The 2012-13 NFL season is now in session. Who will make it a memorable season? Who will make it one to forget? Here are my predictions for the season:
American Football Conference
NORTH – Baltimore Ravens
SOUTH – Houston Texans
EAST – New England Patriots
WEST – Denver Broncos
AFC NORTH: My choice was the Ravens to win the North but the division is aware of the young Cincinnati Bengals, who I picked to finish second, and if they get in as a wild card watch out. The exceptional combination, and frankly one of the best in the NFL, of quarterback Andy Dalton, who is headed into his sophomore season, and Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green will continue to work their magic. They’re paired with a a good running game and a scrappy and aggressive defense.
Pittsburgh fans don’t beat me up to bad. You have an offensive line that is not very good and a defense that is aging, injured and not explosive as in the past. I just can’t remove the vision from my mind of Tebow running and throwing all over them in the playoffs last year.
AFC SOUTH: The Texans are my choice in the South. If not for a ton of injuries in 2011, they would have had a better overall record and possibly gone deeper into the playoffs with Matt Schwabb at the helm. The Wade Phillips 3-4 defense has settled in and they are fine-tuned for dominance within the conference. Despite the Colts getting some luck, in quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts’ fan base must have some patience.
AFC EAST: The New England Patriots have several things going for them in 2012, a Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady, Hall of Fame coach in Bill Belichick and a very favorable schedule. They have continued to build the roster on both the front and the backend to upgrade all three phases. I like both the Jets and the Bills who have made great strides during the off season, but until Brady says he is retired, the Patriots will be the favorite in this division.
AFC WEST: The team that sits a mile high atop the Rockies are the Denver Broncos, where there is a new sheriff in town, his name is Peyton Manning. Broncos’ top executive John Elway and head coach John Fox were thrilled when the Colts botched the Manning situation and they found themselves in the hunt for the most sought after free agent in the past decade. Surrounding Manning with weapons outside the numbers in Decker and Thomas, a slot machine in Stokley and capable tight ends to work the middle of the field, a solid running game, not to mention a highly explosive John Fox defense run by defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
National Football Conference
NORTH – Green Bay Packers
SOUTH – New Orleans Saints
EAST – Philadelphia Eagles
WEST – San Francisco 49ers
NFC NORTH: This is one of the most talented divisions across the board and was really tough to stack. Green Bay got the edge because they have arguably one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers. The Packers must sure up their issues on defense from 2011 and not allow the carryover of bend but don’t break strategies, giving up 300 plus yards per game. The Chicago Bears were a close second. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz is gone and the keys to the Cadillac have been handed to Mike Tice. Changes in how they protect the quarterback and run the ball will be the key for this Bears team. Quarterback Jay Cutler is licking his chops with the addition of a familiar receiver in Brandon Marshall. The two played pitch and catch when they were teammates in Denver early in their careers. Despite a defense that is getting long in the tooth, the Bears deserve to be number two because they will win in all three phases of the game with play maker Devin Hester returning kicks. It was tough placing the Detroit Lions in the third slot because they have a good quarterback in Matthew Stafford throwing to the best player in the game in “Megatron”, better known as Calvin Johnson. The Lions’ defense is stout, active and extremely explosive, led by their front seven. The major negative is their running game, until they can run the ball effectively in the division; they will be considered a runner up.
NFC SOUTH: During the summer Carolina, Atlanta and Tampa Bay were all hoping that the Saints organization would screw up and not sign Brees back. Instead New Orleans signed their leader, captain and future HOF quarterback to a long term deal but they lost their head coach for the season. “Bounty Gate” set this team back in several areas including coaching, front office and the locker room. With that being said this team is still the top of the division and will repeat as the champion. The second spot goes to the Atlanta Falcons, but if the Carolina Panthers can stay healthy and Cam Newton can repeat or exceed his rookie year they could sneak into the second slot and possibly earn a wild card berth. Tampa Bay has a lot of good pieces in place, starting with a new head coach in Greg Schanio, and top flight quarterback in Josh Freeman. If the running game steps up and they play solid on defense they will make a lot of noise down the stretch.
NFC EAST: The Philadelphia Eagles called themselves “The Dream Team” in 2011, and despite under achieving, they really have the most talent within the division. The fan base in the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ is getting restless as is the Eagles’ owner, who called out the complete organization. The time is now. Michael Vick needs to lead this team to the promise land, this is a must win season and a pivotal turning point. If Vick gets hurt during the season the Eagles will turn to rookie Nick Foles, a pocket passer with size, arm strength, and all the positional attributes needed to carry this team in an emergency situation. Their defense that was leaky against the run last season; that will need to be fixed. The Giants are the defending Super Bowl champions and will be in the thick of the fight for the division title because of Eli Manning, but more so because of their defense. The Dallas Cowboys have upgraded the defense in the back end and will pin their ears back and attack the edge of the opponents. The big question for me is can Tony Romo deliver under pressure in critical games down the stretch? Another 8-8 season and an early exit out of the playoffs won’t get it. Washington has a new toy in RG3, he will be exciting, but the building blocks are still being formed.
NFC WEST: The cream of the crop is still the San Francisco 49ers and they continued to help themselves in free agency and the draft during the off season. Alex Smith will only need to play within himself and deliver to the weapons around him to win games, and allow the defense to win a championship. The battle for the second slot is between the Seahawks and the Rams. The big question for the Rams is can Sam Bradford return to the form of his rookie season, under his third offensive coordinator, continue his development as a leader and make those around him better? Steven Jackson is ready to run, as usual. The young offensive lines development will be the key to protecting Bradford and opening holes for SJ39. The Rams defense has some nice pieces in DE Chris Long, DE Robert Quinn, rookie CB Janoris Jenkins, CB Cortland Finnegan and their bell cow middle linebacker James Lauriniatis. The backend of the defense is where the concerns may come into play down the stretch. Seattle has the second best defense in the division behind the 49ers and will start a talented rookie at quarterback by the name of Russell Wilson. He will endure some growing pains but he is extremely poised in the pocket, athletic and spins a good ball to stick it on a receiver or throw to an area where the defender can’t get to it. The Arizona Cardinals still have the best receiver in the division in Larry Fitzgerald, but have struggled to secure a signal caller. Kevin Kolb hasn’t lived up to his billing, and they have put all their eggs in the John Skelton basket.
Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots = Texans
San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers = 49ers
San Francisco 49ers vs. Houston Texans = 49ers