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2013 NFL Playoff Predictions: Broncos, Patriots Lead a Top-Heavy AFC
While the AFC won't be as exciting to watch as the NFC, a conference in which excellent teams may miss the playoffs, there are plenty of things to watch for in 2013. Can Big Ben Roethlisberger take the Steelers back to the postseason? Will the Kansas City Chiefs thrive under Andy Reid? Will the offseason spending of the Miami Dolphins reap rewards? Let's take a look at some predictions as to who will excel this season in the NFL.
1. Surprise, Surprise: Broncos Dominate the AFC West
If you haven't heard it anywhere else, you'll hear it here: the Broncos are stacked. Peyton Manning, one of the all-time greats, is throwing to Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and newly-acquired Wes Welker. Rookie tailback Montee Ball is poised for a breakout season. The painful memories of the 2012 AFC Divisional Playoff Game defeat will lead Von Miller and Champ Bailey to work hard to establish their defense as the best in the NFL. While the loss of veteran Elvis Dumervil in the offseason to a fax issue may hurt, don't look for the Broncos to mourn him in 2013. Rather, look for them to easily win the AFC West and end the regular season with a record as high as 14-2.
2. Patriots Explosive Runners and Takeaway Defense Excel
It's no secret: Tom Brady is a winner. Wes Welker is gone. Brandon Lloyd is gone. Aaron Hernandez is gone. No one has any idea when Rob Gronkowski will be back on the field, but none of that will matter. Running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen will keep the offense moving while Brady helps new receivers Danny Amendola and rookie Aaron Dobson post excellent stats. The defense will give up yards, but there are so many opportunities for the "bend but don't break" Patriots to make a fumble recovery or a pick-six that you can never fully count them out. While the Dolphins have made some impressive moves, don't take a second look; the Patriots still own the AFC East, at least for one more year.
3. Ravens Win a Competitive AFC North Title
While the Ravens certainly lost some great defensive players in the offseason, General Manager Ozzie Newsome was prepared. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed will be missed, but the departures of Paul Krueger and Bernard Pollard (among others) are replaceable. Tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Torrey Smith are expected to improve. Ray Rice is Ray Rice. Free agent pickup Elvis Dumervil will pair up with a healthy Terrell Suggs to create a havoc-wreaking Ravens pass rush. Joe Flacco is inconsistent, but knows how to take a team to the playoffs. It may not always look pretty, but expect the winners to keep on winning.
4. Texans Keep AFC South Thanks to Improved Secondary and Passing Game
You thought the Texans defense was good last year? The acquisition of Ed Reed and the return of inside linebacker Brian Cushing will bring a powerful veteran presence that the Texans may have lacked last year. With rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins expected to start, he may be the rookie pass-catcher to watch in 2013; he's a great fit for the Texans offense and head coach Gary Kubiak will teach him how to excel. Andre Johnson and Arian Foster will remain among the best at their position, and incumbent Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt will remain as dominant as ever. The Colts have some great players, but don't expect them to oust the Texans out of the AFC South Title.
5. Andrew Luck and the Colts Return to the Playoffs
Although Bruce Arians' deep passing offense will be missed, the Colts still have all the talent to make the playoffs with a West Coast offensive system. In fact, the new system is sure to eliminate the number of interceptions sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck posted last year, who is also sure to develop into an even more prominent leader. While Reggie Wayne won't post the same excellent numbers he did in 2012, look for the dynamic wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Coby Fleener to improve. The offseason pickup of Ahmad Bradshaw can provide the Colts with a three-down bruiser running back, with a solid backup in Vick Ballard if Bradshaw's injury history catches up to him. While the defense may still be relatively porous, expect the power players on offense to lead Chuck Pagano's team to the 2013 postseason.
6. Dolphins' Investment Pays Off
I don't see the Dolphins winning a playoff game this year, but they are certainly poised to make it to the postseason. An underrated defense, which now pairs draft pick Dion Jordan with the dangerous Cameron Wake, will keep games close enough for the developing Ryan Tannehill to shine. While Mike Wallace is a mostly overrated receiver, he will keep opposing defense backs busy; he's not a guy you want to see uncovered in the back of the field. The departure of Reggie Bush will allow for a more consistent running game, and the Dolphins may be able to show enough strength to challenge (but not beat) the Patriots for the AFC East.
Teams who have the potential to make the postseason in 2013 are:
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Big Ben is back, the defense is still fearsome, and rookie Le'Veon Bell will give the Steelers a running game far superior than the one they displayed in 2012. If the offensive line improves (which is almost certain), look for the Black and Yellow to return to the playoffs.
- Kansas City Chiefs: The defense will be better in 2013, though not unbelievably so. Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe will post better stats this year. I believe both new head coach Andy Reid and new starting quarterback Alex Smith have seen the better part of their careers. However, Kansas City has the personnel to form a threatening passing attack; if Reid and Smith can write off the critics and do what they do best, the Chiefs will be a serious contender in the AFC.
- Cincinnati Bengals: While questions about third-year quarterback Andy Dalton's potential are valid, the Bengals have made the playoffs for two years in a row. AJ Green is one of the league's best receivers, and the rookie tandem of tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard can alleviate some of Dalton's shortcomings. The Bengals quietly boast one of the best defensive units in the NFL, and I can only see them improving in 2013. There are a few questions on offense, but don't be surprised if the Bengals keep doing what they've been doing.
Who will win the AFC North?
- 21% Baltimore Ravens
- 21% Pittsburg Steelers
- 50% Cincinnati Bengals
- 9% Cleveland Browns
This poll is now closed to voting.
User Poll: AFC North Champion
The AFC North has become the most competitive division in the AFC, with intense rivalries all around. I believe a maximum of only two AFC North teams will make the postseason in 2013; which AFC North team will guarantee themselves a playoff berth by winning the division? Comment below with your thoughts!