Our two finalists in the River News Pigskin Pick'em contest, Brian Paulson and Ben Meyer, have taken a few playful jabs at me over my less than stellar season in the football prognostication department.
That's OK, to the victors should go the spoils. I should know. I've won three Pigskin Pick'em titles which, to the best of my recollection, is three more than either of those two have won.
So what went wrong this year? Well, every once in a while even the dynasties have a bad season. The North Carolina men's basketball team is around .500 this year. Golden State, thanks in part to key injuries and free agency departures, went from in the NBA Finals last summer to one of the league's worst teams this year. Alabama didn't make the College Football Playoffs, and even the mighty New England Patriots didn't make it to the Super Bowl.
Perhaps the fact that I picked New England to win its seventh Lombardi Trophy when the season began illustrates my struggles.
In fact, there was plenty about this season that I got wrong. For instance, I was confident that the Green Bay Packers would be no better than a .500 team. There was history on my side, given that no first-year head coach had ever led the Packers to the playoffs - let alone the NFC Championship game as Matt LaFleur did in a remarkable 14-4 rookie campaign.
The Packers ran into a buzzsaw in the NFC title game however, in the form of Raheem Mostert and the San Francisco 49ers. Of course, I didn't see that one coming, either, as I had the 49ers pegged for 7-9 and third in the NFC West.
Overall, I batted .500 when it came to the teams I predicted to make the playoffs, including three of the four division champs in the AFC (New England, Kansas City and Houston). I also had Baltimore in the playoffs as a wild card. From the NFC, I correctly predicted postseason appearances for Philadelphia and New Orleans.
As for the teams I thought would join them? Chicago and Mitch Trubisky regressed back to the mean following a dominating 2019. Dallas failed in ways only Dallas could and now Jerry Jones looks to former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy as his team's next savior. Atlanta could never find its stride in the NFC South and the L.A. Rams fell victim to the dreaded Super Bowl hangover.
The L.A. Chargers looked like playoff contenders for exactly one week - the week they trounced Green Bay. And then there was Cleveland. Like so many others, I drank the Kool-Aid and started to believe the Browns were legitimate AFC contenders this year instead of the reality TV sideshow they became. The only thing missing this year was chef Gordon Ramsay because the 2019 Browns were truly "Kitchens' Nigthmare."
Staying true to those early season beliefs, I dug a hole for myself in the Pick'em standings - one I never fully pull ed myself out of. Sitting in fifth entering the final week, I gambled on an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary with a Tennessee chaser. The result was an eighth-place finish. Sometimes you're the windshield and sometimes you're the bug.
I won't take home the top prize for charity this year but, one of the luxuries of having my own column, is I can make a Super Bowl pick right along with our finalists. In fact, the last time San Francisco was in the Super Bowl, seven years ago, I correctly predicted the outcome and final score of the big game - Baltimore 34, San Francisco 31.
This year was a bad year for my Pigskin Pick'em dynasty, but I can think of no better way to build momentum for 2020 than to correctly pick the winner of the big game, while our two Pick'em finalists do not.
Meyer, as he boringly stated to our Stephanie Kuski, said he leaned on Vegas this season while making his picks. So, not surprisingly, with the Chiefs 1 1/2-point favorites and an over/under of 54.5, he went 28-27 Kansas City. Paulson, though he admitted he liked San Francisco to win this game, essentially decided to play a game of over/under with Meyer, going 27-26 Kansas City.
Both defenses will have their work cut out for them on Sunday. Kansas City may have the most dynamic offense in football while, as the Packers found out first-hand, San Francisco's running game can single-handily win a football game.
That's a concern for Kansas City, which was 26th in the NFL against the run this season, allowing 128.2 yards per game. And don't forget the week the Packers' Aaron Jones had against the Chiefs back in Week 8, with 216 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. While only 67 of those yards came on the ground, he averaged 5.1 yards per carry in the contest.
That will be a key matchup, as will the battle between Kansas City's offense against San Francisco's defense. Both units are perhaps the fastest in pro football and it will be a fascinating matchup to watch. Patrick Mahomes is certainly more of a mobile and dynamic quarterback than either QB the Niners have faced so far in the playoffs - Kirk Cousins and Rodgers.
Jimmy Garoppalo is not the second coming of Joe Montana or Steve Young, but he doesn't have to be for this San Francisco team, which is a throwback in that it relies on defense and the running game - not a surprise given the team was built by GM and former NFL safety John Lynch.
With that, I'm going against what our championship prognosticators are saying. Give me San Francisco 24, Kansas City 20 and at least a shred of satisfaction knowing that even if I didn't win Pick'em this year, at least I got the most important game right.
And, if I'm wrong, there's always next year.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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