We are back for another wonderful NFL season and Football Fan Source’s wonderful 2013 NFL Season Outlook where I will take my best stab at predicting how the 2013 NFL season will play out.
At this point, all teams have hope, dreams and a chance at the Lombardi Trophy come February. As the season progresses fans of those teams either cheer/brag about their team’s success, bite their finger nails week-in and week-out in the dramatic push for the playoffs, give up all hope and make fun of your own team as you fight for the top draft pick or continue to say how their team can still make the playoffs while outsiders look at you rooting for your team – clearly delusional – when your team’s season is clearly over. So, what’s my role in all of this? I am going to tell you what to expect going into the mayhem that is the NFL season. Well… I’ll try anyway. If you would like to check my predictions from last season, they can be found here. I did pretty well last season, getting many of the final team records within a game or two, but there is always room for improvement. As I did last year, I will first let you know how I make these predictions…
– I am going to specify certain injury prone players whose health directly relates to their teams success, but for the most part, all predictions are under the impression that no major injuries occur – as do most season predictions.
– When I give possible win-loss records, I look at the schedule and predict how many of those games they will win or lose, but I don’t specifically track which games a team will win. For example, I may see 7 games where New England could lose. My win-loss prediction is 11-5 because I think the Patriots will lose 5 out of those possible 7 “tough call” games, but I did not and will not specifically choose which teams would beat New England (I will pick games week-by-week in my Weekly Predictions posts). This means that all the records are more based on what sort of record I predict each team will finish with after looking at the season as a whole. If you add up the records though, you will most likely find they don’t add up properly, but this format, I believe, gives a more accurate representation of how teams may finish.
– Now I know what you are thinking… with Blaine’s great NFL knowledge what’s the point of watching the NFL now? Don’t worry, I am well aware of where these could falter. After all, these are just my predictions. If you don’t agree feel free to comment and try to convince me otherwise, but ultimately I feel pretty good about these picks. I wish I could get them all right because… lets face it… that would be awesome. I’d be like a wizard.
New England Patriots
– 11-5 – I’m a firm believer that quarterback Tom Brady will function just fine despite losing his primary pass-catchers from a year ago (Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and, currently injured Rob Gronkowski). He is Tom Brady after all. New England isn’t the same dominant looking team of year’s past, but they will still be the team to beat in the AFC East. Young players like wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and tight end Zach Sudfeld will do enough to fill-in while Gronkowski gets healthy and head coach, Bill Belichick, is still one of the best in the game. I look for New England to potentially stumble early on, especially during their three-game stretch from Week 4 to Week 6, where they play at Atlanta, at Cincinnati and home against New Orleans. That stretch will be early in the season where the inexperienced offense could falter. Over the course of the whole season, you have to give the benefit of the doubt to Brady and Belichick.
– 8-8 – If you’re keeping track, this is the same record I predicted for Buffalo a year ago when they finished 6-10 and essentially began anew by drafting quarterback E.J. Manuel in the first round of the NFL draft. So why do I think Buffalo has a chance at a playoff push? Well… E.J. Manuel. He was the first quarterback taken from a draft class that was really lacking in prospective superstars at the quarterback position. So, he was the best of the lackluster in April, but when I looked at the game tape, Manuel appeared to be the best quarterback prospect because he is perfect for the position physically. The mental side of catching up the NFL game could be a challenge, but new head coach Doug Marrone will make things easier on Manuel, who was impressive during the preseason before he missed time due to a minor knee procedure. Couple Manuel, who I think will be the best quarterback from the 2013 draft class, with explosive offensive playmakers like running back C.J. Spiller, wide receiver Stevie Johnson and fellow rookie receiver, Robert Woods, and the Bills offense is an intriguing thing to watch. Their defense also should be much improved with second-year cornerback Stephon Gilmore potentially making a name for himself this season.
– 7-9 – I struggled with Miami because they are an improved team. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is going into his second-year after a pretty solid rookie season. He is a franchise quarterback and should be much improved this season. The offense looks better on paper with running back Lamar Miller taking over for current Detroit Lion, Reggie Bush. Miller is explosive and I fully believe he will be dynamic this season. Not a top-10 running back, but he will break some nice runs. Wide receiver Mike Wallace will be solid and greatly help this offense, but I don’t think he is a game-changer. The defense is better than last season adding linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe as well as underrated cornerback Brent Grimes from Atlanta. So why under .500 then? I really like Tannehill, but he can’t do much on his back and unless Miami finds a way to shore up the left tackle position, he will be. Starter, Jonathan Martin, was overpowered during the preseason and the backups weren’t much better. On top of that, I just don’t think Miami will surprise as some do. If we learned anything from the Eagles “Dream Team”, it’s that you can’t buy wins in free agency, which is something Miami is attempting to do this season. I think they are improved, but questions at key positions and a ruthless early season stretch from Week 2 to Week 9 consisting of Indianapolis (away), Atlanta (home), New Orleans (away), Baltimore (home), a bye week, Buffalo (Ok… I know I’m the only one who thinks they will be good – home), New England (away) and Cincinnati (home). Miami could be a factor come playoff time, but I don’t see it personally.
New York Jets
– 3-13 – Whereas I feel Buffalo’s rookie quarterback can lead Buffalo on a relatively unprecedented run, I am not as optimistic about Jets rookie, Geno Smith. Many felt Smith was the best quarterback in the draft, but instead he lasted into the second round where New York took him as their quarterback of the future. I know Mark Sanchez is still in New York and is technically the starter, if not for his shoulder sprain, but with Smith now officially starting Week 1, this is Smith’s job to lose. Now I think Smith can be a solid quarterback in this league, but I don’t think he is ready to start yet, especially in New York with the startling lack of talent offensively. Smith struggles with accuracy and without playmakers, he won’t have guys to bail him out of those accuracy issues. Even if/when Smith struggles and Sanchez is an option, I think Sanchez may get another opportunity, at least initially, but the keys will be handed back over to Smith by season’s end. The Jets defense is going to be solid with cornerback Antonio Cromartie playing like a Pro Bowler, but even the Jets defense won’t be enough to compensate for the lack of offensive firepower. I think this is a rough season for Jets fans.
– 11-5 – Cincinnati is an interesting team. On paper, they are one of the most talented teams in the league. They have one of the best defensive lines in the game led by arguably the best interior lineman in football in Geno Atkins and their linebacking core, now led by former Steeler, James Harrison, and secondary are talented. The defense should be even better than the unit that finished last season 6th in the NFL. The offense has held back Cincinnati in back-to-back playoff appearances with quarterback Andy Dalton struggling to find any offensive playmakers outside of one of the elite receivers in the game, A.J. Green. Now Cincinnati has brought in rookies, running back Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert as two more weapons for Dalton. Despite a roster riddled with talent, it is hard to confidently pick Cincinnati because… well… they are the Bengals. Their talent level warrants more than just an 11-5 record, but they will lose a game or two they shouldn’t and the AFC North is as challenging as ever. I expect Dalton to quiet doubters though and led a very versatile and potentially explosive offense. Look for Bernard to share carries throughout the season, but be a larger factor than incumbent BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Eifert should be solid and I expect him to make a ton of plays. Keep an eye on receiver, Mohamed Sanu who should rack in a good number of touchdowns in the shadow of Green.
– 9-7 – Cincinnati is everyone’s darling from the AFC North, but Baltimore, despite coming off a rather dominant Super Bowl win, is predicted by many to play second-fiddle to the young Bengals squad this season. This is after an offseason where linebacker Ray Lewis retired, safety Ed Reed moved onto Houston, wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded to the 49ers, linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger found new homes in Miami and Cleveland respectively and then tight end Dennis Pitta went down with a season-ending injury. Now Pitta could potentially return by season’s end, but that doesn’t change the litany of questions that surround this team in the present. Quarterback Joe Flacco played lights out during last season’s postseason run, but he has been notoriously inconsistent during the regular season. Now he must rely on running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce as well as third-year receiver Torrey Smith, who I expect to turn in a fantastic season. Flacco should also play very well, rolling with his postseason confidence. I still am not convinced he will play lights out all season as the Tom Brady’s and Peyton Mannings seemingly do, but Flacco will win games with his arm this season, more so than year’s past. The defense won’t be bad. They brought in former Bronco, Elvis Dumervil, and former Raiders safety Michael Huff. They also drafted linebacker Arthur Brown and safety Matt Elam, who should, one day fill the shoes of Lewis and Reed, but in the short-term, they aren’t even the Week 1 starters. The fact of the matter is, Baltimore is still a great football team, but a lot of things have changed since February. Without Lewis and Reed, the defense will have some adjustments to make. Without Pitta and Boldin, the rest of the offensive playmakers will have to play even better. This team will certainly challenge for the division title and at least the wildcard, but I think this is the year Cincinnati finally has the clear upper hand… at least on paper.
– 7-9 – Like Baltimore, Pittsburgh had to watch as more bad things happened to their team during the offseason than positives. They were strapped with their salary cap situation and I posed the question in March: is this the end of the perennial Super Bowl contender Steelers? The answer to that question with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at the helm is… no. Roethlisberger is still one of the best and is more than capable of putting the team on his back, but the problem is that he will have to do so more than ever. Wide receiver Mike Wallace and running back Rashard Mendenhall are gone, as is last season’s leading rusher, Jonathan Dwyer. Receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are very intriguing young receivers who could be exciting to watch. Rookie running back, Le’Veon Bell, is currently hurt at least for Week 1, so Isaac Redman and company will take on running back duties in the meantime and the offensive line is the same offensive line – with the addition of last year’s first-round pick, David DeCastro – that struggled to run the ball and protect Big Ben in the passing game. The defense will be as good as ever, despite losing linebacker James Harrison to Cincinnati, with a healthy Troy Polamalu at safety. The same question of age hangs over the defense’s head again, but that didn’t keep them from fielding the best defense in football a year ago. The thing that gets me is that Roethlisberger is going to take hits and if he misses games, Pittsburgh doesn’t appear – at this point – to have a run game to accommodate for that and then just look at the division. Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland are solid defensive teams who will make each AFC North clash a tough, hard-nosed game. Normally I would pick Pittsburgh to win those games, but there seems to be a chink in the armor heading into this season.
– 6-10 – Cleveland should be better than last season. I’m not sure if they can get many more wins, but they will be more competitive and a more complete team than in year’s past. The offense should be much better with the new coaching staff and offensive coordinator Norv Turner in particular. Quarterback Brandon Weeden should play well in what figures to be a more vertical passing attack than last season, where he struggled as a rookie. The offense isn’t loaded with talent, but running back Trent Richardson should show, this season, why he was a top-five pick a year ago. The receivers are still young, but have some upside with Josh Gordon potentially being a major factor after his two-game suspension to start the season. Also, watch tight end Jordan Cameron who should be a great option for Weeden throughout the year. The defense looks better on paper than a year ago where they finished 23rd in yards per game allowed. Cleveland’s defense is much better than that ranking and if they can get the same sort of defensive consistency on the road that they have a home, they will be hard to score on. Cleveland has the potential to surprise people and fully expect them to get a couple wins agains the superior AFC North teams, but it is hard to predict much more than that for a team with this talent that plays in the rugged AFC North.
– 10-6 – Houston has been to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and have beaten Cincinnati in both seasons during wildcard week, only to fall in the divisional round to Baltimore and New England respectively. Houston hasn’t changed much over this offseason, but they are still a contender to make a deep playoff run once again. Quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Andre Johnson lead what figures to be an even more potent passing attack with the addition of first-round rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The run game has been the strength of the past couple years, but now running back Arian Foster is struggling with injuries before even seeing the field, which has to unnerve the Texans faithful and fantasy owners. I think his backup, Ben Tate, is more than capable of filling in, but then the Texans’ success hinges on the passing game even more. The defense will be good again with defensive end, J.J. Watt leading the way. Houston also gets back linebacker Brian Cushing from a season-ending knee injury that derailed his season a year ago and Houston also brought in former Ravens safety Ed Reed, who still has some playmaking ability left in the tank. This team will be very good, but without Foster healthy, it is hard to see much more than a 10-win season for them. It also doesn’t help that the AFC South has to play the NFC West, which is the deepest division in the NFL and the AFC West, which… I guess just has Denver and maybe, maybe Kansas City to worry about.
– 8-8 – Indianapolis finished a surprising 11-5 last season and made the playoffs behind quarterback Andrew Luck, the coaching of Bruce Arians and inspirational coaching/story of Chuck Pagano who was fighting leukemia. Indianapolis has solid, young talent on the roster and is still a good enough team to make the playoffs again, but I’m not convinced. First of all, Andrew Luck will be better this season. I don’t expect any of the second-year quarterbacks to have the “sophomore slump”, much less Luck. I also expect wide receiver T.Y. Hilton to become a huge part of the offense (says hopeful fantasy football owner). I’m not convinced that the other additions of receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey or running back Ahmad Bradshaw will stay healthy the entire year and I’m not really convinced the defense is any better than they were a year ago. The real issue here is that many forget, going into last season, Indianapolis was a trendy surprise pick because of not only Luck, but because their schedule was soft. They won the games the could have won and got hot at the end of the season, but they weren’t a convincing 11-5 team by any means. This season they take on the NFC West, which houses two of the best teams in the league. Heck, Arizona and St. Louis will probably give teams not based in San Francisco or Seattle, fits all season long. I like Indianapolis to still play well and they could sneak into the playoffs, but I don’t expect to see a replication of their 11-5 record from last season.
– 7-9 – Tennessee is another team who should only be better with their quarterback, Jake Locker, having another year under his belt. Locker has struggled with accuracy issues through his young career, but reports are that the new offensive coordinator, Dowell Loggains, is catering the offense to Locker’s mobility and allowing him to make quick throws or take off running. The other major benefit for Locker this season is, what I think is, the return of running back Chris Johnson. “CJ2K” ran for over 1,200 rushing yards last season, but he didn’t play at the elite level he was at in 2009 when he eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing (hence the CJ2K thing…). I think he returns to elite form with the additions of guards Andy Levitre and first-round pick, Chance Warmack. Both should help clear the way. The defense added former Ravens safety Bernard Pollard to a unit that finished 27th in total defense. The defense doesn’t have many big-name playmakers, which could hinder this team’s chances unless they really improve as a unit. Tennessee just seems like a team that will win against the bad teams and will struggle against playoff teams. Key an eye on Johnson and Locker though, not because they are necessarily going to take the NFL by storm, but because Johnson’s potential return to one of the best runners in the game and Locker’s potential development are interesting storylines to watch.
– 2-14 – I’m sorry Jaguars fans… but I can’t be very optimistic about Jacksonville. I don’t trust quarterback Blaine Gabbert, despite his awesome first name, and I don’t know what Jacksonville is doing defensively. First of all, I don’t think Gabbert is as bad as he looks. By that I mean, with good coaching and a better supporting system I would say you have a remote chance of getting some good out of him, but it may honestly be too late for that. I think Gabbert will find receivers Justin Blackmon (after his four-game suspension) and Cecil Shorts, who aren’t bad weapons. I think running back Maurice Jones-Drew will come back after his season was lost injuries last season and play well even though he is getting up there in age (28). Like most everyone else, I’m not completely sure how rookie offensive weapon Denard Robinson will be utilized, but it will at least be entertaining. The defense looks, frankly, awful. Their starting cornerbacks are Alan Ball and Dwayne Gratz, who may be diamonds in the rough to coach Gus Bradley, but that remains to be seen. I’m excited to watch rookie safety John Cyprien play, but please remember that he is a rookie who is starting in this secondary. Cyprien is someone who plays physical and could be a star on this defense, but he is transitioning from Florida International to the NFL, so I expect some necessary adjustment time. Again, I’m sorry, but Jacksonville doesn’t look good this season. Their offense should be able to put together solid drives assuming Gabbert starts making some progress in his development, but the defense won’t help the offense and this Jaguars team isn’t winning many shootouts.
– 12-4 – Peyton Manning and company are the early season favorites to hoist the Lombardi Trophy come February and for good reason. Manning is back and, presumably, is healthier than he was going into last season. He isn’t getting any younger, but being more comfortable heading into this season is important. He also not only gets back his top receivers, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, but Denver acquired former Patriots wideout, Wes Welker. This trio is unstoppable on paper and should be pretty hard to stop in real life too. Also factor in emerging athletic tight end Julius Thomas who could introduces another wrinkle to an already talented offense (“please throw it to him!” – says fantasy team owner Blaine). Running backs Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball figure to split running back duties this season as Hillman is a better receiver, Ball is a better runner and Moreno is a better “keeping Manning upright-er” aka blocker. The defense, while second last season, is going to be missing pass rushing specialist Von Miller for the first six-weeks due to suspension and corner Champ Bailey for maybe a couple weeks due to injury. Denver doesn’t necessarily need Miller and Bailey to stop opposing offenses, but this Denver defense isn’t the same without them. All in all, look for Denver to run away with the division and make a deep run in the playoffs. They have the offensive firepower to withstand the early season issues defensively.
Kansas City Chiefs
– 9-7 – The Chiefs burned me a year ago when I, like many, thought they would return to the playoffs with quarterback Matt Cassel and running back Jamaal Charles running the show (some pun intended). However, those same Chiefs fell flat on their face and finished a solid… 2-14. Out goes head coach Romeo Crennel and in comes former Eagles head coach, Andy Reid. Cassel was let go and Kansas City traded for former 49ers starter, Alex Smith, who was reportedly one of Reid’s targets during his time in Philly. With the first-overall pick, Kansas City drafted Central Michigan left tackle, Eric Fisher, and the “picking Kansas City for the playoffs” train was alive and well. And here’s why it makes some sense…. Kansas City had six pro bowlers last season, despite also having the worst team record. They have key talent in key positions like Smith, Charles and receiver Dwyane Bowe on offense and linebackers Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Justin Houston, and defensive backs Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith and Eric Berry on defense. Reid is a known “quarterback guru” and a heck of a football coach who, I believe, just needed a change of scenery. The same goes for Smith, in my opinion. Smith should exceed expectations and led a talented Chiefs roster, with great coaching into the wildcard race and, I think, the playoffs. This does sound eerily familiar to my prediction from last season though…
San Diego Chargers
– 5-11 – San Diego’s success starts with quarterback Philip Rivers. Many feel Rivers has lost what made him nearly an elite quarterback a couple years ago while others just point to how much he turns over the ball as being a sign of his decline. I think Rivers still is more than capable of leading a team to the playoffs, but San Diego is just not as talented as they were when Rivers was pushing into that elite category. He feels like he has to do more with the less that is around him and then turnovers result. I say all of this because this year’s Chargers team is another “not as talented as they were” team. The starting receiving options are Malcolm Floyd, who isn’t a true number one, Eddie Royal, who has underperformed in San Diego, Vincent Brown, who has intriguing talent, and Antonio Gates, who is clearly on the backend of his career. The offensive line has been leaky for years and I don’t expect that to change too much even after drafting right tackle D.J. Fluker from Alabama with the 11th-overall pick in April. The defense is a little more exciting though as they have some interesting young pieces, who may keep this team in games they shouldn’t be in on paper. Defensive tackles, Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget are going to be factors, as is rookie linebacker Manti Te’o. Don’t get me wrong, San Diego’s defense isn’t going to be top-10 or anything, but those players in particular are ones to watch. Unfortunately for the Chargers, they just don’t have enough talent to rationalize a much higher record prediction as they are not as talented as many of the teams they are playing this season. They may trap some teams who are traveling from the east coast to play in San Diego though.
– 3-13 – There are going to be some who argue that 3-13 is too generous with this team and they might have a point. Oakland is in complete rebuild mode and that means blowing up the roster and trying to find salary cap space, which was hard to find this offseason. The problem is that this project is a long-term plan, but they still need to play football in the meantime. So, this is a team that simply lacks talent. There are some intriguing players, but this isn’t a team you pick to win many games. Oakland is starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor in Week 1 because he has a better chance of making something happen because he can run. That’s the reasoning. He isn’t a great thrower, but he will be able to move when things inevitably breakdown. Because of his unique skill set, he could find some success, but it is going to be a long season. Running back Darren McFadden is still a superstar… if he would play 75% of the games, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The offensive line is going to give up pressure and while receivers Rod Streater and Denarius Moore have some talent, Pryor isn’t the quarterback who will really allow them to put it on display. The defense is a bit of a mess as well. Their secondary should be decent with Charles Woodson, Tyvon Branch, Tracy Porter and a motivated Mike Jenkins back there. The guy who will be a big name by season’s end because of his play will be rookie linebacker Sio Moore. Moore is a great looking player who will look even better on this team. Oakland is in for a long season. Unless Pryor pulls off something magical for 16 games, I think Oakland is facing a top-5 pick in the next NFL draft, if not the number one pick.
– 9-7 – Let me begin by saying that the NFC East is the most competitive in football this season, in my opinion. Every team is talented and each team has a legitimate reason why they could win the division, so I fully believe the division will come down again to the final week, once again, and the NFC East will only send one team to the playoffs because of how each team beats up on the other resulting in pretty balanced records. I do think Dallas finally pulls it out this season though. I know people bash quarterback Tony Romo, but he isn’t that bad and he eventually has to make it click right? I think the emergence of wide receiver Dez Bryant, who I think will be unstoppable this season, will allow Romo to trust the game and not force bad throws at bad times as he has in the past. New offensive coordinator, Bill Callahan, is a huge deal for Dallas as I believe head coach Jason Garrett was over worked trying to call plays and manage the team. Callahan is one who will get this offense to play more balanced and more effectively. The running game is led by running back Demarco Murray, who probably won’t stay healthy (“prove me wrong!” says fantasy owner Blaine…), but the depth at the position with rookie Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner isn’t bad. The defense is led by new defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin. Kiffin is widely considered one of the greatest defensive coordinators in NFL history after he coached the Tampa Buccaneers defense to a Super Bowl win in 2002. Dallas is switching to the 4-3 defense with this coaching change, but the Cowboys have the talent to make it happen. I think Dallas will thrive off of creating turnovers and I expect Demarcus Ware, now a defensive end in the 4-3 defense, to have a monster season as he returns to his college position. Cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr are one of the best tandems in the league and they should show that as the season progresses.
– 8-8 – Last season’s divisional winners are going to still be in the race for the division as long as quarterback Robert Griffin III stays healthy. Even an injury to Griffin doesn’t spell doom with backup Kirk Cousins, but with how competitive this division is though, “RG3’s” health is still essential. The offense should still be dynamic, as they return most everyone from last year’s squad that ranked 5th in the NFL. However, I think you will begin to see where defenses being to figure out the read-option that Griffin and running back Alfred Morris are so good at. I think the read-option is here to stay in the league, but it won’t necessarily be as effective as it was last season as defenses will prepare new strategies to stop it. If that number one ranked rushing attack from a year ago is limited, then it will come down to the receivers who should play well, but they will need Pierre Garcon and tight end Fred Davis, who both missed much of last season due to injury, to really step up and stay healthy. The defense also hasn’t changed much, but they do get rush linebacker Brian Orakpo back from his own season-ending injury from a year ago. Washington’s biggest weakness is their secondary where they ranked 30th. I’m not sure if it will be much better this season. I think Washington is a solid team that will compete for the NFC East division, but I don’t see them as a team capable of a deep playoff team right now and, as I mentioned before, I think they will be right there to the end like most of the NFC East, but not get a wildcard.
– 8-8 – The Eagles have all eyes on them this season with new head coach Chip Kelly calling the shots. Kelly, the former Oregon Ducks head coach, is bringing in a new fast-paced offense that terrorized college defenses throughout his time in Eugene. Many believe this offense will mean no huddle offense, quick passes and a tremendous emphasis on the run game where running backs LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown should flourish. Quarterback Michael Vick has a chance to play very well this season, as long as he stays healthy, and while the season-ending injury to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin hurts, Philadelphia has some other talented pass catchers like DeSean Jackson, who should also benefit from Chip Kelly’s innovation. The offensive line should be better with tackle Jason Peters coming back from his own season-ending injury a year ago and the addition of rookie tackle Lane Johnson. The offensive line should also benefit from the fast-pace as it should wear down opposing defenses and limit the pass rush. That’s all good and fine, but the defense in Philly is what will really make or break their season. Unfortunately for Philly fans, it’s more likely it breaks it. They are switching to a 3-4 defense and have some new faces like Patrick Chung and Cary Williams in the secondary. Defensive end, Fletcher Cox, should being to make a name for himself this season and the linebackers don’t look bad on paper with Connor Barwin, DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Trent Cole. I personally really like Philly this season. I like the offense and think it will be very hard for teams to stop. I also like the Eagles defense to perform better than expected and make a push for the playoffs. There is talent on this roster, but there are questions that make me think they finish third in the NFC East behind Dallas and Washington, potentially through a tiebreaker. The Giants aren’t pushovers by any means either. This entire division could finish in a number of different ways.
New York Giants
– 7-9 – This seems a little absurd to some, but hear me out… The Giants are a good team. They have a solid, Super Bowl winning quarterback in Eli Manning, an exciting running back in David Wilson, great receivers like Hakeem Nicks, when healthy, and Victor Cruz. Their offensive line gave up the least amount of sacks last season and their defensive line has been consistently the team’s strength for years now. So why a losing record and last place in the NFC East? First of all, I still think all four of these teams will be good this season and the division will beat itself up as the season goes on. I just don’t feel like New York has changed enough and played consistently enough last season. I know it’s a new year, but the Giants sort of have gone through stretches in the last couple seasons where they played lackadaisical and then got hot at the end of the season. This team is good enough to do that again, but with the quality of the NFC East, I think if they do that this season it will be the difference between first and fourth in the division. I like Manning to have a solid year. I think Wilson will have some great looking yards and play well. He better because there isn’t much depth behind him until Andre Brown maybe comes back from a broken leg. Cruz will have a great season and Nicks will do well when healthy. I think New York still has solid line play, but the linebackers and secondary could be were the defense struggles and I just think New York will hit a rough patch of their season and finish around 7-9 and maybe even 6-10.
Green Bay Packers
– 12-4 – I like Green Bay this season. Their offense has some more balance with the addition of second-round pick, running back Eddie Lacy, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his receiving core that lost Greg Jennings, but still has Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, who is poised to explode this season as a playmaker. The defense that was cut up by San Francisco is now healthy and, presumably, more prepared for the read-option. Rush linebacker, Clay Matthews, is still a superstar who should actually have his running mate, Nick Perry, back and healthy. Perry, a second-year player from USC, only played in six games in his rookie season, but should be more of a factor this year. Overall, there isn’t much more to say. The Packers are a very good, complete team. The defense should be better and the offense should be tough to stop. The biggest weakness, especially come playoff time, could be kicker Mason Crosby, who hasn’t kicked with confidence for a while now. If he remains the starter for the full season and doesn’t return to what was elite form, he could be a major liability, but all in all, the Packers are the team to beat in the NFC North.
– 10-6 – The key in Chicago is new head coach Marc Trestman and quarterback Jay Cutler. Chicago has been on the cusp of being legitimate contenders in the NFC with a solid, opportunistic defense and some very good offensive pieces that seemed to just be a little… off. Mr. Personable, aka Cutler, has taken a lot of heat for not being a good leader or not being tough after sitting behind a notoriously leaky offensive line and throwing to receiver Brandon Marshall every single passing play. A slight exaggeration perhaps, but it isn’t as far off as you may expect. Now with Trestman, “the offensive mad genius”, the Bears are an intriguing team to watch. Trestman coached in the Canadian Football League where he won a lot (59-31 win-lose record and two Grey Cups) and is planning on bringing his offensive knowledge to a team that has always seemed to have the defense, but lacked the firepower on the other side of the ball. I think Trestman makes all the difference. Cutler should play very well this season, as should Marshall, fellow receiver Alshon Jeffery and all-purpose running back Matt Forte. The offensive line isn’t fixed, but it is better with first-round pick, guard Kyle Long,who should play well and make a significant difference. The defense is still in tact after seemingly scoring more points than the offense last season. I don’t think the Bears defense will be as good as their 5th overall ranking necessarily, but they won’t need to with their offense playing, what I think, will be more efficient football. I like Chicago this season to earn a wildcard spot.
– 7-9 – Minnesota starts with running back and bionic monster Adrian Peterson. Peterson carried Minnesota, and opposing defenders, to a 10-6 record and playoff appearance a year ago. Peterson ran his way to 2,097 yards rushing, which is 8 yards short of Eric Dickerson’s rushing record. Peterson accomplished all of that with under a year of rehab to recover from a terrible knee injury where he torn his ACL, MCL and PCL. Now he enters this season looking to be the first player to achieve back-to-back 2,000 rushing yard seasons. The scary thing is that it is possible. Prior to all of these speedy recoveries, a torn ACL required two years to fully recover quickness, burst and speed. Yes… you understood that correctly… Peterson is supposed to be fully recovered now and better than last season’s model. I don’t think he makes 2,000 yards again, but I do think he pushes 1,600 and maybe into 1,800 because… seriously… who’s going to doubt Peterson? Oh and for the rest of the Vikings, quarterback Christian Ponder is who will limit this team. The defense is solid with defensive end Jared Allen, linebacker Chad Greenway and second-year safety Harrison Smith, but if Ponder doesn’t show some major development this season, the defense will be on the field too much to even have a chance. Teams will try their best to limit Peterson’s effectiveness and make Ponder throw. Ponder now has receivers Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson to throw to as well as pro bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph from last season. I don’t think Ponder will show enough to get Minnesota back to the playoffs, but Peterson will, once again, carry this team.
– 6-10 – Detroit’s offense is even better this season with the addition of running back Reggie Bush. Bush should be a great outlet for quarterback Matt Stafford when he isn’t throwing it to superstar Calvin Johnson. The offense will put up points with the best of them and after Johnson’s record-setting 122 reception, 1,964 receiving yard season, breaking Jerry Rice’s receiving total, with broken finger no less, I expect Johnson to put on a solid follow up performance. The thing with Adrian Peterson and Johnson is… they aren’t human, so no matter how many people you put in the box for Peterson or no matter how many you send to cover “Megatron”, they will still make things happen. The sleeper in the Lions receiving core is Ryan Broyles, who could take some pressure off of Johnson as the season progresses. The Detroit defense finds in strength in it’s pass rush. Rookie Ezekiel Ansah joins Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Jason Jones to form, not only of the most difficult defensive lines to spell, but also one of the most formidable fronts in the NFL. The linebackers are solid, but the secondary leaves a lot to be desired. Unless that defensive line really can get after opposing quarterbacks, Detroit will find themselves in plenty of shootouts this season. After looking through the schedule, I don’t think they win too many of those.
– 11-5 – Atlanta is another trendy Super Bowl pick after coming up just short against San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game last season. Atlanta is mostly the same team they were a year ago. A multi-weapon passing attack led by a budding star in quarterback Matt Ryan. Wide receiver Julio Jones is going to take his game to a whole new level, which has to be concerning defensive coordinators and the fresh face to offense, running back Steven Jackson, is ready to be on a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Jackson is a huge addition because I think he still has enough in the tank to rush for over 1,200 yards if need be and he is great receiving back in Atlanta’s passing attack. The defense still needs to shore up their holes, but the addition of two rookies in the secondary could be huge by season’s end. Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford both have high-ceilings at cornerback. Atlanta desperately needs at least one of them to step up. The addition of defensive end Osi Umenyiora certainly doesn’t hurt after Atlanta let John Abraham go in free agency. Atlanta still needs to prove they can win in bad weather and on the road, but they have the pieces to make a run.
New Orleans Saints
– 10-6 – I’m backing on head coach Sean Payton coming back after his year long suspension on a mission to terrorize the NFL and I think him and quarterback Drew Brees will be very successful in that mission. The Saints offense is still one of the best in the game and the preseason emergence of receiver Kenny Stills very well could provide New Orleans with another receiver to play with. Tight end Jimmy Graham is going to be a beast this season and while the running back by committee approach will drive fantasy owners crazy, New Orleans has their usual weapons there as well. The defense is changing to a 3-4 defense with new defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan. I think Ryan will get much better from them this season after New Orleans finished dead last in total defense and at one time were on pace to be the worst defense in the history of football. You can only get better, right? I expect the offense to come out swinging and on fire. If New Orleans stumbles it will be because of that defense, but look for rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro. He isn’t technically starting, but he will have a role throughout the season and has an attitude that could be very good for this unit. I think New Orleans doesn’t surpass Atlanta, but the Falcons do have divisional competition this season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
– 7-9 – I’m excited to watch this Buccaneers team. I don’t think they are on the same level as New Orleans or Atlanta, but they are very interesting because their offense was actually pretty dynamic last season with the emergence of rookie running back Doug Martin. Quarterback Josh Freeman continues to be a bit of a question mark, but he has receivers like Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson to throw to. Both can make plays. The defense looks like they could be very good. Tampa Bay traded for cornerback Darrelle Revis and signed safety Dashon Goldson over the offseason, which should help second-year safety, Mark Barron, in the secondary. Outside linebacker Lavonte David played lights out in his rookie season and the defensive line is stocked with former high draft picks like Da’Quan Bowers, Adrian Clayborn and Gerald McCoy. This Buccaneers team is improved and will make some noise, but it will be tough with New Orleans and Atlanta making noise of their own this season.
– 4-12 – Quarterback Cam Newton is the key here. If he can continue to develop as a passer and get the most out of his receiving options (Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Greg Olson), then Carolina is a competitor. Their defense should be actually pretty good this season with linebacker Luke Kuechly coming off an incredible rookie season. Fellow linebackers, Thomas Davis and Jon Beason are very good in their own right when healthy. First-round pick, Star Lotulelei and second-rounder Kawann Short should make a difference at defensive tackle after being continually gashed last season in the run game and defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy can get to the quarterback in the passing game. The issue for Carolina goes back to the offense though. They have some good pieces, but never seem to really maximize their talent and I think this season will be particularly difficult with Atlanta being a Super Bowl contender, New Orleans playing for the playoffs and revenge and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that seems to making the right moves to move into contention. I just can’t trust Carolina right now.
– 11-5 – Seattle is a Super Bowl favorite led by second-year quarterback Russell Wilson and a defense that is absolutely stifling. Running back Marshawn Lynch leads a powerful run game that helps set up Wilson with his receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. Percy Harvin was supposed to factor into that mix, but he won’t until at least mid to late season. A guy I’ve heard could make some noise is receiver Stephen Williams who has an intriguing combination of size and speed. The defense is as good as they get and Seattle got even better with the addition of defensive end, Cliff Avril, over the offseason. Cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner along with safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas will making passing against this team incredibly difficult this season. I don’t think Seattle loses a game at home this season. Their home advantage is that significant, but they could struggle traveling east, particularly for early kickoffs. Seattle didn’t play as well on the road last season.
San Francisco 49ers
– 11-5 – The Super Bowl runner ups are looking to return to the big game with quarterback Colin Kaepernick calling the shots after he took over for current Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith late last regular season. Kaepernick brings great running ability and a strong arm to the position that is surrounded with talent. receiving options Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin figure to be the favorite targets this season, but look for potentially a guy like Quinton Patton or recently acquired wideout, Jon Baldwin, to step up. The defense is very good once again with most of their starters returning. The linebacking group of Ahmad Brooks, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith make the best in the league. If there was a chink in the armor for San Francisco it is the secondary where they are starting rookie safety Eric Reid. I don’t doubt that San Francisco will push for a Super Bowl appearance again, but I do wonder what will happen if defenses find a way to limit Kaepernick’s running ability like Baltimore did in the Super Bowl. They hit Kaepernick on every play and let other players take care of running back Frank Gore if he got the ball. Gore had a heck of a game, but it limited Kaepernick’s effectiveness, which could be something to watch as this season progresses.
St. Louis Rams
– 7-9 – St. Louis is quietly becoming a very good team. Unfortunately for them, it is in a division that houses two of the very best in Seattle and San Francisco and the other team is an Arizona Cardinals team that I think will challenge teams this season. St. Louis will be looking for further development from quarterback Sam Bradford who I think will finally begin to reach his potential as a franchise quarterback. He now has some talented offensive weapons around him in receivers Brian Quick, Chris Givens and electric rookie talent Tavon Austin. I think tight end Jared Cook will also have a solid season as Bradford’s big, athletic security blanket. The running game will be paced by Daryl Richardson, but Isaiah Pead could get more work this season. He hasn’t lived up to expectations yet – he is only heading into his second season – so he will need to step up. The defense is going to be very good this season with a talented defensive line made up of a couple first-round picks in Chris Long, Michael Brockers and Richard Quinn. The linebacking core has one of the best middle linebackers in the game in James Laurinaitis and the very athletic, albiet raw, Alec Ogletree. The cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins make up one of the best corner tandems in the league. Jenkins had a great rookie season and should continue to expand on that this year. St. Louis is a team to watch. If Seattle or San Francisco stumble, St. Louis figures to be a factor. They should steal one or two from those two teams this season.
– 6-10 – Like St. Louis, I would being picking the Cardinals as a potential wildcard surprise if they didn’t play in the toughest division in football. I really like Bruce Arians being named the new head coach. His offensive prowess should get the most out of new quarterback Carson Palmer and incumbent superstar receiver, Larry Fitzgerald. Rashard Mendenhall is Arizona’s new running back and while he not be much more durable than Arizona running backs have been traditionally, he does bring potential if Arians utilizes him properly. The Arizona offensive line has been notoriously bad, which is something to watch, but I trust Arians to at least remedy the issue a bit. Arizona’s defense is just like the rest of the NFC West defenses with a solid pass rush, led by ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett and some great cornerbacks, specifically Patrick Peterson, who should be mentioned as one of the best cornerbacks in the game by season’s end. Oh, and he may play some offensive snaps. Rookie Tyrann Mathieu has been getting a lot of attention this offseason for his playmaking ability. I don’t know if we will see an instant superstar in Mathieu, but it is an interesting storyline to monitor.
MVP – Peyton Manning
Offensive Player of the Year – Adrian Peterson
Defensive Player of the Year – Geno Atkins
Offensive Rookie of the Year – E.J. Manuel
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Tyrann Mathieu
Coach of the Year – Sean Peyton
1. Denver Broncos
2. New England Patriots
3. Cincinnati Bengals
4. Houston Texans
5. Baltimore Ravens
6. Kansas City Chiefs
– Cincinnati over Kansas City
– Houston over Baltimore
– Denver over Houston
– Cincinnati over New England
– Denver over Cincinnati
1. Green Bay Packers
2. Seattle Seahawks
3. Atlanta Falcons
4. Dallas Cowboys
5. San Francisco 49ers
6. Chicago Bears
– Atlanta over Chicago
– San Francisco over Dallas
– Green Bay over San Francisco
– Seattle over Atlanta
– Green Bay over Seattle
Denver over Green Bay
– Oh, think of the story book ending with Peyton Manning leading the Broncos to the Super Bowl at the end of his career (at the age of 37 no less) to take on the Green Bay Packers and win. It is an eerily familiar story to what we saw in 1997 when a 37-year-old quarterback named John Elway led his Broncos to the Super Bowl to play against… the Green Bay Packers. Some might consider this a stretch, but if it happens I am officially a wizard.