Uh-oh. It’s that time again. Time to sit down, pore over piles of data, watch every single preseason snap, including Tim Tebow’s, and successfully predict the outcome of all 523 NFL games to be played between Thursday’s season opener — 1-0, by the way — and Feb. 7.

Shouldn’t be too tough, assuming every football maintains an air pressure of 13.0 PSI, of course. Otherwise, we’re picking the Browns to become the first team to win a Super Bowl in the under-12.5 PSI/faulty headsets era. Or would they be the second?

Late spring is for accurately prognosticating every single first-round draft pick, give or take 24 to 26 selections. Early September is for showing off your skills as an on-field brainiac. You know, sort of like a Vince Lombardi/Bill Walsh offensive guru-ness mixed with a dash of Tom Landry/Bill Belichick defensive genius.

In doing this, you want to make sure you mix things up just a little bit from last season and then cite the statistic that says, and we quote, “at least four new teams have made the playoffs every year since the NFL adopted its 12-team playoff format in 1990.” That stat is becoming almost as popular as an NFL player saying, “It is what it is.”

In this scenario, at least one team becomes the popular target as the one that didn’t make the playoffs last year but will make the playoffs this year. The Vikings are that team this year.

Basically, the nation believes the Vikings have four things: Solid coaching, an exciting young defense, a promising young quarterback and a once-in-a-generation running back who’s mad enough to sustain a minimum 16 shows as the Incredible Hulk.

The nation might be right, too. In fact, this observer will break his trend of standing in a neutral corner wearing beige camouflage and holding his 8-8 prediction. Let’s live a little and satisfy, somewhat, the Purple zealots while sidestepping, somewhat, the “you stinking homer!” accusations.

The Vikings will finish 9-7 and make the playoffs. Assuming they stay relatively healthy, the offensive line doesn’t collapse, Mike Zimmer’s run defense finally arrives from Cincinnati, Blair Walsh makes a field goal, etc., etc.

If you think 9-7 is too generous, look below for an indication that the Vikings might still be a year away from a postseason run. If you think 9-7 isn’t generous enough, don’t look below. It will only make your tweet angrier.

A year ago, there was a strong feeling here that the Patriots would win the Super Bowl. Of course, there also was a strong feeling the Eagles would win the NFC.

This year, the Patriots have all they need to — ho-hum — win the AFC East, get their 12 wins and a bye. Unfortunately for them, they’ve lost too much of what they’ll need in the back end of their defense to repeat as champions.

The Ravens look to be the best all-around team. They’re hungry, well-coached and due for a break from the injury bug.

In the NFC, the Packers already are beat up. But as long as Aaron Rodgers isn’t injured, they’re Super Bowl contenders and the choice to step up if the Seahawks step down. But last year’s bitter ending pushes Seattle toward becoming the first team in the salary cap era to make it to three consecutive Super Bowls.

 

mark.craig@startribune.com