Football is back, and I’m fairly certain there’s nobody as excited about it as I am. No, not even you. Seeing as I nailed my MLB predictions this year (NOT), I felt I’d give the NFL a shot. The AFC seems so easy to call, with an elite tier and a whole host of teams that have ZERO chance of winning more than 8 games. The NFC is one of the hardest calls in recent memory. There’s almost no scenario that would shock me, and each division lacks a runaway favorite (ala New England, Denver, Houston in the AFC).
So how did I come to the conclusions you'll see below? I value depth and quarterback play more than anything. Teams built around one player tend to be dangerously thin in other areas, but save for an injury to Brady, Manning, Rodgers, or Brees, those teams will be very competitive this year. There will be disappointments and teams that woefully underperform, and there will be a team in contention early on that has no place being there.
Without further bloviating, here are my 2013 predictions, division by division, starting in the AFC.
1. New England Patriots (Div. Champ)
They have no challenger in this division, yet again. Barring a Brady injury, their schedule allows them to coast to at least a first round bye.
A lot of writers think this is the most improved team in football this year, but I don’t see how Mike Wallace turns Ryan Tannehill into a playoff caliber quarterback. Remember, Tannehill was a wideout at Texas A&M for two years, and is still inexperienced as a QB. Does anyone really expect him to take a playoff spot away from Tom "Greatest Living American" Brady?
There are a lot of great new coaches in the NFL, and a lot of exciting new-style offenses being employed involving running QBs. And then there’s the Bills. EJ Manuel might be a very good quarterback someday, or even this season. But Doug Marrone couldn’t even win at Syracuse, and we’re seriously talking about the Bills making the playoffs?
Is anyone else tired of seeing the Jets on SportsCenter every second of every day? I’ll keep it short and simple….they suck.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (Div. Champ)
WHAAAT??? The consensus pick to disappoint in 2013 is my pick to steal the North. Big Ben has won two titles, and played reasonably well in a new offense last season, and it’s still a hell of a challenge trying to win in Heinz field against a Steeler defense.
2. Baltimore Ravens (Wild Card 1)
The defending champs added Elvis Dumervil and lost basically everything else from last year’s team. Boldin, Pitta, Birk, Lewis, Reed, and Ellerbe are too much to replace to win a division. However, the home field advantage and the stellar play of Joe Flacco should be enough to grab a couple divisional wins and make it to the playoffs out of the North.
The consensus pick to soar in 2013 is my pick to disappoint. Andy Dalton is good. AJ Green is great. Giovani Bernard has the potential to be great. Does anyone fear playing in Cincy, though? They lack a strong secondary, something Ben and Flacco can exploit twice a year, and even 92 year old sophomore Brandon Weeden can have a little fun with.
The most depressing and unsuccessful football team of all time has another last place finish in store, but it’s not all doom and gloom. I like their roster, and if they played in a weaker division they could make the playoffs. The schedule is too brutal to make a run this season.
1. Houston Texans(Div. Champ)
The only question is whether Matt Schaub can channel his inner Flacco and silence the doubters with a deep playoff run. This team is solid on all fronts, especially in the trenches, and is ready to make a Super Bowl run.
2. Indianapolis Colts(Wild Card 2)
Andrew Luck is one of the best quarterbacks in the game, and he’s played just 16 games in his career. If he limits the picks this year, and has some semblance of a running game to lean on, they could steal the division and the fans will officially be wearing "Peyton Who?" T-shirts.
Meh. Just meh. Nothing exciting, just a decent team at all facets of the game. They could win anywhere between 5 and 9 games, depending on the development of Locker in year 3.
There’s a football team in Jacksonville? Really? Jacksonville?
1. Denver Broncos(Div. Champ)
The easiest path to the playoffs in recent memory. If Brock Osweiler was the starter, they still might win the division. With a future Hall of Famer under center, it’s not even fair. 14 wins does not seem out of the question.
Alex Smith is not as good as people make him out to be. Neither is Andy Reid. How on earth is it a bold prediction to say this team finishes under .500? They went 2-14 last year, and yet they are just about unanimously picked to rebound and finish somewhere around 9-7 or 10-6. If the trenches are truly where games are won, then the Chiefs are in big trouble.
Their roster is atrocious, and were it not for the Chargers, this team would be certain cellar dwellers. Pryor might be a find, but this team really has no chance to surpass 6 wins, much less 8.
What on earth happened to Philip Rivers? I remember a day not so long ago where people were drafting him ahead of Brady in fantasy football, and now he’d be lucky if he was drafted ahead of Sam Bradford. The depth chart of the Chargers is laughable. Barring a Ryan Mathews miracle season, this is a 3-13 or 4-12 roster.
1. Dallas Cowboys (Div. Champ)
Every year they burn me, and yet I keep on picking them. I mean, at some point Tony Romo has to follow up a fantastic statistical season with something other than a choke job in week 17 or the playoffs, right? Right? The winner of the perennial "NFC East Title Game" on NBC Week 17 will be Dallas, this time around.
They’re so consistent. They’re there every single year, contending but not blowing anyone away. They seem to start well, collapse, and then finish well every season. Their vaunted pass rush is fading, though. It’s another mediocre year in the Meadowlands.
Am I the only person that just despises RGIII? A self-promoter on a level we haven’t seen in some time, Griffin doesn’t come back from the knee injury with the same explosiveness and cutting ability (unlike a certain Purple Jesus), and the Skins fall to third. He still finds a way to shoot 47 commercials about his greatness throughout the season, however.
There are two scenarios with Chip Kelly’s regime. The first involves the offense taking the league by storm and the defense doing just enough to get by. The other involves abject disaster on both sides of the ball, especially the D, which looks horrendous going into the season. I’ll go with the latter.
1. Green Bay Packers (Div. Champ)
They represent all that is wrong with the NFL. They have a super elite quarterback, and use the NFL's safety rules to an unfair advantage. They have no running game, no offensive or defensive line, no secondary, no special teams, no run defense. But they do great every year because they know that the league wants elite quarterbacks to be protected. A may be a little biased.
Adrian Peterson is the greatest football player of all time. Okay, maybe not yet but he’s closer than you think. If we had even a decent quarterback, perhaps Andy Dalton or Matt Schaub, we’d be Super Bowl contenders. But no, we’re stuck with an inept, duck-throwing QB who’s only accomplishments to this point include marrying ESPN’s best sideline reporter and winning the Adrian Peterson "Don’t F This Up, Just Give Me the Ball" award in 2012.
The least-improved team of the offseason, the Bears defense will still be above average, the offense will be better, but the team is fielding so many players upset with their contract situation that the locker room could explode. Also I hate Jay Cutler.
Jim Schwartz is the world’s worst driver. All he does is pass. Ha ha. Seriously, unless Reggie Bush can run between the tackles with some consistency, it’ll be National Pummel Matt Stafford While He Looks For A Double Covered Megatron Day every week.
1. Atlanta Falcons (Div. Champ) p>
This division features the worst defenses possibly ever put on the field. Matt Ryan and Drew Brees could throw for eight million yards apiece this year. Whoever can muster a semblance of a pass rush or secondary will win the division. Atlanta is slightly better on defense, and wins both shootouts against the Saints.
2. New Orleans Saints (Wild Card 2)
Have I mentioned that they have no defense? Not required in today’s NFL however (see: Packers, Green Bay) as an elite QB leads them to the playoffs with 5,000 more yards and 45 more touchdowns. Expect a lot of 44-41 games along the way.
Luke Keuchly is a force. Cam Newton is talented. Steve Smith is a legend. Uhhh….can you name anyone else capable of "wowing" you? They have a small chance to sneak into the playoffs with some help from the porous defenses in Tampa, New Orleans and Atlanta.
Greg Schiano is making no friends throughout the league with his coaching style, and he will dearly pay for it again this year. His teams play tough and hang in every game, but his demeanor and style tick off the opposing coaches and players just enough to get the best performances out of the opposition.
1. Seattle Seahawks (Div. Champ)
And now, for something completely different. Two old school teams battling for first by running the ball and playing fantastic defense. The best rivalry in football will be staged three times this year, and what great television it will be. Why’d I pick the Hawks over the Niners? Russell Wilson will win multiple titles, with his poise and his mind. Colin Kaepernick will be too busy trying to count to ten for the first time to notice Wilson stealing the spotlight.
2. San Francisco 49ers (Wild Card 1)
I’m a Viking fan living in the Bay Area. In case you’re not familiar with the San Francisco sports scene, it is awful. The fans are as fairweather as anywhere outside of Miami and the coach in SF is as annoying as a crying baby on a plane. If there is any justice in the world, they’ll miss the playoffs this year. Alas, there is none.
A very similar situation to our Vikings. Minus the whole "greatest running back ever" thing. Is Sam Bradford the guy? Is this defense good enough to be a playoff team? Are there enough weapons on offense? Too many questions, not enough answers in year 2 for Fisher and Co. I like where the roster is headed, though,
What’s this year going to be like for the Cards? Fans will point out that they started 4-0 last year and defeated the Patriots and Seahawks. What they don’t mention too often is the 1-11 finish. Ouch. Expect a 6 win season in this brutal division.
How do I go through these predictions without being biased? I can’t. You all know I hate the 49ers and Packers and love Tom Brady. I’ll attempt to give a reasonable explanation for each series, just as I gave a reasonable (albeit snarky) reason for my division picks above. Here we go. AFC first.
(6)Colts over (3)Steelers
Andy Luck is good at football. I mean really good.
(4)Texans over (5)Ravens
Schaub takes the next step, ala Flacco, against Flacco in the Wild Card Round.
(1)Patriots over (6)Colts
Who thought we’d see another Colts-Patriots playoff game this quickly? Unfortunately for Indy, Brady once again gets the better of the Colts in January and steamrolls his way to the title game.
(2)Broncos over (4)Texans
Manning finally wins a cold weather postseason game in his 249,000th try. Another talented Texans team can’t handle an elite quarterback in the postseason.
(1)Patriots over (2)Broncos
In what could be the final postseason meeting between, in my opinion, the two greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, the result is still the same. Manning plays great, but Brady wins. A game for the ages gives a thrilling conclusion to the Manning-Brady era.
(3)Atlanta over (6)New Orleans
Matty Ice is such a badass nickname. As I said before, the difference here is the slight edge in defensive talent in Atlanta.
(5)San Francisco over (4)Dallas
I love when a classic NFL rivalry reconvenes in the playoffs. Tony Romo leads a furious comeback that falls just short, and the fighting Krapernicks move on.
(1)Seattle over (5)San Francisco
The best rivalry in football is played for a third time, this time in prime time and with the season on the line, and Russell Wilson outplays his counterpart en route to a two touchdown thrashing at the Link.
(3)Atlanta over (2)Green Bay
Mr. Ice plays well in the cold, and thrashes the Pack in a shootout. Rodgers and his disturbing moustache are eliminated after a late comeback isn’t enough.
(1)Seattle over (3)Atlanta
Russell Wilson cements his place as the greatest dual threat quarterback in the NFL, and delivers the promise that Vick and so many before and after him couldn’t.
SUPER BOWL XLVIII
My favorite non-Viking player ever (Brady) faces the second favorite team in my household (due to my brother’s decision to become a Seahawks fan circa 2002) in an ideal matchup. Can Tom Terrific overcome the league’s best defense with a cast of characters that lacks the talent that Seattle boasts? Can he finally win the big one for the first time since 2004? We shall see.
Seahawks 34 Patriots 31 (F/OT)
NFL MVP – Tom Brady
Offensive Player of the Year – Adrian Peterson
Defensive Player of the Year – Luke Keuchly
Comeback Player of the Year – Darrelle Revis
Rookies of the Year – Giovani Bernard, Jarvis Jones