September 5, 2012
Wednesday officially kicks off the 2012 NFL regular season. For me, nothing beats the NFL. I could watch it all year. So I figured…why not go on record and make a few predictions and probably look like a fool when they don’t pan out?
Below, I will rank where each team will finish in their respective division and eventually give you my Super Bowl matchup.
Patriots – The most obvious prediction I will make on the blog maybe all year. New England is clearly the class of the division and maybe the conference.
Bills – This might be the year Buffalo makes a serious run at the playoffs. Some nice additions in the offseason, primarily Mario Williams. And besides the Patriots, the Bills should take advantage of a week division.
Jets – They cannot score. And in today’s NFL, that’s a problem. At some point this season there will be a quarterback controversy. When that happens, the team might self implode.
Dolphins – First-year head coach Joe Philbin hopes he has Miami’s quarterback of the future in first round pick Ryan Tannehill. But with the release of Chad Johnson, Tannehill has zero weapons in the passing game. Their top receiver is Davone Bess. Ouch.
Ravens – Baltimore was a Lee Evans dropped pass away from playing in the Super Bowl last year. The offseason injury to Terrell Suggs is a big blow, but the Ravens are one of the few teams that can survive that type of loss. Ray Rice was paid this summer, which means Ray Rice is a happy guy. And that could be trouble for the rest of the league. I’ll be curious to see what type of impact Bobby Rainey has this season as well.
Steelers – There are questions in the running game with Rashard Mendenhall recovering from a torn ACL, but the defense remains fierce as always. Todd Haley enters the fold as the team’s new offensive coordinator. Expect the Steelers to place more emphasis on the passing attack. And with receivers like Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, why not?
Bengals – I do not expect QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green to have sophomore slumps, but I do expect the Bengals to struggle with a very challenging schedule. En route to the playoffs last year, the Bengals beat just one team with a winning record. They will not have that luxury this year. Historically, the Bengals follow up a good season with a disappointing season. The offensive line is also a concern.
Browns – It seems like Cleveland is always playing catch-up. They are starting over from scratch once again with rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and rookie running back Trent Richardson. In a couple of years, the Browns might become relevant again. In the meantime, expect another subpar season.
Texans – Houston is the clear favorite in the division and one of the favorites in the AFC. Wade Phillips did wonders with the defense last year and quarterback Matt Schaub is back after a season-ending injury. Wide receiver Andre Johnson was also hampered by injuries last season and is looking for a bounce back year. If they can stay healthy and take another step forward, a Super Bowl appearance isn’t out of the question.
Titans – The Jake Locker era is underway in Nashville. Coach Mike Munchak has made the decision to go with his 2011 first round draft pick over veteran Matt Hasselbeck. It is too early to tell if it was the right decision, but Locker definitely has a lot of upside. When Kenny Britt returns from his one-game suspension, Locker will have a nice core of receivers to throw to. Tight end Jared Cook has breakout potential.
Colts – Don’t feel sorry for the Colts. They’ll be contending for division titles again much sooner than later. Andrew Luck is my pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Colts will spoil someone’s playoff hopes at the end of the season. You heard it here first.
Jaguars – Jacksonville is a mess. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert must show improvement this season. Otherwise, it would not shock me if the Jags decide to go another direction at quarterback. He does have rookie WR Justin Blackmon to help him out. And Maurice Jones-Drew rejoined the team, but how long will it take to get back into football shape? Jacksonville could be fighting for the No. 1 pick of next year’s draft when all is said and done.
Broncos – If Tim Tebow can lead the Broncos to the playoffs, imagine what a healthy Peyton Manning can do.
Chiefs – Kansas City was absolutely decimated by injuries last season. Well, the 2010 AFC West champs are healthy again and could make a run at the division once again. The offense has the potential to be outstanding. Jamaal Charles is back from a torn ACL and the Chiefs added Peyton Hillis in the offseason to create a very formidable thunder and lightning backfield. KC also brought in tight end Kevin Boss to go along with a returning Tony Moeaki. Dwayne Bowe leads an underrated receiving corp. The biggest question mark is QB Matt Cassel.
Chargers – I really like Phillip Rivers, but I think San Diego’s window has closed. The Chargers were arguably the most talented team in the league a couple of years ago. And they could not get the job done. With much of that talent gone, there is no reason for me to think they’ll get it done now.
Raiders – I’m really not sure what to think about this team. If he stays on the field, Darren McFadden is a difference maker. But the Raiders lack a bona fide No. 1 wide receiver and Carson Palmer has a problem throwing the football to the other team.
Eagles – Philly came on strong at the end of last season in a playoff push that came up empty. The Eagles are loaded with talent. They just have to find a way to put it all together. I think that happens this year.
Giants – Let’s remember the defending Super Bowl champs finished 9-7 last year and squeaked their way into the postseason. I really like this group, but I suspect they will have a letdown this season.
Cowboys – Dallas will once again fall below expectations that really should not be set so high to begin with. There is no NFL team that fails to live up to the hype year in and year out more than the Cowboys.
Redskins – Washington will be an improved group this year, but not enough to contend for a playoff spot. It will be interesting to watch the progress of rookie QB Robert Griffin III.
Packers – Green Bay is the class of the NFC. There is no reason to believe the Packers are not the favorite in the conference. Look past the disappointing playoff loss and remember this team went 15-1 in the regular season and Aaron Rodgers was practically unstoppable.
Bears – I really like this team. The Bears were primed for a deep playoff run last year until Jay Culter and Matt Forte suffered injuries. Now Cutler is reunited with his favorite weapon from his days in Denver, Brandon Marshall. Expect the Bears to be among the best in the NFC.
Lions – Detroit finally broke through last year and made the playoffs after years of strife. Now with the expectations high, can the Lions stay near the top? In most years, I would say yes. But the NFC is very deep and I think the Lions take a small step back and miss the playoffs.
Vikings – Much like the Raiders, I don’t really know what to think about this team. I don’t expect them to win many games. The Vikings are in a brutally tough division and I am not sold on quarterback Christian Ponder.
Falcons – The NFC South was the hardest division for me to handicap. The Falcons should (and I stress should) score a lot of points this year. The hype machine is out in full force for second-year wideout Julio Jones. And I’m buying in. This is a big year for quarterback Matt Ryan. He has led Atlanta to the playoffs three times, but has yet to win a playoff game.
Saints – I have a hard time believing this bounty-gate scandal will not affect the Saints on the field. Will the players be thinking about during games? Of course not. But I’m not sure they can absorb losing their head coach for an entire season and not have a negative impact.
Panthers – Cam Newton is on the verge of leading the Panthers back to the postseason and staying there. I just don’t believe it will happen this year.
Buccaneers – Tampa Bay should improve on last year’s 4-12 record. The additions of Vincent Jackson, Dallas Clark, and Doug Martin should make the Bucs a much more formidable offense. The key is Josh Freeman and whether or not he can bounce back from a disappointing 2011.
49ers – San Francisco came out of nowhere last year to win the division by a mile. And overnight it seems the Niners have become one of the deepest teams in the NFL. The defense is top notch. Offensively, San Francisco has a plethora of weapons. But can QB Alex Smith harness those weapons and lead the team to the Super Bowl?
Seahawks – I’m very intrigued by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. If he is as good as head coach Pete Carroll says he is, the Seahawks have an outside shot at a wild card.
Rams – Give Jeff Fisher another 2-3 years and the Rams will be competing for division titles every year. For now, five or six wins is a step in the right direction.
Cardinals – I expect Arizona to struggle mightily this season. Neither Kevin Kolb nor John Skelton gets me excited about this team. Maybe if the Cardinals are lucky, they’ll earn the No. 1 pick for next year and draft a real quarterback.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Andrew Luck – Colts
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Luke Kuechly – Panthers
Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers – Packers
Defensive Player of the Year: JJ Watt – Texans
Most Valuable Player: Tom Brady – Patriots
AFC Division Winners: Patriots, Ravens, Texans, Broncos
AFC Wild Cards: Steelers, Bills
AFC Championship Game: Patriots defeat Texans
NFC Division Winners: Eagles, Packers, Falcons, 49ers
NFC Wild Cards: Bears, Giants
NFC Championship Game: Packers defeat Bears
Super Bowl: Packers defeat Patriots