For all 32 teams, the time has arrived.

Thursday night’s battle between the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and Peyton Manning Denver’s Broncos officially kicked off the 2013 NFL campaign, and on Sunday the rest of the field gets its first taste of the action. There are teams that are young, teams struggling to find a signal-caller, teams with stout defenses. Out of the clutter, who ultimately emerges to claim the Lombardi Trophy?

Only time will tell. There will undoubtedly be several teams that struggle out of gate and finish at the bottom of their divisions – the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars and the only team to ever list four quarterbacks and two punters on its 53-man roster at the deadline, the Oakland Raiders. While the Cleveland Browns are making small steps in the right direction and looked much improved during the preseason, they also find themselves are in a very tough division and will struggle to break out of the Factory of Sadness this season.

When I look at the NFC, I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid like a lot of folks when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys. They will be a middle-of-the-road competitor in the NFC East, while Chip Kelly’s hurry-up offense will display flashes of greatness in his debut season with the Eagles. Philadelphia, however, will not have enough strength on defense and will struggle to stay out of the cellar.

The wins and losses in the NFC North, meanwhile, will be divided by a fine line. It’s hard to put Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and the Detroit Lions in the basement of this division, so that “distinction” falls to Christian Ponder and the Vikings. The play at the quarterback position will be the determining factor, and defenses can bank on stacking the box to contain Adrian “All Day Peterson.” The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals share one thing in common, too, in that they both play in rough and tough divisions – and will bring up the rear in the NFC South and NFC West, respectively.

Below are my predictions for the 2013 playoffs along with my Super Bowl winner. Will this year’s postseason party come down to the best quarterback at the helm, the best defense or the top coaching staff? In all likelihood, it boils down health and depth. Once the tournament arrives, those factors – along with a strong running game and a stout defense – make the biggest difference between winning and losing.

  • NFC North             Green Bay
  • NFC South             Atlanta
  • NFC East                New York
  • NFC West              San Francisco
  • NFC wild cards   St. Louis, Seattle
  • NFC champion   San Francisco

 

  • AFC North            Cincinnati
  • AFC South            Houston
  • AFC East               New England
  • AFC West              Denver
  • AFC wild cards   Kansas City, Indianapolis
  • AFC champion   Denver

 

  • Super Bowl champion San Francisco