The NFL season is right around the corner, and anticipation is predictably high. Now's the time to look across the league and predict how each team will finish, including their postseason fortunes. We'll see a lot of the usual contenders, as well as some surprise finishes from up-and-coming teams.
New England (14-2)
Have you seen their schedule? It's a joke with the only two “hard” games being Houston and Baltimore. It's pretty obvious the NFL wants them to do well, which explains the cupcake schedules each year.
Where are the Saints? Packers? Steelers? All of them could be on their schedule, and they’d still probably go 11-5.
Buffalo Bills (9-7)
I love what they’ve done to their defense, particularly their defensive line in adding Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, who was a great rotational player in New England and Chicago before that. First-round pick Stephon Gilmore is a ball-hawk playmaker who should remind fans of Henry Jones on the good 1990s teams and Keon Carpenter at worst.
This team still needs weapons on offense, mainly a complementary receiver who, like Carolina, they always need but never get.
New York Jets (8-8)
I think the record should and could actually be significantly worse, but Tebow vs. Sanchez will be an issue all year, and I think it will be a distraction. Tebow likely will “will” the team to a few improbable wins, thus again supporting the lofty eight-win record when we can see in the preseason this team can’t score touchdowns.
Still, I’m a big Santonio Holmes fan. I think he fits here because the need at WR is so great, and I think he—along with their wide receivers—can move the ball down the field; it's just a matter of whether they can get into the end zone.
Miami Dolphins (4-12)
No Chad Johnson, and a friend who has watched Hard Knocks told me that he doesn’t believe that Joe Philbin can coach nor does he know what he’s doing.
I think the first-round pick, Ryan Tannehill, is a joke, isn’t ready yet and will be thrown into the fire without
complementary pieces around him in order for him to be successful. Let’s not forget he’s a converted wide receiver in college, and he really only had one good year yet was taken too high at eighth overall.
Brandon Marshall suggests this offense could be one of the most anemic in the league.
Baltimore Ravens (12-4)
They just cut Billy Cundiff, and kicking was one of their few weak spots on an otherwise loaded team. The only issues I have with them—like every year—are their age, especially on defense, and a complementary receiver to Anquan Boldin who didn’t exactly light it up last year.
Still, this team runs through the D and Ray Rice with Joe Flacco serving as a placeholder and “game manager."
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
Steady as she goes. No Rashard Mendenhall means someone else will have to step up and they will.
This team always has depth and seems to prepare through the draft and insight. Lost the leadership of Hines Ward, but this team is a machine and won’t miss a beat.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-10)
Andy Dalton comes cashing back down to reality this year. He’s looked terrible in preseason and half the reason will be the division this team plays in. They’ve got some talent, but it's still too top-heavy to compete with the two premier teams of the division. That’s four losses right there.
Cleveland Browns (3-13)
Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Brandon Weeden looks like an almost surefire bust. I questioned the pick right away. Not only is the guy 28 and a rookie, but more importantly, he doesn’t have the offensive weapons around him to make him a better player and adjust to the NFL.
His weaknesses will be exposed as he’s asked to do more when defenses line up eight in the box to stop Trent Richardson and the run.
Denver Broncos (11-5)
Yes, I am buying into the Peyton Manning hype, as much as I don’t want to. All I know is he makes players around him better and gets the most out of them. Eric Decker’s status will soar, and he’ll probably be a Pro Bowl wide receiver.
The defense will play inspired all year because of Manning’s aura.
Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
Although I don’t like Matt Cassel as their quarterback, Jamaal Charles is back at running back and that is huge for them. They also have a very capable defense which should keep them in games and a great kicking game, so they should win many of the low-scoring, close games.
Oakland Raiders (9-7)
I really like the Raiders on paper, but then again, I’m a big Carson Palmer fan who thinks he can fit in here. If Darren McFadden can come back healthy and they can move the chains, this team finally could get in the playoffs.
Maybe they rally around the new GM, coach and Mark Davis, and are inspired by the late Mr. Davis? Don’t count that out.
San Diego Chargers (6-10)
If everyone else in the division has winning records, the losses have to pile up somewhere, right?
I’ve never liked Philip Rivers. He’s a big-game choker who's never going to even make it to a Super Bowl, much less win one. Let’s not forget that GM AJ Smith and coach Norv Turner really both should have been fired last year per general consensus.
Will the Los Angeles rumors distract them all year (h/t LA Times)? Melvin Ingram, a great college player, looks to be a fantastic first-round pick if he can make the transition, but I’ve seen big-name players have good years (Shawn Merriman, Shaun Phillips, LT) only to have the team loaded with stars come up short every year. Why would this be any different?
Houston Texans (10-6)
I really think the loss of defensive leader Mario Williams—along with former Pro Bowler DeMeco Ryans—is worth an additional loss or two, but the rest of the division is so weak that they should be fine.
No real impact free-agent additions, nor did their draft really inspire me, but I think they’ve turned the corner as a franchise, and in this division, that’s good enough.
Tennessee Titans (9-7)
Jake Locker looks to be fitting in great for them as their next quarterback and they’ve got Kenny Britt at WR. The defense is good enough and only lost Cortland Finnegan.
Two wins against the Jags and Colts and probably a split against Houston is five wins right there before they’ve even played a game out of division.
Indianapolis Colts (6-10)
I think the Andrew Luck transition won’t be as bad as some think. I am starting to believe, and I can’t stand the Colts. I’d love to see this team down for years after all those lame Manning years but I think Luck is just too good and a player like that will find a way to win.
Consider they got his college TE in Coby Fleener and kept Reggie Wayne. The cupboard is not bare, but who's running the ball with Joseph Addai gone? Even then, this team is a passing one and always has been.
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)
I don’t have much good to say about them other than Blaine Gabbert has looked better in preseason. Like the Holmes-Jets fit, I think rookie Justin Blackmon could challenge RGIII for ROY because he’ll be one of their few weapons on offense and at WR especially, meaning he’ll get the ball a lot. His stats will be there, but the wins won’t be.
New York Giants (11-5)
In respect to the champs, they haven’t done anything nor lost any major free agents in order to lose this status. They are anything but steady—like Pittsburgh, for example, we’ve seen when they win, it's off 9-7 seasons.
The bottom line is they find a way to win when it's all on the line, coupled with a string of late-season wins.
Washington Redskins (10-6)
Probably my lone bold pick in an otherwise safe, “chalk” prediction list. It's pretty obvious the reason is RGIII. I just think that the one need this team always faced with talent on both sides of the ball the past decade was at quarterback; I think they’ve finally addressed that and stopped the revolving door.
But even if they haven’t, it appears fourth-round pick Curt Cousins is more than capable of playing that “Charlie Batch”-type role of coming in and winning a few games if need be.
Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
Will they take the Miami Heat-type step up this year after last year’s trial-and-tribulation year of growing together as a team?
Part of the reason for this lower-than-expected record is simply the good division they play in; each week they will be tested.
Dallas Cowboys (5-11)
Jason Witten is already hurt and from what I have heard, they’ve looked really awful in preseason. This year, I believe the NFL is going to be a bottom-heavy league where the bad teams are numerous, and those that are bad are really bad.
I think is exhibit A.
Green Bay Packers (13-3)
I'm tempted to put Chicago in first after their additions of Michael Bush, whom I’ve always liked, and Brandon Marshall, but Green Bay is still Green Bay as long as they have Rodgers. With that front office making decisions, this is where they stay until otherwise noted.
With that said, the division will be better than last and a few unexpected loses could come from within, but on paper, they are the best.
Chicago Bears (11-5)
We know who they’ve added; now they just have to stay healthy and prove it.
Detroit Lions (8-8)
I expect the Lions to take couple steps back this year. Let's face it, all they really are is a Matt Stafford (shoulder?) injury away from being the same old 6-10 Lions.
Let’s just say I’m not a believer in them yet. Johnson could suffer the Madden curse being on the cover and all, and Nick Fairley seems to be a loose cannon, which they’ve already got in Suh.
Minnesota Vikings (5-11)
The real winners of the offseason are—I don’t care what anyone says—the Vikings. They will never be moving to Los Angeles, or anywhere else for that matter, for at least the next three-and-a-half decades after a new stadium was forced through a reluctant state legislature at the 11th hour.
As a Viking fan, I can tell you, this team is three Matt Kalils short of having a good offensive line. Harrison Smith shores up one safety spot, but what about the other?
Their only good WR is a disgruntled Percy Harvin, and their offense will run through multiple-TE sets similar to New England. This is a rebuilding year—make no mistake about it—but I finally loved their draft.
They picked up PK Blair Walsh, seventh-rounder Audie Cole has looked great is preseason, WR Jarius Wright can do nothing but help a thin WR corps and third-round CB Josh Robinson has to emerge as the starter opposite Winfield, right?
San Francisco (11-5)
This is probably the easiest division to predict because it's clearly the weakest. I don't even like the 49ers' long-term prospect, as I am anything but sold on QB Alex Smith. It's just the rest of the division is so bad and their defense so good, they can't help but win by default, right?
WR Randy Moss on this team does nothing for me, but they have a good offensive line and a good running game.
Seattle Seahawks (8-8)
I don’t know where to put this team. They could win 11 or they could lose 11.
I love that they are starting Russell Wilson at QB; all he did was win in college and probably will do the same in the NFL. He’s a natural athlete.
Their defense is good enough and their offense is similarly good enough with or without the enigmatic Sidney Rice. They seem to get so much out of their special teams and sneaky play with field position. Had T.O. made the team and really ignited, I could have seen them really doing something, but for now, Braylon Edwards will have to suffice.
Arizona Cardinals (6-10)
The only reason I don't have their higher is they don't have a consistent QB. Kevin Kolb was supposed to be that guy, but it appears he doesn't fit this offense. He was a flash in the pan, the Cardinals fell for it and are now stuck with him.
Every other facet of this team, from first-round pick Michael Floyd to the defense and special teams (Stephen Howling, Patrick Peterson), is set, which makes their lack of QB really more sad and all the more glaring because it's the one thing holding them back. I’d go with Skelton and hope for the best because the weapons are there if he or Kolb can just figure it out consistently.
St. Louis Rams (4-12)
What kind of health is QB Sam Bradford in? This team needs weapons at WR to take the pressure off RB Steven Jackson. Chris Long is one of the few bright spots on D. Moving to L.A would probably really inspire this team.
New Orleans Saints (11-5)
We all know their suspensions, but there are just too many weapons on offense for any of that to matter and for Brees not to have success. The real test comes in January’s playoffs.
Carolina Panthers (10-6)
Too high? No, they really like first-round pick LB Luke Kuechly, who has done a nice job in camp. Newton having another year will only improve things, and they are deep at TE which finally makes up for their perpetual need at WR to complement Steve Smith.
Atlanta Falcons (9-7)
Many of these wins will come at home where they dominate, at least in the regular season. A few of these losses, and hence, the pessimism will come from an improved division.
Tampa Bay Bucs (4-12)
You know I really liked their free-agent moves of Vincent Jackson and Pro Bowler Carl Nicks. Like San Diego, they have to take the brunt of the division’s good teams piling up all those wins and this is it.
AFC Wild Card Round
AFC Divisional Round
(1) New England Patriots over (5) Pittsburgh Steelers
(2) Baltimore Ravens over (3) Denver Broncos
(2) Baltimore Ravens over (1) New England Patriots
NFC Wild Card Round
NFC Divisional Round
(1) Green Bay Packers over (6) Carolina Panthers
(2) New Orleans Saints over (5) Chicago Bears
(1) Green Bay Packers over (2) New Orleans Saints
(2) Baltimore Ravens over (1) Green Bay Packers
MVP Ray Rice
Coach of the Year: Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Robert Griffin III, Redskins
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Stephon Gilmore, Bills
MVP: Newton, Panthers
Weeden (Cleveland), Tannehill (Dolphins), Richardson (Cleveland, if all he does is run up the gut right at the line)