The NFL season is slated to start Sept. 5 in a primetime opener between the defending Super Bowl champions and the Peyton Manning-led Broncos.
Football fans everyone have been tirelessly waiting to see the promise of this year’s version of their team or prepare for an embarrassing and failed season. As the season approaches, I figured I should take another crack at it and predict division winners, MVPs, the Super Bowl winner and more. Here is what I did last year. You may have a clue of who my division winners are if you read my Best Teams In Each Division article, but without further ado, let’s get to it.
1. Cincinnati Bengals: 11-5
Two postseason appearances in two consecutive seasons has given this team the confidence to overthrow the Ravens and Steelers. Equipped with the game-changing wide receiver A.J. Green, recently drafted tight end Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard–who has impressed in the preseason–Cincinnati may now have the offense to match their stellar defense. Their offense sputtered down the stretch in 2012 averaging 16.3 points per game. It’s time for quarterback Andy Dalton to show if he’s a game-changer or just another middle of the pack quarterback
2. Baltimore Ravens: 9-7
Joe Flacco was one blown coverage away from being labeled an average quarterback, but Cool Joe went on to become the Super Bowl MVP. Since then, a rash of changes and injuries have stunned the Ravens including key departures from Ray Lewis (retired), Ed Reed (signed w/ Texans), Anquan Boldin (Trade w/ 49ers) and Dennis Pitta (hip injury) who was becoming Flacco’s most dependable target. The addition of sack master Elvis Dummervil is a plus on the defensive side of the ball, but the Ravens will find it hard to recover from the Super Bowl hangover. And not to mention Flacco having to live up to his $100 million contract.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers: 7-9
The Steelers defense is not as old as people say they are, their average age on defensive is 27. 6 years old, the same as the Ravens. What worries me about the Steelers is the depth of their offensive line and the countless amount of injuries to their running backs. Losing second-round pick Le’Veon Bell to a foot injury was a major blow and Ben Roethlisberger can’t throw all his passes on the run or from the ground is offensive line doesn’t hold up. Antonio Brown and Emanuel Sanders have shown they are capable of making plays on the outside at their wide receiver position, but aside from those two, the Steelers don’t have much to offer besides the aged Jerricho Cotchery.
4. Cleveland Browns: 6-10
The Norv Turner and Brandon Weeden connection has created some buzz in the Dawg Pound, but the Browns still are ways away from becoming a serious threat in the North. A healthy Trent RIchardson will bolster the ground game and drafting Barkevious Mingo to pair alongside Paul Kruger will add to an already rising defense. Cleveland is on the upswing, but 2013 won’t be their year.
1. Indianapolis Colts: 11-5
The same record as last year, but the Colts are much improved, especially on defense. The two new starters up front in Ricky Jean Francios and Aubrayo Franklin will aid the Colts 29th-ranked rushing defense. They still have been gashed on the ground in the preseason, but that can be attributed to the play calling. As long as Andrew Luck is the starting quarterback, the Colts will again become a perennial playoff team. He may already be the best quarterback in the division.
2. Houston Texans: 11-5
On paper, the Texans are arguably the best team in the NFL. They were in the top-10 offensively and defensively, but what will continuously keep Houston in the same spot is Matt Schuab. Schuab is a very good quarterback, but nothing more. You wouldn’t put him in the class as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. He has the weapons in Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and now DeAndre Hopkins, but the Texans will be another first round exit.
3. Tennessee Titans: 7-9
Unlike others, I’m high on Titans quarterback Jake Locker. He suffered the proverbial sophomore slump missing six games because of injury and was knocked out of the week 4 matchup against the Texans. He showed a lot of inconsistencies with accuracy and held on to the ball too long trying to make a play. To make matters worse, Chris Johnson was not his usual explosive self. The emergence of rookie power guard Chance Warmack and prized free agent Andy Levitre will open up holes for Johnson and create passing lanes for Locker.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: 3-13
This team has too many holes and are unsettled at the quarterback position. I can’t even say they are in the rebuilding mode because they can’t rebuild as long as Blaine Gabbert is under center. Jacksonville finished 29th in offense and 30th in defense. The return of Maurice Jones-Drew is refreshing, but not even he can carry this franchise on his back.
1. New England Patriots: 12-4
The Patriots have had a tumultuous offseason to say the least, but wherever there is Tom Brady, there is life. He enters the season with five new receivers and two new tight ends. The only star receiver Brady has ever had was Randy Moss. If Amendola can remain healthy, which is a big if, he easy amass 100 receptions with Brady. New England will be more balanced on offense as Stevan Ridley hopes to have another 1,000 yard season. The Patriots are playing themselves for the AFC East crown.
2. Buffalo Bills: 7-9
I really like what I see out of the 6-foot-4, 237-pound E.J. Manuel. The Bills suffered a setback with his minor knee procedure, but he still hasn’t been officially ruled out for week 1. Seven wins may seem one the high end for a rookie head coach and quarterback, but Buffalo has one of the best running backs in the NFL in C.J. Spiller . Adrian Peterson single handedly took the Vikings to the postseason last year. I’m not saying Spiller is Peterson, but he did lead the NFL in yards per carry averaging six yards a pop. He can have that same affect on his team.
3. Miami Dolphins: 6-10
Miami has been way overhyped due to their flashy offseason acquisitions. Mike Wallace was a big pick up, but he isn’t a wide receiver that can take over a game. Ryan Tannehill has a strong arm with upside, but he played in the shadows of fellow rookies Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Luck. The departure of Reggie Bush isn’t too big of a blow with the elusive Lamar Miller taking over the reigns, but the lost of Jake Long may prove bigger.
4. New York Jets: 2-14
With the no. 1 pick, the New York Jets select Jadeveon Clowney. You can etch it in stone. With how poorly Rex Ryan has managed his team, he might not even make it through the season. Where do you start with this team? The ongoing quarterback saga is a mess with Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith who has shown he’s not ready. Veteran cornerback Antonio Cromartie has already called out top pick DeMarcus Milliner and last year’s top pick Quinton Coples is out with an ankle injury. The Jets are in for a long season. If only Tim Tebow was still there.
1. Denver Broncos: 14-2
The prohibited Super Bowl favorite. I picked them to win it all last year. It’s hard to pick against Peyton Manning even more now that he has Wes Welker in the slot. The only problem lies on defense with the loss of Dummervil because of a fax machine issue and Von Miller who will miss the first 6 games of the season because of suspension. But the Broncos might not need much help on defense with Peyton lighting up the scoreboard.
2. Kansas City Chiefs: 9-7
The Andy Reid and Alex Smith relationship doesn’t seem to mesh well as far as their style of play. Reid likes to have his quarterbacks chunk it up and down the field, but Smith is more of a dink and dunk guy. He is best fit to throw the ball between 20-25 times, but Reid is known for passing more that running. However, this 2-14 team sent six players to the Pro Bowl last season. The talent is their on the roster. Jamal Charles is one jump-cut away from a touchdown on every single play and Dwayne led the NFL in touchdowns two seasons ago.
3. San Diego Chargers: 6-10
San Diego has completely fell from the top ranks. It was only a few years ago when they were considered favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Their top wide, Danario Alexander, is out for the season and running back Ryan Matthews hasn’t come close to replacing LaDanian Tomlinson. Their offensive line is still in shambles and quarterback Phillip Rivers is steadily regressing. The Chargers may start to look for his replacement next season.
4. Oakland Raiders: 5-11
This is a whole new team on offense and defense. Giving them 5 wins is one more than they had last year. Credit that one extra win to Terrelle Pryor. It’s looking like Matt Flynn will once again lose the job handed to him. It’s Pryor’s job to lose. Their isn’t much to cheer about in Oakland, but letting Pryor loose is a risk that can turn into a reward.
1. New York Giants: 10-6
The Giants have shown they are one of the most inconsistent teams in the NFL, but they still have a two-time Super Bowl champion in Eli Manning. With RGIII and the Redskins garnering all of the headlines, this has the makings of a strong season by the Giants. They excel in the underdog role. They have been getting production out of last year’s top picks in running back David Wilson and three of their top picks in the 2013 draft will all make a significant impact (Justin Pugh/OT, Johnathan Hankins/DT, Demantre Moore/DE).
2. Washington Redskins: 9-7
It’s a lot riding on Griffin’s ACL, and that will slow down his production in the beginning of the season without taking a snap throughout the preseason. If RGIII is healthy, then the Redskins can once again repeat as division champs. Griffin wasn’t the only rookie sensation on his team. Alfred Morris was 2nd in the NFL in rushing with 1,613 yards. Washington drafted two safeties and cornerback with their first pick to sure up their 30th-ranked passing defense.
3. Philadelphia Eagles: 8-8
A three win improvement in Chip Kelly’s track 15 seconds or less offense will be one of the top surprises in the NFL. In this offense, the Eagles will go as far a Michael Vick take them, that’s if he can stay healthy. Vick has vowed to run more and play to his strength. The only season Vick played a full 16 game season was the same year he ran for 1,000 yards.
4. Dallas Cowboys 7-9
A lot like the Texans, the Cowboys look good every year on paper. They have a game-breaking wide receiver in Dez Bryant and a reliable tight end in Jason Witten. Drafting the mammoth tight end Gavin Escobar has the potential to flourish under Witten’s tutelage. What worries me is their middle of their pack defense, but their defense suffered because of injuries. They also have problems at running back with often-injured DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys finished next to last in rushing averaging 79.1 yards per game. Quarterback Tony Romo has proven time and time again he breaks down in defining moments. The Cowboys won’t become more than what they are right now until Romo is no longer under center or when Jerry Jones steps down.
1. Seattle Seahawks: 11-5
With all the pieces the Seahawks have added in the offseason, the Super Bowl favorites are looking even better than they did last year. The Seahawks secondary contains three Pro Bowl players who can force turnovers, deliver big hits and blanket wide receivers. The offense is led by second year quarterback Russell Wilson who led all rookies in passing touchdowns with 26. Adding Christine Michael’s speed to the power of Marshawn Lynch, the ground game will only get better.
2. St. Louis Rams: 10-6
Every year there is a team who comes out of no where and this year that team will be the Rams. Last year St. Louis went 4-1-1 in the best division in football splitting with the Seahawks and win and a tie with the 49ers. Their young defense was tied for first in the NFL with 52 sacks. The defense isn’t a concern for the Rams, it all comes down to Sam Bradford and the offense. With Tavon Austin and Jared Cook at his disposal, Bradford now has the weapons to put points on the board.
3. San Francisco 49ers: 10-6
One of the biggest questions for this team is how Colin Kaepernick look in a full 16 game season. They are dominant on both sides of the ball, especially in the ground game behind Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James. I’m anxious to see how Aldon Smith plays this season after going six straight games without a sack to end the season. The loss of Michael Crabtree and the recovery of Mario Mannigham was a blow to the offense, but the 49ers have more than enough pieces to do without.
4. Arizona Cardinal: 6-10
There is no doubt the Cardinals will be better with last year’s coach of the year Bruce Arians calling the shots, but something doesn’t add up with this team. Carson Palmer has shown he can put up gaudy numbers. Now armed with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and rookie Stephen Taylor at running back, the Cardinals can surprise this season. They began the season 4-0 last year, then ended up losing 11 out of their last 12. Arizona will fair well outside the conference, but I don’t see them keeping pace with their division counterparts.
1. Chicago Bears: 11-5
If we judge quarterbacks solely on arm talent, Jay Cutler is a top-5 quarterback. His gunslinger mentality gets him into worlds of trouble at times, but he has the skill set to throw out of harm’s way. The facts he’s in his contract year will only motivate him to perform. Rookie linebacker Jon Bostic looks to man the middle for years to come and the Charles Tillman-led defense is still the team strength. The Bears have four new starters on the offensive line including first-round pick Kyle Long. If targets other than Brandon Marshall show up, the Bears can become a dangerous team.
2. Green Bay Packers: 10-6
Drafting Eddie Lacy was a huge addition for a team that gave up 51 sacks NFL last season, but losing their best lineman in Bryan Bulaga spells trouble for Aaron Rodgers again. Lacy and Jonathan Franklin will provide the offensive balance the Packers have been lacking. Rodgers can win 8 games by himself, but the way they were physically dominated in the Divisional Round against the 49ers has labeled them as a soft team. It’s up to the defense if this team wish to make a deep playoff run.
3. Minnesota Vikings: 7-9
Adrian Peterson literally ran away with the MVP coming up 8 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s all-time rushing mark. The defense is solid, but young with Shariff Floyd at defensive tackle and Xavier Rhodes in the secondary. Cordarrelle Patterson was one of the most explosive players in the draft, but rookie receivers seldom make an impact in their first year. Christian Ponder needs to step up and become the quarterback the Vikings drafted him to be, but I think this is the year he shows he is not. The Vikings overachieved at 10-6 last season,
4. Detroit Lions: 7-9
The Lions are one of the biggest head-scratchers in the NFL. They have arguably the best player in the NFL in Calvin Johnson and easily the best wide receiver. They have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL and they have a top-15 quarterback in Matthew Stafford, but throwing the ball 727 times won’t lead to much success. Even with the signing of Reggie Bush, this offense still has no balance. Bush has never been a inside runner and is best used as a receiving option out the backfield.
Atlanta Falcons: 12-4
The Falcons are also a trendy pick to represent the NFC acquiring the all-pro running back Steven Jackson and convincing Tony Gonzales to hold of retirement for one more year. However they still have many questions on the defensive side of the ball. How much does Osi Umenyiora have left in the tank? Can their two rookie corners along with veteran Asante Samuel stop the bleeding in their secondary? Who will step up and stop opposing rushers? The Falcons gave up 123. 2 yards per game last year.
New Orleans Saints: 10-6
New Orleans will welcome back coach Sean Payton with open arms this season as he returns from the Bountygate suspension. His presence in the locker room will lift the spirit of his players, but that won’t be enough o improve their defense. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is in charge of the reclamation project to improve the statistically worst defense in NFL history. The Saints gave up a total of 7, 042 yards on defense.
Carolina Panthers: 8-8
In the offseason, the Panthers general manager called out quarterback Cam Newton telling him “it’s time to win.” The former Heisman and no. 1 overall pick has all the tools to become a top quarterback in this league. He broke Peyton Manning’s passing record as a rookie and set the touchdown mark for quarterbacks with 14. As great as Newton is on the ground, he can’t continue to lead them in rushing (Newton: 741 yds; DeAngelo Williams: 737 yds). The Panthers are a talented team, but they’re not ready for primetime yet.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers : 6-10
A lot like the Lions, the Bucs’ have the necessary pieces to succeed, but they have to figure out how to blend them. Josh Freeman’s 39 interceptions over the past two seasons directly contributes to the team’s inconsistency. The have two studs at wide receiver in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, the muscle hamster in Doug Martin and they finished first in run defense. The passing defense was a difference story allowing a league worst 297. 4 yards per game. The acquisition of Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson–who will line up to last years stand out rookie Mark Barron–Tampa Bay could go from worst to first.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ziggy Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions
Comeback Player of the Year: Alex Smith, QB, Chiefs
Coach of the Year: Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
MVP: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
Offensive Player of the Year: C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills
Defensive Player of the Year: Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks
SUPER BOWL XLVIII
Broncos over Bears
Peyton faces the Bears for a second time in the Super Bowl to capture his second ring in Eli’s home stadium.