NFL Predictions ~ 2013
How They'll Finish
Are you ready for some footbaaaaaaal? Man I miss that Monday Night Football theme song. Almost as much as I miss football in general. I have a feeling that most of the country feels that way but the wait is over. Football is here.
Thursday night brings us a mouth-watering game featuring the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens against the Peyton Manning led Denver Broncos. This will be a rematch of a AFC playoff game from last year which saw the Ravens thwart the Broncos Super Bowl hopes. This game will also be played at Mile High Stadium as the champs will have to open up on the road this year due to a scheduling conflict with Major League Baseball. It should make for a nice juicy match-up in prime time.
While these two clubs should be vying for a playoff spot come December let's take a look around the rest of the league and see who will round out the dirty dozen and make the playoffs.
East ~ New England Patriots
Was there really ever any doubt? Sure the receiving corps has been decimated by either injury, departure or even possible jail time. In fact, if tight end Rob Gronkowski misses the first game, which is expected, the leading receiver from last season that will suit up in the opener is......Julian Edelman. If there is one quarterback I can trust to get it done no matter whom he is throwing to it is the Golden Boy, Tom Brady. Couple that with the fact that the Buffalo Bills just tried out Matt Leinart at quarterback, the Miami Dolphins aren't quite ready to compete and then that mess that is the New York Jets, well, how can you not go with New England? Amirite?
South ~ Houston Texans
Everyone seems to be worried about Arian Foster's health issues. Everyone but me that is. A friend of mine told me he was able to select him ninth, (NINTH!) in a fantasy snake draft last week. That is ridiculous. While Foster might not be the MVP-candidate he has been in years past I fully expect him to deliver 1,400 yards and double digit touchdowns. Ben Tate is a capable back so if Foster does miss time the Texans shouldn't miss a beat. Don't forget they can throw it a bit too with Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and my pick for breakout rookie DeAndre Hopkins all catching balls from Matt Schaub. The Indianapolis Colts should hang around this year and make Houston work for it but the division is theirs for the taking. I don't expect much from Jacksonville and Tennessee is a .500 team. The AFC South crown will reside in Houston once again this season.
West ~ Denver Broncos
The number one seed in the AFC a year ago is poised again for another deep run. The addition of Wes Welker almost isn't fair. Think back a few years ago when Manning was zipping the ball around to Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley. They became the first trio of receiving teammates to all eclipse 1,000 yards receiving. That is unheard of. Until maybe this year. Manning will work the slot heavily with Welker who shouldn't miss a beat in his first year in Denver while spreading the field with Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. If there is a finer receiving corps in the NFL I dare you to find it. The rest of the division is putrid at best. I have finally lost faith in the underachieving San Diego Chargers who looked lost last season. Philip Rivers needs to bounce back in a big way or they may be looking for a new quarterback. The Oakland Raiders have been in disarray since 2002 and may be starting Terrelle Pryor in their opener. Yikes. I do think new head coach Andy Reid will make Kansas City respectable again this year and I expect Dwayne Bowe to excel with Alex Smith now in the fold. All that said the Broncos should stampede over the rest of the West.
North ~ Cincinnati Bengals
When Carson Palmer was forced out of town a few years ago I thought that was it for the Bengals. Boy was I wrong. Andy Dalton came in and has Cincy playing better than at any point in the last two decades. Dalton became the first quarterback in franchise history to lead the club to the promised land of the playoffs in his first two seasons. This year he will extend that record to three straight as the Bengals will win the North. Is Baltimore going to be tough? Of course they will. I do think they will take a step back this year though as they will have a target on them which means they will get every team's best shot every week. I wouldn't be surprised if they exceed my expectations but I am sticking with the Bengals. Cleveland will be improved but they will have no business being in the playoff discussion. I think a 7-9 or 8-8 season is more likely. Lastly, we have the Pittsburgh Steelers. A model of success over the past eternity this is the year the wheels fall off. Ben Roethlisberger can't stay healthy and their backfield is a mess. Couple that with the loss of James Harrison and Mike Wallace among others and Steel City could wind up n the division basement.
Wild Cards ~ Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts
The defending Super Bowl champs will be able to properly defend their title in the playoffs. Of that I am sure. Losing Ray Lewis and Ed Reed will be a big blow from a leadership standpoint but they aren't the top notch players they once were. Reed will continue his career in Houston while Lewis will be seen as an analyst for ESPN. This is now Joe Flacco and Ray Rice's team. The offense has been better than what we usually come to expect out of Baltimore and that will continue this year. The defense? I bet they will be fine too. The addition of Elvis Dumervil should be huge. The Colts? I believe they will get in again. They are a solid team and there is quite the drop off in quality teams after them. I tried to think of someone else and came up with bupkis. That isn't a slight against them. I do think they have what it takes to be a playoff team again. I simply wanted to cover all my bases. I think Andrew Luck takes a step forward this season and he will need to with the disarray in the backfield. T.Y. Hilton is my sleeper pick for a breakout year.
East ~ Washington Redskins*
Why an asterisk you say? Well, this pick hinges 100% on the health of one Robert Griffin III. If he is not able to play at the level he showed last season Washington will not win the division. Kirk Cousins is a nice backup and all but they will need RGIII's playmaking ability. The rest of the division? Well, kind of weak to be honest. It wasn't long ago that this was the "toughest division in football" but things have changed. Dallas always seems to have the talent but can't seem to get it in gear. If they figure it out this year I think they win the division. Well, as long as RGIII is hobbled which I expect. The New York Giants may have won two titles in the last few years but have they ever looked elite? I would have to say no. Championships are a wonderful thing but it must be maddening being a Giants fan and not knowing what to expect from the team week in and week out. Lastly, we have the new look Philadelphia Eagles. After fourteen years Head Coach Andy Reid is gone. Fired after a dismal season. Insert Chip Kelly and his high-octane offense from Oregon. Will it translate to the pros? Will Michael Vick be able to stay healthy for 16 games? Too many question marks this year for the birds.
South ~ Atlanta Falcons
I have to say, I am all in on the Falcons. I love their offense and who wouldn't? Matt Ryan has two elite receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones as well as a future hall of famer in tight end Tony Gonzalez who put off retirement for one more shot at a ring. The running game gets a boost with the addition of Steven Jackson who will also be a big help in the screen game. Jacquizz Rodgers is a great change of pace back and I trust Matt Bryant with the pressure kicks. The defense? Well, I guess that leaves a little to be desired. They were tantalizingly close to a Super Bowl bid last season and I think they get there this time around. Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints may have something to say about it but they should be playing meaningful games this Winter too. Tampa may have retooled their defense and employ the services of the muscle hampster but I'm not sure about their quarterback situation. That is what will ultimately hold them back. Carolina is Cam Newton and.....Cam Newton. The dude needs some help. Steve Smith is still a top flight receiver but he hasn't had much help over the years. Defenses will key on Newton and Carolina will finish in the bottom of the division once again.
West ~ San Francicso 49ers
This is the toughest pick of all the divisions. San Fran will be pushed by Seattle this year but I think they have enough to eke them out for the division crown. The Niners D added Nnamdi Asomugha and Glenn Dorsey to complement stud linebackers Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. Frank Gore remains among the best runners in the league and of course, the catalyst, Colin Kaepernick. The passing game won't be what it was when Alex Smith was there (the good Alex Smith) but the defense and rushing attack will be enough. Seattle comes in a close second. Their defense is just as staunch and may have a better rushing attack with Marshawn Lynch but I give the edge in the coaching department. John Harbaugh > Peter Carroll. At least in my mind. That is the difference here. St. Louis should be better and Tavon Austin might be exciting but the Rams are still a ways off. ALarry Fitzgerald should once again rise to the ranks of the elite with Carson Palmer throwing him the ball. They need to hope their patchwork offensive line can keep him upright enough to throw it to him a lot. Like, a lot lot.
North ~ Green Bay Packers
How can I go against Aaron Rodgers? He is the Tom Brady of the NFC. The man can do no wrong unless it comes to putting trust in Ryan Braun. Greg Jennings is gone but James Jones, Jordy Nelson and the explosive Randall Cobb are more than capable of filling that hole. Another hole needing filling for a while now is running back where the Pack will be starting rookie Eddie Lacy. I love this fit. He can grind it out with the best of them. Alalbama has been pumping out backfield beasts lately. Chicago is a wild card team. Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall have a chemistry I can't explain. Alshon Jeffrey should have a monster year as well after an injury-plagued rookie campaign last year. Reggie Bush is going to break the record for most catches as a running back this season. He isn't a big rushing threat but everyone knows that. On the turf in Detroit, he will be dangerous. The Vikings? Well, they have someone named Christian Ponder throwing the ball and until they upgrade there this is all Adrian Peterson all day every day.
Wild Cards ~ Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears
Seattle will be dangerous this year. Everyone knows it. Maybe the element of surprise they had last year is gone and people will take them seriously. Maybe that hurts them. Maybe not. No matter how it shakes out Seattle will be a participant in these playoffs. Get your Skittles ready. The Bears. The Chicago Bears. Every year I pick them to do well and am usually disappointed. Let's see if that happens again this year under new Head Coach Mark Trestman formerly of the CFL. I think his offensive schemes will have Matt Forte as a top back this year. He could catch 75 passes in this offense. It should also help Jay Cutler who is set for free agency at the end of the season. Will he go the route of Joe Flacco and win it all and secure a huge contract? Probably not. But he has a chance and that's all you can ask for in the crazy NFL season.
So, who wins it all? Here it is, my bold prediction.
Peyton Manning matches his little brother by winning his second ring when the Denver Broncos topple the Atlanta Falcons in a Super Bowl rematch that will make you remember doing the dirty bird. Oh, Jamal Anderson, where have you gone?