Did anyone here believe Chad Johnson last week when he guaranteed a Bengals’ victory over the Chiefs? Just raise your hand. Don’t be shy, now. Anyone? Well, I guess none of us has realized the new truth in the NFL: if it shouldn’t happen, most likely it will. Still don’t believe it? Then take a seat, and I’ll give you a crash course in NFL 101.

Rule No. 1: The more reasons there are for a team to win, the more likely they will lose. The Chiefs-Bengals game is a good example, but so is the Vikings’ loss to the Raiders. The Vikings weren’t going to take the Raiders lightly because of how desperately they needed a win after a three game losing streak. Rick Mirer was the quarterback for Oakland, and the Raiders didn’t have any healthy running backs – let alone a big name one. The indictment of four Oakland players for using THG was announced before the game. Add in the facts that the Raiders were 2-7 and had already admitted that they were planning on mailing in the rest of the season and no sane person would predict a 28-18 Raiders win. So, naturally, it happened.

Rule No. 2: It’s impossible to repeat as conference champion, let alone Super Bowl champion, and incredibly difficult to even make the playoffs the next year. Neither the Bucs nor the Raiders will make the playoffs this year, following in the footsteps of the Patriots, Ravens, Rams and Giants. This rule came into being due to the league’s emphasis on parity. The increases in schedule difficulty, salary cap and media hype all make it harder to repeat.

The salary cap is the most responsible for the lack of dynasties. The cap keeps teams from holding on to solid backups, even stockpile players. So when the inevitable injuries occur, franchises are forced to turn to untested or washed up players to fill in. Sometimes you get lucky – as New England did in 2001 with Tom Brady – and sometimes you don’t, as Baltimore found out when Jamal Lewis went down in 2001.

Rule No. 3: You don’t have to be good to win your division any more. Whichever teams win the NFC North and AFC North will be deeply flawed. The Vikings and Packers both have glaring weaknesses: the Vikings’ defense has more holes than a sieve, and the Packers turn the ball over as if it’s going out of style. In the AFC North, the Bengals are on top now, but they’re still the Bungles at heart; and the Ravens, who are tied with them, wouldn’t move the ball through the air against Georgetown’s pass defense.

Rule No. 4: Even the good teams have weaknesses. The Chiefs may have the best record, but they’ve only managed to squeak by the good teams they’ve played. The Titans can’t run and the Colts are one bad hit to Peyton Manning away from big trouble. And while their defense is better, it’s still not of championship quality. The Patriots are young and injury prone. Every time an NFC team starts to play well, the media hops on the bandwagon and crushes the team’s momentum. Can you really see Jake Delhomme, Quincy Carter or Matt Hasselbeck lifting the Lombardi trophy in January?

So now that you’ve learned the new rules, predicting what will happen during the rest of the season is just a matter of applying them. After a rigorous application, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Panthers will win the Super Bowl in January, especially if they play a Chiefs team that is 15-1. This, of course, would change if the media starts to hop on their bandwagon. The Bengals will win the AFC North, because the Ravens have someone called Anthony Wright starting at quarterback. The NFC North will probably go to the Vikings simply because they have three games left that they should win, whereas the Packers have four.

And if that doesn’t make any sense to you, then obviously you just weren’t paying attention.

Thomas Ryan can be reached at ryanthehoya.com. BE THE BALL appears every Friday.

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