Thursday, January 3, 2008
Time to come clean on five poor predictions
By Jeffri Chadiha ESPN.com
The hardest part of this job, believe it or not, is making predictions.
It surely feels good when you correctly forecast the future, but it's not a lot of fun when you whiff. In fact, it's often best to hope that readers have short memories when a prediction goes bad. So far, I have yet to find one who actually does have the ability to let such moments pass quietly.
That's why I've learned that it's wise to come clean in print on my most
off-base opinions. Humility can be a good thing, even if it means taking a couple body blows in the process. After all, anybody can make a prediction. But it takes a truly desperate writer who can't find a better topic to write about to admit his errors in print.
So before I start focusing on the postseason, I want to honor the five dumbest things I've said over the last few months. Here is the complete collection of what I'll call my mistakes, misreads and moments I'd like to have back from this regular season:
1. Randy Moss will flop in New England: To be more accurate, I actually said the Patriots would've been better off keeping Deion Branch a year earlier than working a trade for Moss last offseason. Trust me, that ill-conceived notion makes me wince every time Moss races into the end zone with another touchdown. He hasn't just been the most spectacular wide receiver in the NFL this year, he's also amazed me with his restraint.
If there's one player in the league who has earned the right to say, "I told you so," it's Moss. After watching him struggle in Oakland, I thought his best days were behind him, that the Patriots were picking up damaged goods and a headache to match. What Moss has proved is that he really can be a model teammate when he's blessed with a team that makes winning look easy. Apparently, as history has shown, all his problems seem to occur when he's stuck on a loser.
Now do I think Moss will never have another controversial moment in the NFL again? Certainly not. But I do know this: I'll never count the man out again. He's too darn talented for that.
After a sensational rookie season, the Bears' Devin Hester was even better in 2007.
2. Chicago's Devin Hester won't have the same kind of success he had as a rookie: Unfortunately for me, Hester actually had more. In fact, he's been so electric that he's already the best kick returner in the history of the league, regardless of what the statistics say. He will own all the major return records if he doesn't get hurt, and he could become a dominant offensive player if the Bears discover a better way to utilize him. Let's face it: You give this guy the football and 10 yards of open space and he probably could elude a pack of cheetahs.
So why did I doubt Hester? Aside from sheer stupidity, I thought history wasn't on his side. Top kick returners usually see their numbers drop for a multitude of reasons. Some lose key blockers. Others face teams that won't kick to them. And a few just flat out lose their nerve. None of these things happened to Hester and to be honest, I'm starting to think that he makes his blockers look good instead of the other way around.
3. The San Francisco 49ers will win the NFC West: Yes, I drank the Mike Nolan Kool-Aid. Heck, the way that proclamation reads, you'd think I had that Kool-Aid piped into me through an IV. I'm still baffled that Nolan has struggled so mightily in San Francisco -- he's a bright guy who grew up watching his recently deceased father coach the 49ers -- but at this point my befuddlement doesn't matter. He's presiding over a team that produced a 5-11 record this season and is clearly regressing.
What really had me sold on the 49ers was their offseason success (including the additions of playmakers like free-agent cornerback Nate Clements and rookie linebacker Patrick Willis). I figured they'd field a defense that could overcome any offensive shortcomings. So much for that notion.
The good news here is that the 49ers stripped Nolan of personnel duties and that might allow him to prove himself as a more effective coach. The bad news is that I can't go back in time and change the way I supported him.
4. Norv Turner will ruin the San Diego Chargers: For the record, I think Turner is a likable guy. I just never thought he was much of a head coach and I had ample evidence on my side (the man's career record in the NFL was 58-82-1 entering this season). However, I give him plenty of credit for how he's guided San Diego back to the postseason. Even with three fewer wins than they had last season under Marty Schottenheimer, the Chargers looked to be gaining momentum as the second half of this season played out.
Of course, I was feeling fairly confident when San Diego opened the season with a 1-3 start and stars like LaDainian Tomlinson were fuming publicly. That's also why I've gained more respect for Turner's coaching. Most teams implode when there is so much discontent festering behind the scenes. Turner somehow managed to keep his players focused while also making smarter decisions (especially the one that allowed Tomlinson to carry the offense in the season's final month).
To be clear here, the Chargers still aren't capable of advancing past the second round of the AFC playoffs. But they are better than I ever thought they'd be under Turner.
5. The Redskins can't rebound from the death of Sean Taylor and make the playoffs: I still don't know how the Redskins stormed into the postseason. One minute they were 5-7 and preparing to play a seemingly meaningless game against Chicago on Dec. 6. Then four weeks later they're celebrating a season-ending win over Dallas and preparing for a wild-card matchup with Seattle. Did anybody else see this coming?
The one thing I am thankful for is that I didn't join the growing members of the Bash Joe Gibbs Club. Though he might still be rusty in certain game situations, he hasn't lost a step when it comes to unifying young men in the face of adversity. Regardless of how the Redskins fare in this postseason, they already deserve a ton of respect for how far they've come after burying Taylor, their Pro Bowl safety, in late November. In fact, they've already honored him by their unwillingness to wilt in the face of such trauma.
Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.