“I’m out there. I’m out there, Jerry, and I’m loving every minute of it.” Kramer of Seinfeld wasn’t referring to his football predictions, but ‘out there is out there’. Last season I nailed 4 division winners, the Super Bowl loser, and the DROY (Kuechly), for a score of 6 out of a possible 15 (Hey, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Give it a try). Without further ado, my picks for this season.
Denver 11-5 Even with their injuries and looming suspensions, the Broncos have enough to walk away with this division. Peyton is simply the best quarterback of our time (Super Bowl rings not withstanding), and the addition of Wes Welker makes his corps of receivers the best in football. Even if the D is suspect, Kansas City and San Diego haven’t done enough to catch them yet.
Kansas City 8-8 Andy Reid will be a huge upgrade over Romeo Crennel, as will a steady Alex Smith over an inconsistent Matt Cassel. Jamaal Charles is one of the most explosive runners in the game, and he seems a custom fit for Reid’s West Coast style. The defense, rich in talented players, has struggled behind a weak front in recent seasons. The front three will determine how well this team finishes.
San Diego 7-9 Seven wins may be overly optimistic for this team. Philip Rivers, once the reason this team was annually considered a Super Bowl contender, has in the last two seasons become an enigma of sorts. With suspect arm strength and questionable decision making, the lack of playmakers in the injury riddled receiving corps has never been more glaring. The additions of rookie MLB Manti Te’o and journeyman pass rusher Dwight Freeney will improve an already promising young defense.
Oakland 2-14 Commitment to Excellence is still the motto of this storied franchise, but perhaps they should consider aiming just a bit lower this year. The Raiders have been so bad for so long, they’re not even fun to hate anymore. With questions about Darren McFadden’s health and just about every other position on the team, any chance of the silver and black contending this season would have to be considered in the realm of divine intervention.
Houston 11-5 This may be the most balanced team in football. The Texans run game, which features Arian Foster and Ben Tate meshes well with a vertical passing game that features the ageless Andre Johnson and steady tight-end Owen Daniels. On defense, the addition of journeyman Ed Reed will only improve an already elite unite with J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing. This team would contend in any division.
Indianapolis 9-7 Andrew Luck is back, and this time not as a stone cold rookie. He will battle some tough defenses though, with a less than stellar run game and minus the emotion that fired the team last year. For the Colts to make a return trip to the playoffs, he’ll probably need an additional receiver to step in and lighten the load of Reggie Wayne.
Tennessee 8-8 CJ2K might not rush for 2,000 yards, but the explosiveness is back in and out his cuts and I expect he’ll have an all-star season. Jake Locker has looked comfortable in the preseason, and though he may not yet remind anyone of Steve McNair, he should be much improved. I expect the Titans to turn some heads and push the Colts this year.
Jacksonville 4-12 I may be doing the Jaguars an injustice here, but they’re a difficult team to research, and their recent history suggests that they’re just not very good. Any time you go into a season with some question as to who your number one QB should be (Montana and Young being the exception) you are apt to have problems. MJD is back, but only time will tell if he can fully rebound to the powerhouse he once was. Justin Blackmon should show marked improvement over his rookie campaign.
Cincinnati 10-6 A strong, young defense fuels this pick, as Geno Atkins teams with MLB Rey Maualuga and newcomer James Harrison to bring plenty of attitude to the party. On offense, Andy Dalton has improved in each of his two seasons, and has looked better still in the preseason. With any production at all from the running game, led by Ben Jarvis-Green-Ellis, the Dalton to A.J. Green connection might even see a post season victory.
Baltimore 10-6 I sold Joe Flacco and Ray Lewis short last year and they made me pay by beating my Super Bowl pick (Patriots) in the AFC title game. Ray is gone, but there remains plenty to be optimistic about in Poe’s favorite haunts; Ray Rice is still as down as you want to be at halfback, and Flacco, recently elevated to the ranks of the one-percenters with a mega contract, played as clutch as Super Joe in the last post season. T-Sizzle is still around, and now Elvis (Dumervil) is also in the building. And yes, they still have a giant named Haloti Ngata clogging the middle…maybe I should rethink this pick (gulp).
Pittsburgh 8-8 This one scares me, if only because of the years of history that stand against it. Big Ben is a 2 time Super Bowl winning QB and we might as well say the same thing about Troy Polamalu (he QB’s the D), who unlike Roethlisberger, seems to be playing as well as ever. On offense the running game is questionable at best, the speed of Mike Wallace has left for Miami, and the line has proved to be incapable of keeping Ben on his feet. On Defense the big hits that defined James Harrison’s play have moved to division rival Cincinnati and the unit is a year older, and a year slower.
Cleveland 7-9 Norv Turner’s arrival will be as good for Cleveland as his departure was for San Diego. Brandon Weeden will be the chief beneficiary of Norv’s offensive genius, but the upgrade should benefit the young receivers and RB Trent Richardson as well. I expect this offense to be one of the most improved in football, but the tough division will keep them out of the post season. Maybe next year.
New England 10-6 This one is going to make the haters scoff, but as long as Tom Brady is under center, this team is a contender. Gronk is practicing again, and that bodes well. If newcomer Danny Amendola stays healthy, you can pencil him in for a hundred grabs. Stevan Ridley was more than adequate on the ground last year and the other backs in the stable (Bolden, Blount and Vereen) are as able as any group in the league. On defense Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo anchor an underrated unit. This is an easy pick in one of the weakest divisions in football.
Miami 8-8 I know some pundits have picked the Dolphins to win the division, but I can’t see it. New comer Dustin Keller is done for the season and to say Lamar Miller is an upgrade over Reggie Bush would be a stretch at this point. Tannehill was pretty good as a rookie signal caller, but I don’t see Mike Wallace as being enough to put the Fins over the hump. On defense Cameron Wake is a beast of a pass rusher, but is he enough?
Buffalo 5-11 C.J. Spiller’s health will mean everything to this offense this year, as will Fred Jackson’s and Stevie Johnson’s, and the play of currently injured rookie QB E.J. Manuel. When you sign Matt Leinart 2 weeks before the season starts, it may be a long year.
New York Jets 3-13 Wow! Sound-bites, quarterback competitions, questionable coaching calls, injuries and running with the bulls. Never in the history of football has a team this bad gotten this much media coverage. There isn’t a lot good to say here. The Jets best player is in Tampa now, and their best prospect at QB might be to bring Bret Favre out of retirement. Yikes.
Washington 10-6 This division is one of the toughest to call for me. RGIII played lights out last season, as did fellow rookie Alfred Morris, in route to a division crown. Coming back from injury is always a concern, and NFL defenses won’t be taken in by the read-option as easily this year, but I think the kid has enough hutzpah and that Mike Shanahan has enough coaching for them to get it done again. On Defense the return of Brian Orakpo will help to keep the Skins in the hunt.
New York Giants 10-6 Tom Coughlin is every bit the coach that Mike Shanahan is, and Eli is a two-time Super Bowl champ. With Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks to catch the ball, and the emergence of David Wilson as a long run threat, this division could just as easily belong to the G-men. JPP and Justin Tuck are still able to wreak havoc on opposing QB’s, even though Osi has moved south.
Dallas 9-7 This division may come down to a single play, and Tony Romo could be the one to make it. With a competent corps of receivers (Bryant, Austin and Witten) and a capable running game (Murray), staying healthy may prove to be the Cowboys biggest challenge. On defense, new DC Monte Kiffin hopes that the transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3 will be smooth for sack-master Andre Ware.
Philadelphia 6-10 Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense was a thing of beauty at Oregon, but as to how well it translates to the NFL, only time will tell. Mike Vick has looked good in the preseason, but has struggled with consistency throughout his career, and there is always the health of Shady McCoy and a banged up receiving group to consider. I think this is a work in progress.
Green Bay 10-6 In the division I thought the best in football last year, we may see a significant drop off this season. Aaron Rodgers is probably the best passer in football, and even without a running game he will once again light up the scoreboard wherever he plays. On defense, Clay Matthews leads a high-motor unit that should have no trouble grabbing the division crown.
Chicago 8-8 Even without Urlacher this defense can hit, create turnovers and get after the quarterback. The problem for the Bears is under center. Sure, you can expect a hundred catches for mega-talent Brandon Marshall, and you can also expect great play from the versatile Matt Forte, but you can also expect a slew of bad decisions from Jay ‘Jeff George’ Cutler, and in this league—in this division—you just can’t get away with many of those.
Minnesota 7-9 A great halfback and good defense will win you a few games, but this is a passing league now, and it’s hard to compete without a strong passing game. Ponder played well last year, but I’m not convinced that a talkative Greg Jennings is an upgrade over Percy Harvin. Christian played better than I thought last year; perhaps he’ll surprise me again.
Detroit 6-10 Matt Stafford went from one of the greatest statistical seasons ever to ‘what in the world is that’? He was so focused on getting the ball to Megatron, that he has me wondering how well he can really play the position. A return to his 2011 form wouldn’t shock me, but it would do much to mess up this pick of mine. A defensive line with such prospects like Suh, Fairley and Ansah has the potential to be severely disruptive.
Atlanta 10-6 I struggled with this one too; if it wasn’t for the addition of Steven Jackson, I may have given the nod to the Saints. Matt Ryan is poised to step into the elite at his position, and White, Jones and the return of the incomparable Tony Gonzalez gives him plenty of targets. The 11th ranked defense of 2012 may struggle to improve on that ranking in this division.
New Orleans 10-6 I’ve seen this team picked last elsewhere, but I can’t imagine that. The return of Sean Peyton should bring some continuity back to this powerhouse offense, and a healthy Jimmy Graham won’t hurt either. If new DC Rob Ryan can get the porous defense up to even ‘average’, we should see the “Who Dat’s” back in the playoffs.
Tampa Bay 8-8 I had difficulty predicting the record, not the placement in the standings, with this team. I like what they’re doing in Tampa, and while Freeman and Jackson and Martin are doing their thing on the offensive side of the ball, the Bay’s new Island (Revis) and ex-49er safety Dashon Goldson will help to shore up a leaky secondary. There is a lot of talent on this squad that may surprise.
Carolina 7-9 Another tough choice. The Panthers won five of six down the stretch last year, and seven of their losses were by a TD or less. Steve Smith is a year older and the running game seems to lack any star quality. This puts a lot of weight on Cam Newton’s shoulders. On defense, rookie of the year Luke Kuechly leads a squad that will face a brutal schedule.
Seattle 11-5 Russell Wilson surprised many last year, as did Marshawn Lynch. Although we know what to look for this season, a ball control offense coupled with a stout D is a tough combination to beat, and Seattle’s defense is the best in football. Write them down for eight home wins, and three or four on the road. I see them going deep into the post season.
San Francisco 11-5 Jim Harbaugh proved smarter than all of his critics last year when he chose second year man Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith midway through the season, and I expect nothing less from him this year. Still one of the best defenses in football, the pressure is again on the 49er offense. Injuries at wide receiver have added additional pressure to Kaepernick, Frank Gore and TE/SE Vernon Davis, but I believe they’re up to the task.
Saint Louis 6-10 I know the Rams played great against their division last year, but with the departures of Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola, they will have a much tougher time this season. Sam Bradford may show improvement and rookie sensation Tavon Austin will no doubt have his moments, but even James Laurinaitis and the rest of the D will not be enough to bail out this offense against the other defenses in the West.
Arizona Cardinals 6-10 Larry Fitzgerald has longed for a QB to get him the ball since Kurt Warner exchanged his shoulder pads for a microphone, and the Cardinals signed a man who can do it in Carson Palmer. The running game rests on the damaged knees of Rashard Mendenhall and will unlikely produce the results they hope for. On defense, Patrick Peterson leads a group that may once again need to overachieve to carry a beleaguered offense.
NFC Winner: Seattle Seahawks
AFC Winner: Houston Texans
Super Bowl Winner: Seattle Seahawks
Offensive MVP: Drew Brees
Defensive MVP: Clay Matthews
Offensive Rookie: Eddie Lacy
Defensive Rookie: Manti Te’o
That’s all folks, and not even a thin sheet of gabardine to protect me from my critics. Please chime in and tell me where I went wrong, why I went wrong and how I should bet if I happen into a sports book in Vegas. Thanks for reading.
About the Author
Written by Steve Massey
Steve Massey is the author of Grid Iron Audible at @prosportsblogging.com, a weekly column covering all things NFL related. He is originally from California, but now resides in Northern Arkansas with his beautiful wife and best friend, Debbie. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveMassey9