Over the next month, the seasons of 11 NFL teams will end with a disappointing, perhaps crushing, defeat. It's a certainty, like the sudden arrival of Cowboys bandwagon fans, Patriots controversies and Robert Griffin III congratulating himself for being Robert Griffin III. One team, however, will emerge from that cloud of dust to win the Super Bowl. But which one? If we knew that we wouldn't be sitting here writing about it, we'd be gambling geniuses living in Monte Carlo, playing baccarat and seducing Grace Kelly look-alikes while planning the occasional jewel heist just for the thrill of it. So, for now, we're going to predict that every team will lose and give you the main reason why. And since 11 of 12 will ultimately be defeated, that means we'll be 92 percent right about these predictions. Monte Carlo, here I come.
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Dallas Cowboys: Rookies
Get ready for the nine-word refrain you'll hear dozens of times over the next month: No rookie quarterback has ever won a Super Bowl. That's less an indictment of rookie QBs than it is a reflection that rookies tend to play on bad teams. (Otherwise, why would they need to use a rookie quarterback?) Dak Prescott has proved he can win big games. He's proved he can come back against good teams. More than anything, he's shouldered the burden of Tony Romo looking over said shoulder. But the NFL playoffs are a different animal entirely. This Cowboys team, with Ezekiel Elliott somehow making Prescott only the second-best rookie on the team, is reminiscent of that talented 2014 Kentucky basketball team that got all the way to the Final Four before losing two games short of a perfect 40-0 season. The Cowboys have the most talent but are they the best team? And if they're the best team, will it matter? After all, the best team rarely wins the Super Bowl, which is instead won by the team that manages to hold on the longest. The feeling that Dallas won't is inescapable, and you can't shake the feeling that an untimely mistake by two rookies who've been almost flawless will be the reason.
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Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Shanahan
No one Shanahan should have all that power.
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Seattle Seahawks: They're not playing at home in Round 2.
If the Seahawks are to beat Detroit on Saturday (as expected), they'll have to go to Atlanta for the divisional playoffs, a matchup that presents certain problems because it means Seattle won't be playing at CenturyLink Stadium, a modern marvel of ear-splitting, clamoring acoustics and officiating crews who seem to become so mesmerized by the bright green eye of the seahawk on the team's logo that they can't distinguish between touchdowns and interceptions, temporarily forget rules like players not being able to bat the ball out of bounds, are incapable of calling pass interference on home players and descend into madness after failing to flag a roughing the kicker foul that is about as bad as that missed pass interference. The 'Hawks were 3-4-1 on the road in 2016 compared to 7-1 at home. So as long as those same refs who kept the flags in their pockets for Richard Sherman's mugging of Julio Jones earlier this season aren't anywhere near Atlanta next week, that's advantage Falcons.
Green Bay Packers: running the table
Hot teams don't win the Super Bowl. Cold teams don't win the Super Bowl. Only teams that are juuuust right win the Super Bowl, which is why Goldilocks' agent is always busy come playoff time. You'll hear all week how Green Bay's running of the table (six straight wins to close the season) is a reason to believe they'll keep it up in the postseason, knocking off the Giants this week and then, possibly, the Cowboys a week after that. That would buck recent history though -- by a lot. In the past 10 years, the longest end-of-season winning streak by a Super Bowl champion was two. Two games! Seven of the 10 title teams had a loss in either Week 16 or 17 (or in the case of the 2009 Saints, both). The last time a Super Bowl winner had a longer winning streak than these Packers was 2002, when the Patriots rode a 12-game winning streak into the postseason then barely survived Jake Delhomme to win Super Bowl XXXVIII. Aaron Rodgers aside, these Packers are not those Patriots.
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New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr.
This is the first time Beckham will play in the postseason, which will kind of be like watching Kanye with a hot mic on live TV. Though Beckham has been appropriately chippy all season, he's tamped down the ego/temper/melodrama since that Monday night loss in Minnesota that had way too many people writing the youngster off because of his diva antics. He didn't even take the bait on Sunday, when Josh Norman was begging ODB to take a swing at him. (He did throw a few shots but always before the officials noticed, leaving Norman holding the bag. Maturity!) But all bets are off for the playoffs. What happens if Eli misses a wide open Beckham on the Giants' first three-and-out? How will ODB react if he's not targeted enough in the first quarter? Who's going to get speared in the back of the head if the Packers successfully get under his skin? The spotlight -- the real one -- is on Beckham for the first time. Will he shine in it or treat it like a kicking net?
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Detroit Lions: this glove
For the past month, Matthew Stafford has been wearing a glove that makes him look like a cross between Madonna during the "Like a Virgin" tour, Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club and the guy who inadvertently flips off Danny Tartabull and George Costanza. But the fashion victory has come at a price. In the 12 games before hurting his middle finger, Stafford had 21 touchdown passes and five interceptions in leading Detroit to an 8-4 record. In the four games since, the Lions are 1-3 and Stafford has three TDs and five INTs. (Granted, those last three games came against the best teams the Lions saw all year.) Detroit was going to have a tough enough time winning a game in the playoffs with a healthy Stafford. With the hobo glove, they'll be lucky to cover the eight-point spread in Seattle.
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New England Patriots: fate
Though I'm not as optimistic as those who think a change (2017!) solely related to an arbitrary timekeeping device (the Julian calendar) will magically make everything better in this world, I have enough faith that the football gods will not continue to troll our existence by allowing the Patriots to win another Super Bowl. There's gotta be a line drawn somewhere.
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Kansas City Chiefs: Andy Reid
I'm an Andy Reid guy. He's always gotten way too much flak for a coach who's led his team to the playoffs 11 times in his 18 seasons as head coach and only once had a two-year gap in between appearances. He's had 11 or more wins in nine of the 18 years and has a legendary 16-2 record when coming off the bye week, enough data points that suggest Reid's extra game-planning time pays off (unless there's absolutely no correlation between post-bye victories and coaching and this is all an odds-defying coincidence). But that playoff record of 11-11 is impossible to ignore. Though the NFL's postseason tournament can be a glorified crapshoot, the greatest coaches still win multiple rings. Streaks are meant to be broken though, the Chiefs are really good and it's a wide-open AFC bracket. Maybe it's finally time for Reid's second Super Bowl appearance, which would could be his ticket to long-deserved respect but probably will be very, very welcome news to the Cowboys, Packers, Seahawks, Falcons or Giants instead.
Pittsburgh Steelers: I'm always wrong about my predictions
I do some things well, some things not so well and a few things embarrassingly horribly. Picking the winner of the Super Bowl falls into the last category, and since I picked the Steelers to beat the Packers at the beginning of the year and am sticking with that same result today, that can only be bad news for the Terrible Towels.
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Houston Texans: any one of 72 million reasons
This is a team that willingly started Brock Osweiler, the 72 million-dollar man, for 14 games, which is almost as much of a surprise as the fact that they somehow managed to finish 9-7 and win a division. That in itself is barely as surprising as the fact that one of the following quarterbacks will be starting in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs: Tom Savage, Brock Osweiler, Matt McGloin or Connor Cook, a development only slightly less ridiculous than the certainty that either Houston or Oakland will be in the divisional playoffs. Roger Goodell should have the right to contract one playoff game per season and replace it with a matchup involving the worst team in the NFL and Alabama, which would be endlessly more interesting than a game that was deemed so important this regular season that it was moved to Mexico City.
Oakland Raiders: QB1
One. That's the amount of wins Oakland had against the 2016 playoff field, and it came against the Houston team we just (reluctantly) discussed. Oakland lost its other three games against playoff competition, and that was with one-time MVP candidate (not mine, but other people's) Derek Carr under center. Now Carr is gone, out with a broken fibula, and the Raiders will play either McGloin or Cook, the first of seven career starts (and one win) and the other of 21 career passes (all of which came Sunday in a game his team trailed 24-0 until the final three minutes). It stinks that Carr had his breakout season ended by an injury -- it's unfair, even, at least in terms of the frivolity of sports. But with Carr, the Raiders were still a huge question mark. Without him, they were one of the most suspect 12-3 teams in NFL history and are probably one of the softest 12-4 teams, too.
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Miami Dolphins: the cold, sobering slap of reality