As best I recall, I’ve never picked Georgia, Georgia Tech and the Falcons to win their respective divisions in the same season. As some might have noted, I’ve done so this time. In the attempt to disprove the notion that I’ve gone completely (as opposed to partially) insane, I’d like to offer a few words in the defense of my mental health.
There was no grand design to my three-fer. I didn’t sit down and say, “Boy, wouldn’t it be neat to pick everybody to win something?” For the record, Georgia was the easiest choice and Tech the hardest. For the record, I would not have picked the Bulldogs to win the SEC West or Tech to take the ACC Atlantic, but at last check neither is switching divisions anytime soon.
Not to get all grandiose about it, but I’d like to think there’s a method to my madness. Why do I think these three locals — sorry, Georgia State, but I couldn’t stretch my bound-for-glory theme quite that far — will do what I foresee them doing? Here goes.
Good team + bunny schedule = SEC East title. If you’re looking for a team that has a real chance to do something, you start with one that has either a seasoned quarterback or a shutdown defense. Georgia has both. And it did win its division last season, and with an even easier schedule I see no reason why it can’t again.
The reach is in picking Georgia to win not just the East but the whole SEC. Memories of the Bulldogs’ 42-10 loss to LSU in the 2011 SEC title game are fresh and raw, but for 24 minutes the Tigers seemed the side more apt to be routed. Georgia held LSU to no first downs in the first half and should have led by 17 or even 21 points. There’s no reason a more experienced band of Bulldogs can’t upset LSU or Alabama this December, and is there any way a 12-1 SEC champ wouldn’t play for the BCS title? Confidence level: I’m comfortable with all aspects of this pick.
Big early game + big-game coach = ACC Coastal title. I’d be lying if I said I think Georgia Tech will be a great team. I see it going 9-3, which falls under the heading of “pretty good.” But it also has a kind conference schedule — it doesn’t play Florida State or North Carolina State — and its chance to win the division will hinge on what happens Labor Day night.
Beating Virginia Tech in Blacksburg isn’t easy, but the Yellow Jackets under Paul Johnson have come close twice. I see these Jackets as a team with a point to prove. Georgia Tech had a losing season in 2010 and lost five of their final seven games last season. Being so-so is not what Johnson has in mind, and he’s among the best tacticians extant. If Virginia Tech expects to win simply because it’s playing at home, it won’t win at all. Confidence level: This pick could look silly come 11 p.m. Monday, but I’ll take that risk.
Rebooted team + retreating rival = NFC South title. I’d have liked the Falcons’ chances even if Sean Payton hadn’t been suspended for the season, but I can see no way in which the Saints will be nearly as good without one of the two men (Drew Brees being the other) who made them what they are, or at least were until Roger Goodell got hold of them. The Saints are so messed up they’ll need an interim coach for interim coach Joe Vitt, who’s suspended for four games himself.
It isn’t quite now-or-never for Dimitroff/Smith/Ryan, but the Falcons will never have a better chance than this. Their schedule is tough but not oppressive. Their new offensive and defensive coordinators surely will be more adventurous. Like you, I wonder about the offensive and defensive lines, but I see few teams than can match the Falcons at the skill positions. I like them to go 12-4, win their division and then take the NFC title. Confidence level: Very high.
Oh, and before you say, “Way to go, Wrong-Way Bradley — dooming three teams in one fell swoop” … please note the following. When last I picked Georgia to win its division, it did. (Last year, it was.) When last I picked Tech to win its division, it did. (In 2009.) When last I picked the Falcons to win their division, they did. (In 2010.) Far from being a jinx, I consider the MB imprimatur a stairway to heaven.
By Mark Bradley