Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The 2012 NFL Preview


Could be me, but even though the NFL has resumed its place atop the American sports firmament tonight as the defending champion New York Giants host the Dallas Cowboys (and by the way, with this game being played on a Wednesday so it doesn’t interfere with President Obama’s nomination speech Thursday, I think this now means that I have watched an NFL game every day of the week – make of that what you will), this season caught me by surprise.

Times have been tough for me personally, but I think the reason I did not anticipate the NFL this year is because the Summer Olympics grabbed our attention when the sports calendar was at its most fallow, after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and before the NFL preseason.  I for one get really itchy around the 4th of July to watch something noteworthy, and I have to wait until Labor Day Weekend and the beginning of the college football season for a sport that truly matters (and even though tennis and golf grand slams stir some interest in me, it ain’t a Big Four sport).  But this year it felt like baseball gave way to the London Games, then all of a sudden football’s here.  Not a bad way for time to fly by.

Let’s go to the predictions, and by the way, if the wins and losses don’t add up to the same number, I don’t give a you-know-what:

NFC East: A close race between three teams with serious weaknesses … I have to give the nod to the Giants; all but one starter from last year returns, but they face the league’s toughest schedule, so it’s possible they could match their just-above-.500 record from last year and once again make the playoffs … I see that many people adore Philadelphia’s talent, but it all revolves around the health of Michael Vick, doesn’t it?  I just don’t think he’s going to hold up over 16 games, and the revolving door of his season will lead to a pedestrian year that will finally mean the end of the Andy Reid Era in Philly … Dallas upgraded its secondary to match a pretty stout front seven, but they still can’t protect Tony Romo from bull rushes up the middle.  The Cowboys will struggle to score … If Mike Shanahan is smart, he’ll just toss Robert Griffin III the keys to the car and see what he can do.  It won’t be much, especially with Shanahan shuttling running backs into the backfield like they’re speed-dating, but they’ll be the most fun worst team in the NFL to watch.

Predicted Order of Finish

New York Giants: 10-6

Philadelphia Eagles: 9-7

Dallas Cowboys: 8-8

Washington Redskins: 5-11

NFC North: I’ll go out on a limb and say Chicago wins.  The defense is not as vaunted as some think, but the addition of Brandon Marshall, and the subtraction of the crazy plays of Mike Martz, should put the Bears into overdrive when they have the ball … In the NFL it pays to be contradictory.  Green Bay will be really good and could have the best passing attack in the league, but they outscored opponents by the bushel and turned the ball over at will last year, and regression to the mean demands that the Packers are going to be only really good – and once again fall short of the Lombardi Trophy … I could go on about Detroit’s leaky secondary and the depth issues, but the reason the Lions take a big step back is because Calvin Johnson will get hurt some time this year.  Yes, I believe in the Madden Jinx … OK, to my Vikings: The passing defense has to get better because it can’t get any worse.  The defensive line is aging, so the run defense will get worse.  If Adrian Peterson isn’t 100% from the get-go (and the Vikings are right to not just unleash him in the first game), improvement falls on if the game slows down for WB Christian Ponder.  Unfortunately, I am skeptical.

Predicted Order of Finish

Chicago: 11-5

Green Bay: 11-5 (Wild Card)

Detroit: 7-9

Minnesota: 4-12

NFC South: A division in serious turmoil – so why not Carolina?  Cam Newton will show maturity as a passer, and they can’t go through the litany of injuries and bad luck they suffered in 2011 … The hardest team to analyze, far and away, is New Orleans.  Is the Bountygate suspension of head coach Sean Payton going to destroy this team?  In no sport is a coach more important to his team than football, and even though the offense will continue to flow, and Steve Spagnuolo will begin to retool an evolving defense, I think the loss of Payton will hurt more than some believe.  This will prevent the Saints from making the playoffs … Atlanta will continue to be an offense-only team (with a below-average line), and if Mike Nolan can’t improve the defense in time, the Falcons will lose a lot of shootouts … I just don’t see how Tampa Bay shows any signs of life this year.  Greg Schiano will be the next chapter in a huge book of college coaches failing in the NFL.

Predicted Order of Finish

Carolina: 12-4

New Orleans: 8-8

Atlanta: 6-10

Tampa Bay: 2-14

NFC West: It was only two years ago when the Seattle Seahawks won this division with a record of 7-9.  Now, San Francisco (led by a spectacular defense) will not only win this division but claim home-field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs … And somehow, someway, Seattle will ride its own improving D to claim the second Wild Card … And then there are the dredges of the West.  The team that was in St. Louis, the Arizona Cardinals, still has Larry Fitzgerald, even though they have no one to throw him the ball, so they will sweep the team that is in St. Louis, the Rams, even though they have Sam Bradford and a coach, Jeff Fisher, that will give them a brighter future.

Predicted Order of Finish

San Francisco: 14-2

Seattle: 9-7 (Wild Card)

Arizona: 3-13

St. Louis: 3-13

AFC East: New England still can’t run the ball and still can’t stop anybody on the ground or through the air.  But Bill Belichick still has Tom Brady, and really, nothing else matters … I really think Buffalo has a good team, and I’m really happy about that.  Ryan Fitzpatrick can make plays, and acquiring Mario Williams and Mark Anderson could give the Bills the best defensive line in the NFL.  But – damn, it’s Buffalo!!! … Oh my God, the New York Jets are a better bleep show than a Real Housewives episode.  It won’t matter that they have the best defensive backfield in the league, the New York media jackals will turn the Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow quarterback situation into a tabloid backpage staple, and the team will crater under the pressure … Miami – eh, I got nothin’ for ya.  Well, cutting David Garrard and naming Ryan Tannehill quarterback means the Dolphins are rebuilding for the long haul.  They’ve punted on the year – which is scarcely more than you could say about recent Miami years.

Predicted Order of Finish

New England: 13-3

Buffalo: 9-7

New York Jets: 6-10

Miami: 1-15

AFC North: I don’t want to give the Brown family any credit, but the planets are aligning for Cincinnati to have a really good year.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis could be the next great running back in the NFL now that he’s the man in the backfield, and Andy Dalton-to-A.J. Green could be the next great passing tandem … For a franchise that was stolen from Cleveland, the Baltimore Ravens have earned a reputation as a model franchise that continually wins on the field.  The defense could use some upkeep – and losing Terrell Suggs in the offseason will hurt – but it looks like they’ve reloaded on the offensive end for another playoff berth … Expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to take a fall.  Their best downfield threat, Mike Wallace, didn’t report till late, and their offensive line remains as leaky as it was last year, when Ben Roethlisberger was put on his ass every, like, fifth play … Cleveland, a proud city, is still stuck with the second coming of the Browns, which really hasn’t come yet, if you know what I mean.  Trent Richardson is the only thing this moribund team has going for it, and he won’t be the next Adrian Peterson because he’ll get hurt early in the season.  And the aura of Mike Holmgren will dim even further.

Predicted Order of Finish

Cincinnati: 12-4

Baltimore: 11-5 (Wild Card)

Pittsburgh: 6-10

Cleveland: 2-14

AFC South: The worst division in the NFL; still jarring to me that the pup of this quartet, the Houston Texans, after years of striving, will get to run away with this race.  They’ll sweep the AFC South – so long as they continue to rely on Arian Foster and not make Matt Schaub do too much … Tennessee stood pat in free agency – and therefore they will take a step back.  Maybe Chris Johnson becomes an elite running back again, but Jake Locker is in for a remedial year of a rough education, and he won’t have the services of the troubled Kenny Britt at full-speed … In his first year, Peyton Manning threw more interceptions than touchdowns and led the Indianapolis Colts to a 3-13 record.  I predict Andrew Luck will do the same thing – and show flashes that he will be the next Peyton … Too many bad vibes over in Jacksonville.  Not just because of the holdout of their only star, Maurice Jones-Drew; I really don’t think owner Shahid Khan knows what the hell he’s doing owning an American football team.  And if the owner doesn’t want to set a professional vibe, how will this club win?  The Jaguars will be the worst team in the NFL (and on a side note, I have all three Florida teams winning a combined four wins).

Predicted Order of Finish

Houston: 12-4

Tennessee: 7-9

Indianapolis: 3-13

Jacksonville: 1-15

AFC West: Stealthily, this will become the best division in the NFL, and its most competitive … In the last several seasons of the NFL, at least one cellar-dweller won their division the following season, so why not Kansas City?  They have gotten rid of the toxic Todd Haley, and Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki are back from the injuries that destroyed their 2011 season.  Let’s see if Matt Cassel has the time and protection to manage the offense … Several writers say the Denver Broncos will make the Super Bowl, probably because of Manning.  That makes me pump my brakes; after all, he got to throw all those yards and TD’s in the comfortable and sterile dome conditions in Indianapolis.  But at least he has that awesome defense.  They beat the Bills for a playoff spot on a tie-breaker … On paper, San Diego still is the class of the division.  And Philip Rivers no longer has to worry about Vincent Jackson and Mike Tolbert dropping his passes.  But – damn, it’s Norv Turner!  This has to be year he is finally relieved of his duties.  General Manager A.J. Smith, too … Just lose, baby.  I think owner Mark Davis is going to spend the season purging from the organization anything that has ties to his father, Al.  He already did that by replacing coaches, and Dennis Allen will have to make do with a roster where the veteran presence is the bleepin’ kicker, Sebastian Janikowski.

Predicted Order of Finish

Kansas City: 10-6

Denver: 9-7 (Wild Card)

San Diego: 8-8

Oakland: 4-12

NFC Playoffs: We’ll get the iffy Eli Manning this year, and that will rear its head as they get upset at home as the Pack extract revenge for last year … However, their air raid will get shut down by the 49er D … Who in turn will lose a second consecutive NFC Championship Game at home, this time to a Chicago team that will make enough plays to reach the Super Bowl.

Wild Card: Chicago over Seattle; Green Bay over Giants

Divisional: San Francisco over Green Bay; Chicago over Carolina

Championship: Chicago over San Francisco

AFC Playoffs: The winners of all five games will average around 28 points … Manning’s comeback season will end with a loss in Denver to Cincinnati; it’ll be the first Bengals playoff victory since 1990 … But they will then be eliminated for a second straight year in Houston … Who, in a great AFC Championship Game, will be out-schemed by New England, bloodied and bruised after another battle with Baltimore.

Wild Card: Cincinnati over Denver; Baltimore over Kansas City

Divisional: New England over Baltimore; Houston over Cincinnati

Championship: New England over Houston

Super Bowl XLVII: The Bears have the better defense.  But this game will see 75 points, and Belichick will outcoach Lovie Smith.  After eight years, a lifetime in Boston sports, the Patriots will be NFL champions for the fourth time.

Prediction: New England over Chicago

Posted by WilliamSou at 9:20 PM

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