NFL 2014: Into the Longshot Lounge

NFL 2014: Into the Longshot Lounge
NFL 2014: Into the Longshot Lounge

If you want the ultimate challenge, try to predict the NFL. Year in and year out, it's a humbling experience. 

Any batch of NFL predictions is destined to be messy on some level, but hey, predictions are fun. And it can be especially fun to throw out some aggressive or wild prognostications, see if you can land any of the long shots. 

To be fair, I admit this is a convenient racket for any scribe. If some Hail Mary picks click, you're a hero; if they fail, hey, it was a lottery ticket all alomg. I'm not trying to say what's in this column is meant to be a substitute for the meat-and-potatoes work we do every week of the season. 

Nonetheless, it's a breezy exercise. Cake for breakfast. Let's have some fun.

In the case of every prediction I make below, I think the likelihood of the event in question is greater than the consensus opinion seems to think. Again with the disclaimers: perception can be a vague thing. Maybe some of these picks will seem obvious to you, maybe some will seem ridiculous. I'm just saying I see them as plausible - and more plausible than many others might see them as. 

Enough to the preamble, onto the dartboard: 

-- Russell Wilson wins the MVP Award. He's been an efficiency monster for two years, riding shotgun on a team with a dominant defense and rushing game. This year, Wilson takes control of the offense. Did he miss a throw in August? If Percy Harvin can stay healthy, the sky is the limit. 

And don't forget how MVPs are won in football - it's usually a quarterback on a glamour team. It does't have to be the biggest stat-grabber, though I do expect Wilson to do well in that department, too. 

-- Rob Gronkowski is a major fantasy disappointment. My colleague Brad Evans called it the fantasy question of the year: to Gronk or not to Gronk? I'm in the not-Gronk camp. I don't like to invite that much risk with my second or third round pick. 

Upside, you say? Sure, Gronk's carrying a major upside. What second round pick doesn't? But remember all those surgeries, too. For every Adrian Peterson miracle comeback, there are dozens of guys who needed extended time to get back to full throttle. 

-- Jimmy Clausen is this year's Josh McCown (on a slightly lesser scale). At this point, I'd follow Marc Trestman into a burning building. And I never expect a full season from Jay Cutler. 

-- Ryan Tannehill is a Top 12 fantasy QB. Somehow he threw 24 touchdowns last year despite an overmatched offensive coordinator and a sketchy offensive line. Things have to be better than that this year. The receiving group looks the same (that's not great), but Tannehill will also add some sneaky rushing production. 

-- Keenan Allen catches 15 touchdown passes. There are a lot of uncoverable freaks in the league, you know who they are. One name usually identifies them. Megatron. Demaryius. Dez. Graham. (Yes, Gronk, too). I could see Keenan on that list by the end of the year. He can run every route in the tree, he's tied to a smart coaching staff, and he has a terrific rapport with a plus quarterback. 

-- Allen Hurns leads the Jaguars in receiving yards. Cecil Shorts can't seem to stay healthy, and the undrafted Hurns didn't look out of place this summer. Marqise Lee could also be man here, but he's the obvious pick and more expensive pick. Hurns is waiting for some waiver love, owned in just five percent of Yahoo leagues. 

-- The Eagles offense is a juggernaut, but no receiver catches more than seven touchdown passes. Look at all the mouths to feed here. McCoy and Maclin. Cooper and Matthews. Sproles, Ertz, even Brent Celek. And then there's offensive mastermind Chip Kelly, who wants you to know it's his creative offense beating you down. This looks like a spread-it-around passing game, to the frustration of fantasy players. 

Speed Round:

-- San Diego wins the AFC West. 

-- The 49ers don't make the playoffs. 

-- Greg Jennings has more receiving yards than Cordarrelle Patterson

-- Cincinnati has a losing record.

-- Heath Miller leads Pittsburgh in touchdowns. 

-- Shaun Hill turns out to be better than Sam Bradford. 

-- The Lions finish last in the NFC North.

-- Joe Flacco has a career year. 

-- Johnny Manziel throws fewer than 10 touchdown passes. 

-- Tony Romo misses at least four games. 

-- Jake Locker is a Top 15 fantasy quarterback. 

-- Zac Stacy goes down as a fantasy flop. 

-- Oakland's top fantasy player is Mychal Rivera

-- Geno Smith plays 16 games and takes a notable step forward.

The floor is now yours. Share a few Hail Marys with the crowd. 

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