controversial topics, but this firestorm that surrounded this event cried out for commentary.

Richard Sherman:  Sportsmanship, Race and Image

We are now a week removed from the NFC Championship between Seattle and San Francisco.  The Seahawks won by a score of 23-17, but all anyone was talking about on Monday morning was Richard Sherman and his extraordinary post game "interview" with Erin Andrews.  I know that I'm a little late on writing a post about this.  However, unlike sideline reporters, I do not believe that instant reaction is the best reaction ....  Click here to continue reading.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Happy Anniversary to Banshee Sports

Banshee Sports was born in 2011.  That means that 2016 is the five year anniversary of this website.

During that time, there have been features that have come and gone.  There have been contests with fun prizes.  Some difficult topics have been discussed and some great food has been cooked.  I have had a lot of fun, and I hope you have, too.

The five years we have had together is worth celebrating.  So, here is the plan.

Each month, I plan to re-post something I wrote in the past during that month.  I have always viewed Banshee Sports as a community, so I would love your input as I make the selections.  Send along your thoughts in email or on Facebook or Twitter.

In the meantime, thank you all for keeping this site alive for five years.  I am excited for five more.

January:  Richard Sherman's Controversy (2014)
February:  Presidential Basketball Programs (2014)
March:  Most Bizarre Moments in Sports (2012)

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Monday, January 4, 2016

NFL Prediction Final Report Card

In years past, I have done a report card after every quarter of the season.  I skipped the third quarter report card this year.  Why?  Honestly, it was depressing and embarrassing.  Some kids hide bad report cards from their parents.  Since I'm the sole operator of this blog, I simply chose not to generate anything that I had to explain to my parents.  But, I am not a complete coward, so I have prepared a final report card.  It's ugly.  So, read at your own peril.

AFC East:  The AFC East is one of the lone bright spots on this report card.  But, I couldn't earn a A even in this division.  In the preseason, I predicted that the New England Patriots would win the division.  I wasn't sure how or why, but I was sure that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady would find a way to succeed.  That is the good part of my prediction.  I also predicted that the Jets would be terrible.  In reality, the Jets almost made the playoffs.  Meanwhile, my wild card prediction of the Bills making the playoffs died a midseason death.  Normally, picking the correct division winner would earn some form of an A, but the disparaging remarks I made about the very respectable Jets knock me down to the next level.  First Quarter Grade: A     Midterm Grade: A     Final Grade: B+

AFC North:  Before the season stared, I went out on a limb and predicted that the Bengals would not win the division and would not make the playoffs at all.  I was clearly wrong about that.  I was also very wrong when I declared that the Ravens would be an elite team.  However, I was not wrong about the Steelers making the playoffs as a wild card.  So, it's kind of a mixed bag for me in this division.  Predicting correct playoff teams is hard, so the Steelers pick keeps me from getting a failing grade.  First Quarter Grade: D     Midterm Grade: D+     Final Grade: C-

AFC South:  I wish I had made this pick with my heart instead of my head.  My heart believed that Bill O'Brien would will his team to the playoffs this season.  But, I let my head make the pick, and my head picked the Colts.  Bad choice.  Unlike many other "experts," I did not predict that the Colts would actually be a good team.  For that reason, I do not get a truly dismal grade.  First Quarter Grade: A     Midterm Grade: A     Final Grade: C

AFC West:  My thinking was a little outside the dos when I predicted that the Chiefs would win the division and that the Broncos would miss the playoffs.  Halfway through the season, I looked like a moron.  But then all the reasoning behind my picks started coming together.  The Chiefs closed the season on a ten-game winning streak.  The Broncos finished the season with all kinds of health questions surrounding Peyton Manning.  The Broncos ended up earning the top seed in the AFC playoffs, but this bold prediction came within a few plays in the final weeks of the season from coming true.  For those reasons, I'm giving myself a pretty good grade.  First Quarter Grade: F     Midterm Grade: F     Final Grade: B+

NFC East:  In the preseason, I predicted that the Cowboys would win the NFC East.  No one can predict injuries, and if Romo and Bryant had been healthy this season, who knows what would have happened?  The reason I get a failing grade is not because of the Cowboys' injuries.  No.  I get a failing grade for predicting that the division champion Washington Redskins were "poised to be truly horrible."  The Redskins are not a great team, but any time you say that about a division winner, you have to eat a little crow.  First Quarter Grade: B     Midterm Grade: C     Final Grade: F

NFC North:  Before the season started, I predicted there would be three playoff teams coming out of this division.  Turns out there were only two teams.  But, I predicted the correct two teams, and two out of three ain't bad.  Even now that it is a historic fact, I still can't really believe that the Packers did not win the division.  That fact keeps me from getting any sort of an A, but I still give myself a pretty good mark in this division.  First Quarter Grade: B     Midterm Grade: B+     Final Grade: B+

NFC South:  In the preseason, I believed that the Atlanta Falcons were poised to do great things.  Turns out, I backed the wrong horse.  The Falcons are not good, but the Carolina Panthers are a really, really good team.  I have never been a Cam criticizer, but with the receiving corps he had this year, I did not see anything like this season coming.  Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons squandered early season success and failed to make the playoffs as even a wild card.  This is very different than the AFC West situation because none of my preseason narrative came true, so this is a failing grade.  First Quarter Grade: B+     Midterm Grade: C+     Final Grade: F

NFC West:  In the preseason, I predicted that the Seahawks would win the division.  That did not happen.  But, my real error was not in predicting that Seattle would finish on top.  My real error was in predicting that only one team in this division would make the playoffs.  The Arizona Cardinals proved over the course of sixteen games that they are a really solid team on both sides of the ball.  Not only did they win the division, they earned a first round bye in the playoffs.  The Seahawks did not start the season the way I thought they would, but they did finish the season on a hot streak.  Therefore, I get a mediocre grade.  First Quarter Grade: C+     Midterm Grade: B-     Final Grade: C+

Overall Grade:  I am not very proud of myself.  This was not a great set of predictions.  Turns out, since I started these picks before the 2012 season, a C grade is pretty normal for me.  I'm not sure if that means I'm a tough grader or a terrible prognosticator.  Regardless, it is clear that my column is not the best source for advice before making futures bets in Vegas.  First Quarter Grade:  B-     Midterm Grade: C+     Final Grade: C

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