On September 5, the NFL season will begin. On a Thursday night in Denver, the reigning champs will take on the hometown Broncos. This will be the rematch of last year’s AFC divisional championship game and should be a dozy.
It is a story line feasting ground with Wes Welker joining Peyton Manning's offense. Along with Von Miller’s suspension and Rahim Moore having to relive this play over and over, it should be a great game.
But no need to focus on one game! There is a full season ahead and predictions to be made. We will go division by division and give you a playoff picture before week 1 kicks off.
Have to start in the champs division. This looks to be a two horse race between Baltimore and Cincinnati. The Steelers just don’t look like the team they used to be. Big Ben just doesn't have the fire power around him to make it happen, even though he was superb last season. The question in this division is will the Ravens have the championship hangover? We should see in the opener what kind of team we are dealing with; it is also the first season of Ray Lewis’ retirement. The Bengals are a year older and have talent to burn. AJ Green is blooming into one of the NFL elites and Andy Dalton is making redheads relevant everywhere. Another target for Dalton will be Tyler Eifert who showed at ND that he can be a big time player. Last but not…wait no, last and least the Browns, nothing new to report here.
Winner: Cincinnati Bengals
This division is in peril. Other than the knights in shining armor (The Patriots…minus Aaron Hernandez) the rest of this division is in a world of hurt. The New York Jets, post Tim Tebow, have a worse quarterback controversy than before. Mark Sanchez is a lame duck starter week one if he even starts week one. The heir apparent is their 2013 first round pick, Geno Smith. At West Virginia he had talent out the wazoo surrounding him; in New York, not so much. The Buffalo Bills have a similar QB problem. With Kevin Kolb’s career on the frits with concussion problems and EJ Manuel recovering from a knee surgery, Jeff Tuel (pronounced ‘Tool’) undrafted out of Washington State might be the week one starter. That being said, CJ Spiller, better gear up for a lot of carries this season. The Dolphins picking up Mike Wallace gives them a deep threat, but it is yet to be seen if Ryan Tannehill is the future. With Miami’s defense giving up around 20 points per game, I can’t see them as a danger this year. The New England Patriots as normal will be a playoff contender. Losing Welker and Hernandez not to mention the questions about Rob Gronkowski’s heath will only lead to the NFL learning new names and finding new fantasy football giants. Bill Belichick knows how to run a team and it wouldn't surprise me if they bettered their 12 wins from last season.
Winner: New England Patriots
This division we can make quick work of; the Titans are bad and the Jaguars are worse, enough said. Keep an eye on Chris Johnson though for a big season. The Colts were a surprise 11-5 last season behind the superb rookie performance of Andrew Luck. I see Luck taking a small step back as the league will catch up, but this will still be a 9 win team. The other contenders, the Houston Texans, are reloaded for another shot at a title. Matt Schaub is a solid starter in the NFL especially with Arian Foster showing he wants to be a big boy year in and year out. If Andre Johnson can stay healthy (don’t hold your breath) the sky is the limit with a defense that gives up less than 100 rushing yards per game.
Winner: Houston Texans
This is another ugly division with the bright spot being the Denver Broncos. The Chiefs could show some improvement with an easy schedule, but then again it is easy to improve from two wins. The Chargers and Raiders did little to become serious contenders this season. Terrelle Pryor and Manti Te’o are not game changers at this level. The Broncos on the other hand look to be filthy. Peyton Manning is showing he is one of the best of all time and adding Welker could be the piece to put them over the edge. Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and rookie Tavarres King make up one of the best wide out cores in the league. I see the Broncos matching their 13 wins from last season.
Winner: Denver Broncos
On to the NFC.
We start with the runner-up San Francisco 49ers. In my mind, there is no chance they get to 11 wins this season with Colin Kaepernick at the helm. Yes, he lead them to a super bowl appearance, but his style of play has proven to not last in the NFL. Even with players like Russell Wilson and RGIII finding success in their rookie seasons, there has not been sustained productivity from quarterbacks with their skill sets on this level. The Niners defense is something to cringe at though, look for Patrick Willis to do his thing. Another beloved rookie QB was Wilson. He lead Seattle to 11 wins (10 wins in the Packers’ eyes) last season behind a 'Manziel' type performance. The Seattle defense will have to be just as good as or better than last year for them to reach that number. I see them taking a substantial drop off this year. On the other hand, I see the Arizona Cardinals taking a step forward. After stockpiling talent for some time now, this could be the year they break the .500 mark. With a veteran QB going behind center in Carson Palmer, some of the skill players might be able to strut their stuff (looking at you Larry Fitzgerald). For the Rams, they are hoping that their cities’ baseball team, the Cardinals, can make a long run into October. Their season looks bleak.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
In a division that has a lot of talent, there are a lot of questions. Is Tony Romo ever going to be what he is supposed to be? Is Chip Kelly a genus or crazy? Is RGIII healthy? And will Tom Coughlin insult his team to victory? The Redskins have to be the most concerned. With RGIII not taking any preseason snaps and Kirk Cousins banged up, will Rex Grossman have to play? If so, yikes. Alfred Morris will have to be huge again to help out the questions at quarterback. Eli Manning and the Giants have a lot to improve on the offensive side of the ball and the defense couldn’t stop anything last year. Defense needs to play leaps and bounds better for them to have a shot at a playoff look. The Cowboys once again have the personnel to be contenders, but will they shoot themselves in the foot like normal. I see them be a .500 team again. The team that has the best chance of a big jump is the Eagles. Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, have some things in common, speed. How does Chip Kelly play, fast. Very interested to see how he puts this offense into use in the NFL. This is a complete tossup who wins this division.
Winner: New York Giants
The Atlanta Falcons have been the talk of the offseason. Bring in Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora, two of the biggest free agents, this could be the year Matt Ryan makes it deep into the playoffs. One of the most talented rosters the Falcons have seen in a while, it looks like do or die time. The other interesting storyline in this division is the return of Sean Payton. The Saints have their leader back and Drew Brees is one of the best. The Saints defense was dead last in yards against last year, so that should be a major concern coming into 2013. The Panthers and Cam Newton have a shot to break the .500 mark with a bulked up defensive line through the draft. I can’t see this team doing anything out of the ordinary though because of the lack of talent around Newton.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
This is the best conference in football. With three teams having 10 or more wins last year. The Bears have added a new coach, Marc Trestman, and Jay Cutler looks to be poised to have a breakout year. They return the #1 defense for turnovers and have young players in the wings to make big impacts. The Packers are always a threat with Aaron Rodgers leading the offense. They might take a small step back with injuries, but the Packers are a solid pick for a playoff appearance. If Adriane Peterson does what he says he can, it will not matter how well Christian Ponder plays for the Vikings. AP needs a little help from the defense, but he is a freak. Finally, the Detroit Lions have the best wide receiver in all of football in Calvin Johnson. If Matt Stafford can get the ball to their money maker and if the defense can play as well as they did last year, who knows what this team can do? Whoever can win within the division will be playoff bound.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
Super Bowl Match Up: Denver Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons