A few hours from now, I'll likely regret writing this article. Such is the NFL, the ultimate reshuffle league. But long-term predictions need to be made before the season, so let's on the record before the glorious first Sunday of the year kicks off.
In case you missed it, I did the other side of this piece a week and a half ago, the teams I expect to surprise. I'm working off the posted over/under total for each team; I didn't have time to ask all of our readers how they feel for 2012, so you'll have to allow me that shortcut. And the usual disclaimer applies: please don't risk anything on these picks or opinion. They're for fun, for entertainment, for thought and for discussion. I don't want you to lose your Randy Gradishar throwback jersey to anyone.
To the clipboard:
-- Panthers under 8 wins: The buzzy-sophomore theme always worries me for fantasy purposes, the natural assumption that any terrific rookie will be even better as a sophomore. Sure, I love Cam Newton, like any football fan probably does. But why did his passing stats fall off so sharply in the second half of 2011? And how will he adjust to defenses that have had a full offseason to plan for him (and a full training camp)? The division doesn't give Carolina many easy wins, either; Tampa Bay won't be a pushover, and everyone expects the Falcons and Saints to be good.
-- 49ers under 10 wins: I'm expecting a lot of pushback on this one, as the Niners have become a public team. Yes, I know that defense is incredible, and yes, I noted that all 11 men are back. But it's just about impossible for a team to maintain a plus-28 turnover edge — while teams cause some of their turnover luck, a large part of it is random chance — and the out-of-division schedule includes the Giants, Saints, Patriots, and three tricky NFC North teams. (And as I intimated about 10 days ago, I've fully adopted the Seahawks for 2012. There's still room on that ferry.)
-- Lions under 9 wins: I'd love to be wrong on this one, given that I live in Michigan and I'd like the local outfit to be good. Three major concerns: the offense doesn't have a lot of balance to it (last year Detroit had the highest pass-run ratio in the league); Matt Stafford had injury problems in his first two years; and the secondary still can't consistently cover people.
-- Dolphins under 6.5 wins: Rookie Ryan Tannehill wasn't even a quarterback when he hit the Texas A&M campus; he threw all of 774 passes as a collegian. And even if he's adequately protected, where's the downfield playmaker here? Who would you throw to? Miami's skill players might be the worst in the conference. I'd like to know why corner Vontae Davis was dispatched so cheaply. I'm putting Miami down for four or five wins, tops.
And while I'm here, a hearty hat tip to the documentary team at HBO. Somehow, you made the 2012 Dolphins into a compelling story. Well played, well played.
-- Bengals under 8 wins: If you're not one of the two best teams in your division (and I think most logical people prefer the Steelers and Ravens to the Bengals), I'll dare you to beat nine games to beat me on the O/U table. The Bengals snuck into the playoffs last year by beating all the mediocre teams, but they never logged a victory over a winning opponent. I'm calling for a modest regression back into the six or seven-win range.
I've had the floor, now it's your turn. What teams will disappoint us, compared to preseason expectations, in 2012?
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