28 Jun 2005
by Michael David Smith
Last year's Football Outsiders review of NFL preseason magazines was so popular that other websites have picked up on our idea. But the Football Outsiders previews in review is the original: accept no substitutes! Before we look at this year's five big newsstand previews, let's take a look at how those magazines did in their 2004 predictions.
We'll use a system of two points for each correct prediction of a division winner or wild card team, one point for a predicted division winner getting into the playoffs as a wild card, and one point for a predicted wild card team winning the division, with a maximum score of 24. I think that's a good system, mostly because that's the system King Kaufman of Salon.com used in selecting the staff of Football Outsiders as the winner of his 2004 NFL Preseason Predictions Contest.
Using that system, the winner of our contest is Pro Football Weekly, with 14 points. Street & Smith and Athlon tied with 12 points, and Lindy's and The Sporting News tied with 11 points. I'm happy to report that the staff of Football Outsiders scored 18 points.
Street & Smith's and Athlon can take solace in noting that both correctly predicted that the Patriots would beat the Eagles in the Super Bowl. All five can take shame in noting that nobody picked the Chargers, Steelers, or Jets to make the playoffs, and all five publications thought the Chiefs and Panthers would make it.
So what about this year's predictions? Once again, Street & Smith, Athlon, and Lindy's only make picks for the order of each division, but with The Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly, we get a projected final record. A D signifies the team is picked to win its division; a W signifies the team is picked to get into the playoffs as a wild card. The final column gives the number of magazines out of the five that pick this team to go to the playoffs.
SUPER BOWL PREDICTIONS:
A complaint I have every year is that the magazines are too cautious in their predictions. I don't want them to go out on a limb just for the sake of doing it, but with the exception of The Sporting News, everybody plays things awfully safe. Pro Football Weekly is the worst, predicting that seven of eight division winners will be the same as last year, and ten of twelve playoff teams.
All five magazines say the Patriots, Colts, Vikings, Falcons, and Eagles will be back in the postseason, and not one magazine thinks the Bills, Dolphins, Browns, Titans, Raiders, Cowboys, Redskins, Bears, Saints, Bucs, or 49ers will be there. I'm a little surprised that no one wants to take a flyer on one of those NFC teams. With the exception of the Eagles, there was hardly anything separating the top of that conference from the bottom last year. It seems almost certain that a team none of us are thinking about will make it into the playoffs in the NFC.
The Sporting News, however, does pick three playoff teams that no other magazine is picking -- Cincinnati, Jacksonville, and Houston -- and three playoff teams that only Lindy's is also picking -- Detroit, Arizona, and Kansas City. Congratulations to The Sporting News for recognizing that the NFL doesn't same the exact same 12 teams to the playoffs year after year.
One oddity: Two different magazines, Lindy's and Street & Smith's, have pieces written by Don Pierson. The head NFL writer for the Chicago Tribune, Pierson is one of the best in the business. It just seems odd that he'd write for two competitors, though. Will I see his byline in the Chicago Sun-Times next?
Which magazine should you buy? Each one costs seven bucks, so price isn't an issue. But here are some thoughts on each of them:
Lindy's has an interesting system where they give numerical grades to head coaches with absolutely no explanation of where the numbers come from. Bill Belichick comes in first with a 99, Mike Martz is a surprisingly high fifth, and Mike Nolan and Nick Saban bring up the rear; each scores a 70. Lindy's loves those numerical ratings; they also give one to each unit on each team. An article on the 3-4 defense is interesting but doesn't break any new ground. Lindy's has always had a great feature in showing how many games every player played and started, which is particularly useful for offensive linemen. (This year Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly have begun doing that as well.) Each team's section includes the key additions and key losses. I like the cheesecake cheerleader shots, but I don't like the look ahead to next year's draft, which doesn't even put Bowling Green quarterback Omar Jacobs in the top ten at his position.
Pro Football Weekly may provide vanilla playoff predictions but it does go out on a limb with a claim that Mark Clayton of the Ravens will be the top rookie in 2005. It also has an NFL-wide mock-expansion draft featuring 10 of its contributors trying to build their team as best they can. In that draft Tom Brady is the No. 1 overall pick and Walter Jones is No. 2. Other articles include yet another look at the 3-4 defense, a ranking of the best dynasties, and a list of the Top 50 players in the league regardless of position. Where have I seen that before?
Athlon, at 256 pages, is the thickest of the magazines. It has lots of fantasy information, cheerleader cheesecake, and many photos of players. A ranking of the head coaches puts Belichick No. 1 and Dennis Green No. 32. One interesting piece profiles Stephen Neal, Antonio Gates, and Marcus Pollard, all of whom got to the NFL without playing football in college. Oddly, though, the article lumps those three in with Drew Bennett, who did play football but switched from quarterback to receiver in the NFL. Memo to Athlon: Lots of guys switch positions from college to the pros, or do you not watch any Pittsburgh games?
The Sporting News disagrees markedly with Athlon in saying that Dennis Green will be the Coach of the Year. It likes the signings of LaMont Jordan, Derrick Mason, and Mike Wahle, but not the signings of Ken Lucas, Jonas Jennings, or Marco Rivera. It also lists the players with the best abilities in a variety of categories -- the quarterbacks with the best arm, the running backs who are best between the tackles, the safety who is best at run support. A good feature, but I disagree that Jonathan Ogden is the best tackle in pass protection.
Street & Smith's opens each team section with a list of its best ever running backs. I like a ranking of the best running backs ever as much as the next guy, but for some teams it gets a little silly. How impressed are we supposed to be that Stacey "I Ate Myself out of the League" Mack is the third-best running back in Jaguars history, or that Jonathan Wells is the second-best running back in Texans history? A feature on dynasties makes an interesting case that the 1961-67 Packers had the accomplishment least likely to be duplicated. The current Patriots feature fifth in their dynasty rankings. My favorite article was about the lasting legacy of the USFL.
So which one should you buy? I'll give the same advice I gave last year: Visit your local bookstore, buy a coffee, spend some time with each of these magazines, and then purchase the one that's most to your liking. Of course, you can always just read Football Outsiders for free, since we'll be publishing plenty of preseason material over the next two months. And we have a preseason publication of our own coming out that, while a little more expensive, is far superior to any of the magazines I've discussed today -- and a bit more significant in page count.
Ultimately, though, remember that it's the NFL, and there's no such thing as too much information. Except about Brentson Buckner's shoes.
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