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Previewing the World Cup by NFL Divisions

The Super Bowl is a football competition decided by a series of single-elimination playoff games played after 32 teams attempt to qualify from eight groups of four teams each. That’s the World Cup, too!

And just like the NFL, there are some not-so-good AFC South-ish groups and some very good NFC West-like groups. So let’s assign each World Cup group its doppelganger of an NFL division, and then every team to one of the NFL teams in that division.

That gives us our NFL World Cup Bracket. The AFC South is Group E, which contains no great team and at least one candidate to be the Jacksonville Jaguars of the World Cup. The NFC West is Group B, which has three legitimate contenders to win the whole thing, one of which will not even make it out of the group.

Each team is listed in its predicted order of finish within the group according to my highly scientific NFL-based World Cup prediction machine. Teams with a * are predicted to advance out of the group.

NFL WC Bracket

For the casual World Cup fan, here’s how teams are picked and advance, which can be skipped by the serious soccer aficionado: In each group, there’s one seeded team that was determined by the FIFA rankings at the time of the selection back in December (Brazil was also guaranteed a seed by virtue of being the host nation). That team generally gets a better draw in terms of opponents, since they don’t have to face any other seeded teams. The other three teams in each group were randomly selected, largely according to the region from which teams come. For example, the four teams from North and Central America were assured of being in different groups. Each team will play one game against the other three teams in its group. The two teams that accumulate the most points from those three games advance from the group to the knockout stage.

On to the fearless forecast. All quoted odds came from sportsbook.ag.


AFC South: Group E (France, Switzerland (seeded), Ecuador, Honduras)

Odds of winner coming from Group E: 29/2

 Odds of qualifying for knockoutOdds of winning World Cup

France (Indianapolis Colts): Have one of the two luckiest draws in the whole tournament. Despite qualifying for Brazil through a playoff with Ukraine, the French are heavy favorites to advance in this very weak group.

Switzerland (Houston Texans): By far the worst seeded team in the tournament. Despite drawing a relatively friendly group, they are still 100/1 to win the whole thing.

Ecuador (Tennessee Titans): The weak sister among the South American teams. Country’s name means “Equator” in Spanish.

Honduras (Jacksonville Jaguars): The worst team in the worst group. Even though their odds of advancing are not that long due to the competition, they are tied for the longest odds to win it all.

NFC East: Group C (Colombia (seeded), Japan, Ivory Coast, Greece)

Odds of winner coming from Group C: 27/2

 Odds of qualifying for knockoutOdds of winning World Cup
Ivory Coast10/11150/1

Colombia (Philadelphia Eagles): Like the NFC East, this is an evenly-matched group without a great team. Colombia has the highest ceiling. Their chances have been kneecapped by the injury to star striker Radamel Falcao, who will miss the World Cup. Colombia is now a totally different place than it was twenty years ago, when the tragic events of that World Cup unfolded.

Japan (New York Giants): They have the second shortest odds to win the World Cup, despite being slightly longer odds to make it out of the group. Not sure that makes sense, but they have some excellent attacking players such as Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, and Shinji Okazaki. Like the Giants, they play in blue and could surprise from this group.

Ivory Coast (Dallas Cowboys): Like the Cowboys, great individual talent in spots (e.g. Yaya Touré of Manchester City) hasn’t generally added up to team success for Ivory Coast. Their recent economic growth, however, is by far the strongest in the group.

Greece (Washington Redskins): Daniel Snyder and his wife look a little like John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Wait, wrong Grease.

NFC North: Group H (Belgium (seeded), Russia, South Korea, Algeria)

Odds of winner coming from Group H: 11/1

 Odds of qualifying for knockoutOdds of winning World Cup
South Korea9/4400/1

Belgium (Green Bay Packers): Green Bay is the fifth-most Belgian-American community in the U.S., and like the Packers in the NFC North, Belgium is the heavy favorite to win Group H.1 In fact, they’re a trendy pick to win it all. They are packed with world-class talent such as center back Vincent Kompany (Manchester City).

Russia (Chicago Bears): Likely to join Belgium in the knockout stage primarily due to the weakness of the opposition. Primarily due to alcohol consumption, Russia has one of the biggest gaps between male and female life expectancy in the world, with women living over ten years longer.

South Korea (Detroit Lions): Has remarkably gone from one of the poorest countries in the world to richer than Spain in just fifty years, but unlikely to make it out of even this relatively weak group.

Algeria (Minnesota Vikings): Primarily of relevance as a soccer nation for this moment. If you haven’t seen this video, that is something you’ll have to remedy.

AFC East: Group F (Argentina (seeded), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria)

Odds of winner coming from Group F: 15/4

 Odds of qualifying for knockoutOdds of winning World Cup
Bosnia and Herzegovina5/7210/1

Argentina (New England Patriots): Like the Patriots, Argentina is blessed with a weak group. So weak that it would make you wonder if the draw was rigged if only FIFA weren’t so squeaky clean on questions of business ethics. Argentina also has their Tom Brady in striker Lionel Messi, although Tommy B. has a more obvious soccer analogy. (That would be the one on the right, also a great player and hair-obsessed male model-wannabe.) Messi was named the world’s best player four years in a row (2009-12), but did not score in the 2010 World Cup commensurate with his performance at Barcelona. He needs a strong World Cup to complete his resume and put his name with Pele and Maradona among the all-time greats. Everything is set up for him. Argentina is likely to have an easy-game in the first knockout stage of the tournament, likely facing the second-place finisher from the AFC South (Group E). Even their quarterfinal game shapes up to not be too difficult.

Nigeria (Miami Dolphins): Someone else has to make it out of this group. Bosnia has better players up front, but may be more vulnerable at the back.

Bosnia (New York Jets): Also good on only one side of the ball, although it happens to be offense. They do have Edin Dzeko of Manchester City, who had one of the weirdest moments of the Premier League season, when he writhed in pain on the ground for four minutes for no apparent reason. The referee then got in a game of chicken with him, refusing to allow him medical treatment (the referee blinked first).

Iran (Buffalo Bills): Like the Bills, threatening on the global stage, but not on the fields of football.

AFC West: Group A (Brazil (seeded), Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon)

Odds of winner coming from Group A: 27/10

 Odds of qualifying for knockoutOdds of winning World Cup

Brazil (Denver Broncos): The host nation has won the World Cup six times out of 19, which is pretty wild given that countries with little chance of winning the whole thing have hosted, such as Switzerland, South Africa, and us.2 Brazil is also the most decorated World Cup team, winning five times since 1958. They bring another wildly talented team this time, led by Messi’s Barcelona teammate Neymar, who’s just 22 and has already scored 31 international goals (only six fewer than Messi). Options to play up front with Neymar include Fred, Jo, and Hulk, although this is perhaps Brazil’s weak link, the excellent names notwithstanding.

Croatia (Kansas City Chiefs): The other teams in this group aren’t too imposing. Croatia made the semifinals in 1998, but Davor Suker is now pretty old.

Mexico (San Diego Chargers): Only qualified for the tournament through a playoff made possible by the U.S. pulling out a late win in Panama. Also lost one of their best players, Luis Montes, in a recent friendly.

Cameroon (Oakland Raiders): Also had memorable World Cup moments in the 1990s, nearly making the semifinals in 1990. But Roger Milla is now really old. And even Samuel Eto’o is no longer at his peak.

AFC North: Group D (Uruguay (seeded), England, Italy, Costa Rica)

Odds of winner coming from Group D: 15/2

 Odds of qualifying for knockoutOdds of winning World Cup
Costa Rica8/11000/1

Uruguay (Cincinnati Bengals): Uruguay was a semifinalist the last time and has one of the most dangerous scorers in the world: epithet-hurling, Mike Tyson-emulating, brilliantly talented Luis Suarez. He led the Premier League in goals by ten over his nearest competitor. Last World Cup, he infamously saved Uruguay’s World Cup run by batting the game-winning goal out with his arms.3 To get out of this group will be difficult even with Suarez, as England and Italy stand in the way.

England (Baltimore Ravens): England has some excellent young talent, including Suarez’s Liverpool teammate, Daniel Sturridge, who can fly. They’ve been doomed by goalkeeping errors in some recent World Cups, some by players who look suspiciously like pirates, but that shouldn’t be a problem this time with the solid and not too old Joe Hart.

Italy (Pittsburgh Steelers): Italy has fewer big-name players than usual, but is always hard to score on.

Costa Rica (Cleveland Browns): Not terrible, but it’s hard to see them getting out of this group. Country’s name means “Rich Coast” in Spanish.

NFC West: Group B (Chile, Spain (seeded), Netherlands, Australia)

Odds of winner coming from Group B: 17/4

 Odds of qualifying for knockoutOdds of winning World Cup

Chile (Seattle Seahawks): This is the true grupo de la muerte in this World Cup.4 And it’s not just because of the finalists from the last World Cup. Chile ranked #5 in the last edition of the Soccer Power Index, which is to FIFA’s rankings what DYAR is to passer rating for evaluating quarterbacks.5 Chile also has a functioning public policy process that we could learn from. In 2010, they were hit with an 8.8 earthquake, so strong that it moved a Chilean city ten feet to the west. The quake actually resulted in relatively few casualties due to Chile’s impressive preparedness efforts.

Spain (San Francisco 49ers): Spain, the defending World Cup champion and two-time defending European champion has had perhaps the greatest six-year run any team has ever had. They’re actually only the fourth choice this time in the betting markets, behind Brazil, Argentina, and Germany. Their average age of 27.8 is on the high side, but still not in the top five. Their main question is up front, where their strikers are inconsistent. There’s even been talk that Spain may play without a striker, which sounds like going back to the days of the old single wing.

Netherlands (Arizona Cardinals): The Dutch dishonored their beautiful history of near-misses in the World Cup with their Luca Brasi-esque display in the final against Spain last time. This challenge somehow elicited neither a red card nor an arrest warrant. I am rooting against them.

Australia (St. Louis Rams): The Socceroos are sacrificial lambs in this group.

NFC South: Group G (Germany (seeded), USA, Portugal, Ghana)

Odds of winner coming from Group G: 4/1

 Odds of qualifying for knockoutOdds of winning World Cup

Germany (New Orleans Saints): The Germans will be continue to be my least favorite World Cup team until we advance to the semis, since that Torsten Frings handball prevented us from tying our quarterfinal in 2002, a game in which we outplayed the Germans. Of course, the Germans have been cheating in the World Cup for a long time, not least notably our current coach, who put Argentina a man down in the 1990 final with this piece of baroque theater.

USA (Carolina Panthers): We’re really not bad. Seriously! I think we’re even a decent bet at 200-1. The group is difficult, but Germany lost a key player this weekend and Portugal’s Tom Brady has been fighting knee problems. More importantly, we are young and fast, with considerable skill in midfield, particularly with Michael Bradley. Jozy Altidore broke a long scoring drought this weekend, and Fabian Johnson can be a terror on the flank. We have a world-class goalkeeper in Tim Howard, who just needs to be careful with near-post goals. I’ve even come around on Landon Donovan being left off the squad, who looked a bit corpulent in the ESPN video of our training sessions. Nothing would annoy the rest of the world more than the US winning a World Cup while most of the country ignores it, which is reason enough to root like crazy for us. We’re running out of time on this, since soccer is fast moving towards the top three sports in America.

Portugal (Atlanta Falcons): Will the carefully-coiffed, easily-knocked-over, newly-crowned player of the year Christiano Ronaldo be at full speed? Portugal is not as talented top-to-bottom as they were in 2002, when we beat them 3-2.

Ghana (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Our World Cup kryptonite. They’ve put us out of the last two competitions. Ghana’s recent and projected economic growth (7-8% per year) is higher than the rest of the group combined.


Second Round: Brazil over Spain, England over Colombia, France over Nigeria, Germany over Russia, Chile over Croatia, Uruguay over Japan, Argentina over Switzerland, USA over Belgium

Quarterfinals: Brazil over England, France over Germany, Chile over Uruguay, Argentina over USA

Semifinals: Brazil over France, Chile over Argentina

Final: Chile over Brazil

Go, go USA! Watch this once more to get pumped up. Maybe this, too.

  1. The top four Belgian-American towns are also in Wisconsin. If your bar is a-rockin’ when Belgium scores in Brazil, there may be pictures of Brett Favre on the wall. []
  2. I mean we had little chance in 1994. Just like the Seahawks were no good back then and now they’re a powerhouse. We can do this! []
  3. I’ll never understand why this was some sort of breach of soccer ethics. He was punished according to the rules, receiving a red card that banned him from the semifinal. Still, some people remember this as a scandal equivalent to or worse than the barbaric mauling the Dutch put on the Spanish in the final. []
  4. Note that this was written last week before others made this point, too. []
  5. One good piece of evidence against the FIFA rankings is that we ranked fourth in the run-up to the 2006 World Cup. []
  • James

    You’re right that Group B is the hardest, but Group H is far and away the worst group this time around, and Algeria should certainly be the Jaguars of the World Cup.

    • Andrew Healy

      Ah, I think the worst group depends on what you’re looking for. The winner could come from H, but it isn’t likely to come from E. You can make a case for Group H, as I think 538 did, but H isn’t that different from F, with one excellent team and three not-so-good ones. The problem with C is there’s no overmatched team. I like E b/c there’s no great team, an overmatched team, and the worst South American team. Although I did want to match Belgium up with the Packers, so maybe that swayed me 🙂

      Anyway, C, E, and H are all fairly weak.

  • Richie

    Oops. I accidentally visited http://www.futbolperspective.com today. 🙂

    I had to google corpulent. Is that a soccer word?

    Why did USA get an asterisk in your chart, if they only have the 3rd-best odds in their group?

    • Andrew Healy

      Good url! The asterisks were my predictions, which are a little different from the odds. Nigeria, Chile, Japan, and England are also not projected to go through according to the odds, I think.

    • Chase Stuart

      I am okay with this once every 4 years…. I think 🙂

      • Richie

        I try to give soccer a chance at World Cup time. In 2010 I actually watched parts of a few games. We’ll see how it goes this year. It’s so hard for me to enjoy soccer.

        Soccer and hockey have similar problems for me: there isn’t much of a buildup. It just seems so random. Goals could be scored at any time. In football and baseball, teams generally have to build up for scoring opportunities, but also have the possibility of an instant score. And then hockey has a slight advantage (to me) over soccer in that there are way more scoring chances. In my limited time watching soccer, it seems like they can play for long long stretches without a decent shot on goal. Clearly, people who are more aware of the subtleties of soccer have other things to be interested in than just scoring chances.

        And then, basketball has the opposite problem (for me). Way too many scoring chances.

        • Chase Stuart

          I share a pretty similar view. I usually watch a good bit of the games during every WC, at least going back to ’98. I find that I actually like watching both soccer and hockey, but rarely do because who has the time to watch soccer and hockey and write for FP?

          • Richie

            Oh, and if the vuvuzelas are going to be going like they were in South Africa, it will limit my ability to watch any game for any length of time. Those things are the worst!

            • Chase Stuart

              Dumb Dolphins fan, the vuvuzelas were awesome!

              • Richie

                Seriously? You like those?

            • Andrew Healy

              Agreed on the vuvuzelas. Fun word, unpleasant on the eardrums. Just to throw one thing out there on the other side for soccer (which I love to watch): The key moment can happen at any time. Even though our football is still my favorite sport, that’s mostly not the case for it. I also think that soccer played well is, not to get too touchy-feely on you, legitimately beautiful.

              And the constant flow of the action is pretty great, too. Something that a lot of non-Americans have a hard time dealing with for our football, because they’re not used to the starts and stops. Watching some of Barcelona and Spain in recent years has been eye-opening b/c they’re so incredibly skilled. And as someone who appreciates watching teammates understand playing together (a la the Spurs), it’s wonderful to watch.

      • Andrew Healy

        I guess I’ll nix my season review of the Bundesliga then 🙂

  • I’m not a soccer fan, so I have no comments about the meaningful content of this article. However, if you want to use a rousing speech as one of your YouTube links and you’re not going to insist it be American, this is the right one ;): http://youtu.be/680NlRI3v2I

    • Andrew Healy

      Well-played 🙂

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