28 August 2013

2013 NFL Predictions

The National Football League is a few weeks from returning and we know that you are not counting down the days. Just in case you forgot, the Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII but they went through a little bit of shuffling on the defensive end with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, and Bernard Pollard are all gone, as well as wideout Anquan Boldin. Can the Ravens become the first team to repeat since the Patriots in 2005 or will we see somebody new win the Vince Lombardi Trophy? It's time for my 2013 NFL predictions.

Awards Predictions
*Wild Card

1. New England Patriots (12-4)
You cannot start a discussion on the Patriots without noting what has gone on with tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was arrested two months ago with the charges of the murder of Odin Lloyd. He was promptly cut, then he was indicted on Tuesday and now he is on the way to spend many moons behind bars. This has been a distraction for the club, one that no team ever wants to have to deal with.
As the Patriots try to move forward, they will have other issues at tight end with Rob Gronkowski, no stranger to injuries to his back, coming off back surgery, plus Wes Welker departing for Denver. Now Tom Brady has a whole new crew, featuring the talented but brittle Danny Amendola replacing Welker, Julian Edelman, former Bill Donald Jones and rookies Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson. Fortunately, the running back crop looks pretty good with Steven Ridley as the workhorse and Shane Vereen as the top receiving target, and the line is very strong as well.
For a team that puts up a lot of points offensively, the Pats have shown an inability to shut down the pass. It starts up front as the club has struggled to put together a strong pass rush. They need Chandler Jones to be healthy all season as he was good in the first half, and Rob Ninkovich is a solid player as well. Vince Wilfork doesn't bring any pass rush, but he is so strong at plugging gaps that it's fine. The secondary has some issues as well and they need Aqib Talib to have another solid season (and one out of trouble), Alfonzo Dennard to stay out of trouble, Devin McCourty to continue to look good at free safety and Adrian Wilson to still have some game. At least the linebacking unit is excellent with Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Brandon Spikes all being very good.

2. Miami Dolphins (8-8)
The crowds at Sun Life Stadium have been disappointing over the last several years, but this looks like a year that gives reasons for folks to come back as the club was quite aggressive in the offseason with some big signings. Mike Wallace was the biggest in terms of dollars and while he was certainly overpaid, he immediately upgrades their shoddy receiving corps whose speed makes him somebody to account for on every play. Brian Hartline was the prior top wideout, a role for what he did not fit well, but now he has the ability to excel even more as a number two. Ryan Tannehill impressed me last year under center even with his decent numbers and I think he has the ability to excel in Joe Philbin's and Mike Sherman's offense. He will need better play from his offensive line, but hopes are high for Jonathan Martin on the left side and free agent signee Tyson Clabo, and center Mike Pouncey is very talented. The team also has some questions at back with the talented sophomore Lamar Miller expected to be the starter with the disappointing Daniel Thomas and the speedy rookie Mike Gillislee backing him up.
Miami looks to be very aggressive defensively this year and expect coordinator Kevin Coyle to show a variety of looks, including a couple of college schemes in the 3-3-5 and the 4-2-5, both of which he flashed some last year. Cameron Wake is the leader of the crew and he is a beast off the edge and the team hopes that Dion Jordan, who they traded up for, is a similar kind of player opposite him and he certainly has the talent and the tools to do so. Linemen Jared Odrick, Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick are all rock solid. There are hopes that Dannell Ellerbe, signed from Baltimore, and Philip Wheeler, signed from Oakland, are aggressive and versatile playmakers at the second level. There are concerns with the secondary, one that really struggled last year, and they'll need corner Brent Grimes, signed from Atlanta, to recover well from his Achilles injury, rookie Jamar Taylor to contribute right away and somebody to step up at safety.
The playoffs are likely a year away, but this should be the best team in Miami since 2008.

3. Buffalo Bills (4-12)
Yeah, I kinda hated the E.J. Manuel selection and I still hate it because I don't see him not being a bust, even when working under the tutelage of new coach Doug Marrone, who I like. After all, and I certainly am not the first to say this, but how many quarterbacks that were inconsistent in college because really good in the pros? He probably won't be ready to start the season due to his knee injury but the team wants him to start, no matter how raw and unready he is. What's even better is that undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel may have to start the season opener considering Kevin Kolb sustained a very serious concussion.  Fortunately, he gets to share the backfield with C.J. Spiller, who may very well be the most electric back in football (although our friend in KC will disagree), and he gets to throw to S. Johnson, who is quite good in his own right. Beyond that, there is a lot that is unproven about the rest of their weapons, although I like rookie wideout Robert Woods. The line took a big loss at guard with Andy Levitre signing with Tennessee but there are still solid blockers in the mix, including Cordy Glenn at left tackle and Eric Wood at center.
The key player in Buffalo's shift to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Mike Pettine will be Mario Williams, who was generally a disappointment last year even as he finished with 10.5 sacks, as he will be asked to move to the edge, which he did rather well in his last year in Houston before getting hurt. There will be plenty of pressure on him as there is nothing opposite him. The defensive front has some players with the talented Marcell Dareus and the relentless Kyle Williams leading the way, with Alan Branch in the mix to help against the run. Half of the secondary is very good with safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but there are some questions at the other spots.
With the known issues at quarterback, it will be a long year in Buffalo, but maybe there is hope for the future?

4. New York Jets (3-13)
Well, this won't be pretty, so let's start with the positives which just about exclusively are on the defensive side of the football. Rex Ryan runs a pretty aggressive 3-4 defense that shows some 4-3 looks and a key piece of his unit this year will be last year's first rounder, Quinton Coples. He will be out for about a month, however. There are also high hopes for 2011 first rounder Muhammed Wilkerson and I like this year's first Sheldon Richardson a lot on their line, even as there is a void at the nose. The team will absolutely miss star corner Darrelle Revis, who is off to Tampa, but Antonio Cromartie and rookie Dee Milliner should make for a fine corner tandem, but there are unknowns at safety. David Harris is the new leader of the defense and he is as good as anybody in the middle, and the club likes his partner, DeMario Davis. Calvin Pace has seen himself released and picked back up, and he and Antwan Barnes have to shown some juice off the edge.
While things are largely positive on defense, the offense looks like a fiasco, even with the strong hire of new coordinator Marty Mornhigweg. I like Chris Ivory and the move to acquire him, but he may be the only consistent weapon on offense. At wideout, Santonio Holmes is always hurt, Braylon Edwards appears done, Stephen Hill has very shaky hands although I do like Jeremy Kerley in the slot. The line was inconsistent last year but Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson are both solid players. And Mark Sanchez, I'm sorry, your ship has sailed. But it doesn't help that Geno Smith has not looked sharp in all in camp and in the preseason.
Let's be honest, the Jets are going to be a disaster. But they probably will not be the worst team in the league, so there's that.

1. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
I must say, as the record above indicates, I am buying hard into the Bengals in 2013 but if they want to take a step forward towards real Super Bowl contention, Andy Dalton has to improve. That's not to say he's some scrub, he's not by any stretch, but he right now is a good quarterback that needs to be a very good quarterback at least for this team to fly. Fortunately, he has a lot of offensive talent to work with. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is nothing to write home about at back and Gio Bernard gives them a big-play threat at back that they have not had in many a year. A.J. Green is awesome but they need some more production opposite him. I love the team going into the two tight end look with talented rookie Tyler Eifert joining talented holdover Jermaine Greshem. The line is strong as well.
The defense may not have too many household names but coordinator Mike Zimmer does as good of a job as anybody. Geno Atkins is a stud against the run and pass at tackle with 12.5 sacks and Domata Peko is a true stuffer next to him. Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap also apply plenty of pressure and the team also hopes that James Harrison still has something left in the tank. The rest of the linebacking unit is hit-or-miss as Rey Maualuga is garbage but Vontaze Burfict was a real surprise last year. The weakness of the club may come at safety, but fortunately the corners are in decent shape with Leon Hall leading the charge.
Call me crazy, call me maybe, but the Bengals are title contenders.

2. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)*
Baltimore lost a number of key guys from their Super Bowl victory last year, but folks are kidding you if they really think that this team is taking multiple steps backward. After all, Joe Flacco, who was magnificent come playoff time, is back in town along with their best offensive player, Ray Rice, his spell partner, Bernard Pierce, the speedy Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, a couple talented but underutilized tight ends and a very good offensive line (although they need to sort out who will replace Matt Birk). What I did not like them doing was dealing Anquan Boldin, but I think Ozzie Newsome has won our respect.
There was a lot of shuffling on defense in the offseason but the unit should be just about as good as it was in recent years. Elvis Dumervil was an excellent signing and he and a healthy Terrell Suggs should be a fearsome tandem rushing the passer. Haloti Ngata may just be the best player on this defense now and he is surrounded by Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, the former should help rush the passer, the latter will help stuff the run. I am a big fan of athletic rookie Arthur Brown, who will try to replace Ray Lewis. I do think there are some questions in the secondary Baltimore needs Ladarius Webb to return strong from a torn ACL, Corey Graham to help replace Cary Williams, Matt Elam to step right in and contribute, Jimmy Smith to actually be worthwhile, and Michael Huff to build off his solid season in Oakland.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)
Personally, I am not feeling the Steelers as some others are and I see them as doing a little better than .500. It is not because of their defense, which may have gotten stronger from a pretty good unit a year ago. The Pittsburgh pass rush was not that imposing a year ago so the drafting of Jarvis Jones, an absolute steal, should immediately help in that regard, as should Lamarr Woodley, who is in need of a bounce-back campaign. The secondary is pretty sound as well, even as much of the key pieces (Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark) are aging. The defensive line is a little disappointing though as Cameron Heyward and Ziggy Hood have not met expectations but fortunately Brett Keisel, who is no young duckling, is still around.
The offense for the Steelers could be a little bit of an issue as the club has not fully adapted to coordinator Todd Haley, particularly Ben Roethlisberger. I love the man they refer to "Big Ben" but it was clear he did was not much of a fan of Haley's system, which has to change. Also, the running game has to come about and the pressure for that is second round pick Le'Veon Bell. Mike Wallace is gone and may not be forgotten easily considering how much of a difference maker his speed was, the likes of which neither Antonio Brown nor Emmanuel Sanders have. There is some fine talent on the line, particularly in center Maurkice Pouncey, right guard David DeCastro, who lost last year to injury, and tackle MArcus Gilbert.
Well at least they will be better than last year, I think.

4. Cleveland Browns (5-11)
Yet another season, yet another rebuilding project for the Browns. The latest job is being led by new owner Jimmy Haslam, new CEO Joe Banner (formerly President of the Eagles), new GM Michael Lombardi and new coach Rob Chudzinski. There is some talent to work with on offense, but also potential downfalls with each spot. Trent Richardson, last year's first rounder, is very talented and showed a strong nose for the end zone, but he also had to fight injuries and can look sluggish from time to time. Josh Gordon has the talent to be a pretty good wideout, and he flashed a lot of game last year. Greg Little is similarly talented, but he can;t catch the football. I do like Brandon Weeden at quarterback, I think he has a good arm, I didn't think he was awful last year and I don't care that he's 30. plus he now gets to work with Norv Turner, but I don't see much of a future with Chudzinski. Cleveland does have a fine line and both LT Joe Thomas and C Alex Mack are excellent.
Ray Horton is an excellent defensive coach and he has some talent to work with as he transitions this team back to a 3-4. The deepest position may be at outside linebacker where holdover Jabaal Sheard joins Paul Kruger from Baltimore and rookie Barkevious Mingo (who I think will be Vernon Gholston but alas). The inside spot could be questionable but D'Qwell Jackson is a fine football player. There is some talent on the line as well but Phil Taylor has to stay healthy at the nose, Ahtyba Rubin has to be stronger at the point of attack and Desmond Bryant has to convert well to a 3-4 to prove he's worth the money he's getting. Joe Haden will carry the secondary and T.J. Ward is a solid safety but the other two spots are question marks.
There could be progress but it won't show in the win column.

1. Houston Texans (10-6)
Matt Schaub is a good NFL quarterback, he'll win you game, get you to the playoffs and put up numbers, but he also is not the guy who will lead you to a Super Bowl victory. He is made stronger with a good running game considering his really good play fakes and thus Arian Foster will have to continue to perform at a high level. Bringing in fullback Greg Jones will help but what could help more is if Ben Tate has a bounce-back year as the backup. It looks like the team may finally have found themselves a wideout worthwhile next to Andre Johnson by selecting talented Clemson product DeAndre Hopkins, who has good hands and runs great routes. He should be enough of a threat to keep defenses somewhat honest when covering Johnson, who is coming off another great year. Owen Daniels is a pretty good tight end when he is healthy and the entire offensive line returns.
Wade Phillips runs a strong defense, but the core focus has to be end J.J. Watt, who was historically great last year with over 20 sacks (incredible for a 3-4 end), 16 deflections and four forced fumbles. Opposite him is Antonio Smith, who is a sound pass rusher himself, totaling seven sacks. Earl Mitchell is a fine player at the nose. There are some questions at linebacker as Whitney Mercilus and Brooks Reed are a little unproven outside, Brian Cushing has to recover from a torn ACL and a starter has to be found next to him, which may end up being Reed. The secondary took a hit when Glover Quin signed with Detroit and thus they are hoping that either Ed Reed has something left or rookie D.J. Swearinger adapts to the NFL quickly. Fortunately, the cornerback tandem of Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson is quite good.
While their playoff ceiling may be limited, this is a playoff team no doubt.

2. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)*
The Colts took many folks by surprise, especially me considering I had them with the worst record in the league in all my infinite widsom, but they won't be surprising anybody this year as they look to be even better. It all starts with their budding star at quarterback, Andrew Luck. Luck was good but still showed strains of inexperience as expected last year and he will only get better, particularly as he continues to build rapport with the skill players and as his plays will be called by the talented Pep Hamilton, who called his plays at Stanford. The running back crew is not that impressive as former Giant Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard will lead the way but the reciving corps is very intriguing with Reggie Wayne still looking very good, the talented T.Y. Hilton showing plenty of flashes, and a pair of talented tight ends with Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. However, the offensive line may be questionable at best with possibly the surest bets being at tackle, where Anthony Costanzo is highly thought of on the left side and Gosder Cherilus is a solid mauler on the right.
Indianapolis had a very inconsistent defense last year that struggled quite a bit from time to time and thus it will be the unit that will decide how far the team can go. Robert Mathis remains the key pass rusher in this 3-4 alignment and opposite him will either be the rookie Bjoern Werner, who may have some struggles converting to this scheme, or Erik Walden, who was grossly overpaid in the offseason. The line could be solid if Ricky Jean-Francois, formerly of San Francisco, continues to improve, Josh Chapman solidifies the nose and Cory Redding continues to play well and hopefully stay healthy. LaRon Landry and Greg Toler were both signed in the offseason to bolster the secondary and both can do that if they stay healthy. Vontae Davis is a very good corner, albeit one that will get penalized and Antoine Bethea is decent at safety.
I don't see a drop-off this year, and if the defense improves, they could go deeper than expected.

3. Tennessee Titans (7-9)
The Titans should be better than they were a year ago, especially after an expensive offseason, but they will only go as far as quarterback Jake Locker can take them. Locker has been very inconsistent as a pro, showing tools and glimpses of good play but not enough of them. He is only in his third season and still needs seasoning, but the leash is getting tighter. Chris Johnson was not happy when the club brought in former Jet Shonn Greene but he should be as having a powerful back to pair with will keep him fresher and better and allow him to take off on long runs more often. The offensive line was also upgraded, particularly at guard with the signing of Andy Levitre and the drafting of one of my favorite players, Chance Warmack, to go with a solid tackle tandem of Michael Roos and David Stewart. There is also talent at wideout with Kenny Britt, sophomore Kendall Wright, who should see more time this year, and rookie Justin Hunter. Delanie Walker is not as talented as Jared Cook but is more well-rounded.
Tennessee's defense was miserable at times last year, but they also showed some improvement down the stretch with more aggressive playcalling. Said playcalling greatly benefited talented outside linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown, who combined for 11.5 sacks and are extremely athletic, as well as for defensive ends Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley. Colin McCarthy is a fine middle linebacker and Mike Martin and Jurrell Casey should be a solid tackle tandem. The secondary needed a lot of work and thus safeties Bernard Pollard and George Wilson were added and corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson was drafted. Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner both return, as does the erratic Michael Griffin.
A run at .500 is not out of the question, and coach Mike Munchak may need that if not more to save his job, but Locker has to improve to get there.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)
There is hope in Jacksonville with a new GM (David Caldwell) and a new coach (Gus Bradley), funky new uniforms and even that huge new scoreboard coming in the future, but they still have that joker Blaine Gabbert under center, who is a travesty. Why they didn't invest a middle to late pick on a quarterback is beyond me (although they are looking for a QB in the loaded 2014 draft) is beyond me. Chad Henne will see some action and he's limited himself, and don't count out the undrafted Matt Scott, who I like. The team does have a pair of talented wideouts in Justin Blackmon, who is suspended for the first four games, and Cecil Shorts, and the team will look to find roles for rookies Denard Robinson in whatever way that entails. Maurice Jones-Drew looks to carry the team once again, but he suffered through injuries all last season and the team has nothing else there. The line looks to be strong at tackle, where the second pick Luke Joeckel joins Eugene Monroe, but the rest of the line is in question and center Brad Meester is aging.
The defense was a fiasco last year and this is where a talented coach like Bradley will try to work his magic. Their pass rush was pitiful last year and I don't see where or how it got better, except for maybe a full season from Jason Babin, who was a late pickup during the season. The line has changed around some players, including adding Sen'Derrick Marks and Roy Miller at tackle, but this is a group that will struggle to rush the passer, and Tyson Alualu has to step up his game big time this year. The linebackers are a disaster save for middle man Paul Posluszny and the secondary is going to need a big contribution from second round pick Jon Cyprien at safety.
I like both Bradley and Caldwell a lot, but this will be a long season in the River City.

1. Denver Broncos (11-5)
This is a club that is clearly gunning for a Super Bowl this year, but there are now some concerns with their defense, particularly their pass rush. Von Miller will be suspended for the first six games of the year for violating the substance abuse policy, and that is a big blow not just because he is the best player on that defense, but also because after the Elvis Dumervil  fax debacle, their pass rush has taken a major hit and considering their issues with their secondary as shown in the AFC title game, that could mean the difference between getting the bye and having to play the first weekend in the playoffs. That puts a lot of pressure on former Charger Shaun Phillips, who is not spring chicken, and the youngster Wesley Woodyard. The secondary will be key as Champ Bailey is not getting any younger and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has known effort issues. The defensive line should be solid with Terrence Knighton, Derek Wolfe and rookie Sylvester Williams, but Wolfe is dealing with a neck injury.
Therefore with those questions, the offense may have to carry this club at least early, and that should not be a bad thing. Peyton Manning should still have at least one great year in him and he has some excellent weapons to work with, with Wes Welker being added to the mix at wideout next to Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. The line should be solid again and saw a nice upgrade at guard with Louis Vasquez signing from San Diego. Running back is a position in flux as rookie Montee Ball has looked awful thus far in camp and Ronnie Hillman was not that impressive last year.
The Broncos should not have any issues winning a weak AFC West, but they may not be the favorite in the conference now with Miller out.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (6-10)
The Chiefs will certainly be improved this year because they can't really get any worse, and some are speculating if they could be this year's version of last year's Colts. It is possible but for it to happen, everything is going to have to break their way, especially considering their new quarterback. Alex Smith is not a bad player by any stretch, but he has to be surrounded by a lot of talent to succeed, as he did in San Francisco. He's not flashy nor will he put up huge numbers, but he is a good fit for Andy Reid's West Coast offense and he takes good care of the football. One would think that the electric Jamaal Charles will be the focal point of this offense, but Reid has never been known to be a big time running playcaller, but hopefully he will get Charles plenty of touches in the passing game. Dwayne Bowe is the only known quantity at wideout, although Reid loves Dexter McCluster supposedly, but they should have a fine tight end tandem with Tony Moeaki and Anthony Fasano. The team took tackle Eric Fisher with the first selection and he should form a strong tackle pairing with Brandon Albert for years to come.
The defense in KC was not why the club was a mess last year, they featured four Pro Bowlers (Eric Berry, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson) in their lineup. Hali and Houston may not be great in coverage but they are excellent rushers off the edge, having combined for 19 sacks this past season. Johnson is a tremendous playmaker at inside linebacker but there is a big question mark next to him. The line will not provide much pass rush but Tyson Jackson and Mike Devito are good against the run. Dontari Poe has to show more this year. Berry is a very good safety either in coverage or in the box and he will be joined in the secondary by cornerbacks Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith (signed from Miami) and Dunta Robinson (signed from Atlanta), as well as by safety Kendrick Lewis, who is nothing special.
It's not crazy that this team take a big jump, but I'm bearer than many on this club.

3. San Diego Chargers (6-10)
This will be a season of transition for the Chargers in the first year of the post-Norv era being led by Mike McCoy, formerly the offensive coordinator up in Denver. Perhaps his most important job is to get quarterback Philip Rivers back on track and considering his pedigree and talent, he could be that guy. Personally, I think the criticism of Rivers is a little much at times. Yes, he has made many poor decisions over the past couple years and thus has a ton of turnovers, but he has been forced to carry this club and has not gotten much help from the running game or the offensive line and has had to work with a declining receiving corps. Ryan Mathews never seems to be healthy in the backfield and there is not much else besides him and the situational Danny Woodhead. The line did not get much better as they reached for right tackle D.J. Fluker in the draft and still have a hole at left tackle. The receivers are mostly the same with an uninspiring crew of Malcom Floyd, Danario Alexander and Vincent Brown, although I really like third rounder Keenan Allen. Antonio Gates can still contribute but he's little more than a shell of his former self.
The defense was not awful last year but it certainly was not that good either. Fortunately, the defensive line is pretty talented as both Corey Liuget and Kendell Reyes showed promise in rushing the passer last year and hopes are high for new nose tackle Cam Thomas. The linebacking unit got weaker with Shaun Phillips leaving town and he will be replaced by a diminished Dwight Freeney opposite the solid but not spectacular Jarret Johnson. The inside linebacking crew will be the solid Donald Butler and rookie Manti Te'o, who has great instincts and a solid nose for the football. Outside of safety Eric Weddle, who is excellent, the secondary is a mess.
It's not that crazy that the Super Chargers make a push for the playoffs or at least a winning record, but I wouldn't count on it.

4. Oakland Raiders (2-14)
The Raiders are going to be just dreadful in 2013, and that is by design. GM Reggie McKenzie came into a bad situation chock full of overpriced underachievers and has worked hard to rid the roster of such to find cap relief. Now the club has seen a large amount of upheaval with a number of veterans released and cheaper replacements found, which allows the club to have a bright future for the first time in years but also means that this team will be a mess. For the offense to click, Darren McFadden is going to have to have a bounceback year, which is possible considering that the line has moved back to a man blocking scheme, even as they are built for a zone scheme. But above all else, McFadden has to stay healthy. Fullback Marcel Reese may be a mediocre blocker but is a very good receiver and a good runner with fine athleticism. Matt Flynn, acquired from Seattle, will be the quarterback and while he is accurate, he does not have much of an arm so coordinator Greg Olsen will have to tailor his scheme to take advantage of that. There is some talent at receiver, but much of it is relatively unproven.
Dennis Allen is a defensive guy and he may have a decent defense this year. His scheme requires strong play from his corners so there is a lot of pressure on talented rookie D.J. Hayden and veterans Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter. The safeties will feature the return of Charles Woodson, who has spent the last seven years in Green Bay, as well as Tyvon Branch, who is excellent in the box. The linebackers feature three cheap and solid veterans in Kevin Burnett, Kaluka Maiava and Nick Roach. Youngsters Miles Burris and Sio Moore are talented and can push for time. The defensive line will not provide much pass rush, unless Jason Hunter can put it together at end, as Lamarr Houston does not provide much pressure and tackles Pat Sims and Vance Walker don't either, but this unit should do well against the run.
Considering they have a worse roster and a tougher schedule, they will be lucky to match last year's four victories. Heck, I felt generous giving them two.

1. Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
I made this prediction based on a couple of accords, one on offense and one on defense. The defensive one is that new coordinator Monte Kiffin instills not his trademark Tampa 2 defense but rather the hybrid cover scheme that Seattle utilizes in order to take the most out of their talented cornerbacks, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. This is a club that has run the 3-4 for many years but will revert to the 4-3 and it will be interesting to watch how DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer adjust to the move to defensive end. It should not be a difficult transition for Ware but could be troublesome for Spencer if he struggles to shed blocks. Justin Hatcher and Jay Ratliff should make for a good tackle combo if Ratliff can get his act together. The linebacking crew features a pair of dynamic defenders in Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, who are both very good in coverage, as well as the underrated Justin Durant next to them. The safeties, however, are a mess once again.
The offensive accord is that Tony Romo can stay healthy, no small feat considering he is coming off back surgery this offseason, and be able to win big games when the team needs them. Romo is a very good quarterback and I will admit that many go overboard when criticizing him not coming through in the clutch, but there is a track record of mistakes in the biggest moments, like that bad interception in the finale against Washington which left the Cowboys home for the playoffs. Fortunately, he will have Dez Bryant to throw to, and he showed the star abilities late in the year that the team knew he had. Miles Austin has seen his play take a step back of late but he's still a solid No. 2 and the team likes rookie Terrence Williams. The team is also deep at tight end with Jason Witten being backed up by a pair of promising youngsters James Hanna and Gavin Escobar. However, the running game could be a big issue if DeMarco Murray has another injury plagued year. The line was a mess last year and the hope is that Tyron Smith can take a step forward in pass protection, Travis Frederick can solidify the center position and Doug Free not be a disaster at right tackle.
The NFC East is historically tough but I like the Cowboys' chances in 2013.

2. New York Giants (10-6)
The Giants seem to always be in the hunt under Tom Coughlin and that should remain the same in 2013. Eli Manning was a key part of the club's hot start by playing brilliantly in the first half but then when he struggled down the stretch, the team fell apart. But let's not say that Manning is seeing a downturn in his career, he's still an excellent quarterback and should he get back a healthy Hakeem Nicks this year, he should look more like the first half player. Nicks is key as he is really good and when healthy, he makes Victor Cruz better, and vice versa. Brandon Myers should be a option at tight end and he was a big part of the Raider offense last year. It will be key how David Wilson performs in the backfield as he showed flashes of big-time playmaking ability but he also has been weak in pass protection, which could hinder his playing time on passing downs. The offensive line is excellent in pass protection and the team hopes that Justin Pugh, whom the club reached for, can provide depth across the front.
New York's defense was an absolute train wreck last season, finishing statistically as the second worst overall in terms of yardage, fifth worst against the pass and eighth worst against the run. Considering that the defensive line has been a staple of their club for so long, it is imperative that this unit improves. Save for Jason Pierre-Paul, whose lesser sack numbers were largely a result of the lack of pressure from the other side, and tackle Linval Joseph, who is a solid rusher, the key players have to step up. That means that Justin Tuck has to apply more pressure, Mathias Kiwanuka and rookie Damontre Moore need to do the same as Tuck and for somebody, likely Cullen Jenkins or rookie Johnathan Hankins, to step up next to Joseph. The corners are a mess but the safeties, Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown, are solid. The linebackers were subpar last year and they really were not upgraded in the offseason.
Their defense still has too many questions and the Giants will just barely miss out on the postseason.

3. Washington Redskins (8-8)
Obviously, this season for the Skins hinges on when Robert Griffin comes back after tearing his ACL and MCL against the Seahawks in the playoffs and when he gets back to 100%. The man they refer to as RGIII took the league by storm this past year with his breaktaking athleticism and strong, accurate arm as well as his lifting of the club into the playoffs. There are concerns about his drop-back ability and if his frame can hold up with his style of play, but the bottom line that is the team wants to make the playoffs, he has to play. Kirk Cousins is a fine backup but he is not the guy to take Washington to the playoffs. Griffin also played a key role in Alf Morris' excellent 2012 season as well as lifting the play of a mediocre receiving corps, led by Pierre Garcon and the aging Santana Moss. The club does have a pair of talented tight ends in Fred Davis and rookie Jordan Reed to play around with. The offensive line, save for left tackle Trent Williams, is nothing to write home about but it is a generally solid unit, save for right tackle.
Jim Haslett really cranked out impressive play from the defense down the stretch as it played a key role in the club's run to the division title. And a unit that only had one consistent pass rusher in Ryan Kerrigan should improve with Brian Orakpo's return from his season-ending triceps injury in week two. Adam Carriker, who was hurt in the same game, should provide a boost to the 3-4 front in the pass rush as well. The line is very good against the run, however, but that was probably a result of the mediocre pass defense. Speaking of that, the secondary is going to need big contributions from rookie corner David Amerson and rookie safety Phillip Thomas to improve as it was a mediocre unit a year ago.
For me, there are just too many questions regarding Griffin to see this club making a repeat playoff appearance.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (7-9)
The Eagles are going to be an interesting and intriguing team to watch solely because of their new coach, Chip Kelly. We know that Kelly was a brilliant playcaller in Eugene and certainly one of the more innovative coaches in the country, but how will he adapt his offense in the NFL? Personally, I'm a believer but one has to wonder how Michael Vick, who will be the starter after beating out a bunch of guys (Nick Foles, Dennis Dixon and rookie Matt Barkley), will fit in this scheme. Yes, he is very mobile so there will be plenty of read option elements, but he also is inconsistent throwing the ball and fumbles like a mother. Kelly should have fun working with a tremendous back in LeSean McCoy, provided he's healthy, as well as a solid backup in Bryce Brown, who was great down the stretch. Kelly does love to utilize tight ends and he acquire a couple of talents in James Casey and rookie Zach Ertz, plus Brent Celek is still in the mix. The rest of the receiving corps could be a mess as Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn both being out for the year. That means a lot of pressure on DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant and the infamous Riley Cooper. The offensive line will at least be extremely athletic thanks to the tackle tandem of Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, the extremely raw first round selection.
The defense will be some sort of a hybrid scheme between the 3-4 and the 4-3 and the club made a lot of investment on this side of the ball. They overpaid for a nose tackle in Issac Sopoaga, who will line up in between Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton, who are both solid penetrators. The linebackers will be an area to watch as the pass rushers will be holdovers Trent Cole and Brandon Graham, who are converting from end, as well as the acquired Connor Barwin, and inside linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks do not look like good fits for a 34. The secondary was completely remade with four new starters, none of whom are all that impressive with cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher plus safeties Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung.
They will certainly be interesting, I can say that. And I think they will be a tick better than folks expect.

1. Green Bay Packers (11-5)
It is always nice to have the best quarterback in the NFL and the Packers have that luxury. Yes, there have been those who have criticized his leadership abilities (notably former wideouts Greg Jennings and Donald Driver) but that should not prevent Aaron Rodgers from having another magnificent season. What may hurt though could be some shuffling at receiver with Jennings signing with the Vikings and now Jordy Nelson being out probably until after the start of the season. Therefore, there is a lot of pressure on Randall Cobb, who many are expecting a star-caliber year, and James Jones, who led the league in touchdown receptions, as well as tight end Jermichael Finley, provided he could actually catch the ball. The line, a sore spot for a while now, has been thrown into flux with left tackle Bryan Bulaga being lost for the season and other unproven players in the mix. However, Rodgers should have his best rushing attack in years after the draft day selections of Eddie Lacy (who I'm not high on) and Jonathan Franklin (who I am), who should join Dujuan Harris in taking carries.
Considering they are on a club that features an excellent passing attack, there is a lot of pressure on the Green Bay secondary but fortunately, they have strong cover corners in Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Heyward and Davon House. Safeties Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings are solid in the box. The star on the defense is Clay Matthews, who is a beast rushing off the edge, and the team hopes that Nick Perry develops into the complement they have lacked. The 3-4 front has been a work in progress for years but the hope is that first round pick Datone Jones provides a pass rushing punch next to stuffers Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji.
Once again, the Pack look like a legitimate Super Bowl contender, but can the line hold up?

2. Chicago Bears (8-8)
I liked the Marc Trestman hire a lot and I have no problem with a club like this thinking a little outside the box to hire a CFL coach. How he works with Jay Cutler is critical. Cutler is not the easiest guy to coach and he battled many a time with former coordinators Mike Martz and Mike Tice. He is a prodigious talent and if Trestman can rein in his gunslinger mentality from time to time, they can make some great music. What will be key is if the offensive line is improved, which may appear that way considering Trestman's offense relies on quick decisions. The line is still a bit of a mess, even after the club overpaid for Jermon Bushrod to be the blindside tackle and overdrafted guard Kyle Long, who has been impressive thus far. Matt Forte is a talented back who will get featured in the passing game frequently and Brandon Marshall is just a beast when Cutler is throwing to him. Unfortunately, there is uncertainly beyond Marshall in the receiving unit, although the hope is that new tight end Martellus Bennett can find some consistency.
Chicago's forte has been their defense for a long time, but it is a unit that is not getting any younger as many of their key pieces are north of 30. Julius Peppers is a force on the defensive line and is the best defensive player on this club, and his presence should allow whoever replaces Israel Idonije, Corey Wootton or Shea McClellin, to put up nice sack numbers. The tackle combo of Stephen Paea and Henry Melton is solid. Two of the three linebacker spots are manned by veterans Lance Briggs and newcomer D.J. Williams, both of whom are 31 or older, while the strongside is a bit of a question mark. What is not a question mark is the cornerback position, which is led by the terrific team of Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. However, the rest of the secondary is not great and lacks depth.
If Cutler and Trestman mesh and the defense holds up, this could be a playoff club. I'm not sold just yet.

3. Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
It took a Herculean effort by Adrian Peterson as well as some luck for the Vikings to get into the playoffs last year, so considering that Peterson is probably not going to be as dominant as he was last year, a step back is pretty likely. Of course, that is also unless considering that Christian Ponder does not make a big step forward. Theoretically he could, but he has been so inconsistent under center that we really do not know what to get. He did lose Percy Harvin in a trade with Seattle but he did gain Greg Jennings, formerly of Green Bay, and drafted the raw but very talented Cordarelle Patterson, and they will team up with the talented tight end, Kyle Rudolph. The offensive left is excellent at the ends with Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt as well as at center with John Sullivan.
The conversation on the Minnesota defense starts and stops with Jared Allen, who is a pass rushing boss. The rest of the line is very good with Bryan Robinson, Everson Griffin and first round pick Sharrif Floyd are all talented pass rushers. The rest of the defense has a number of questions. At linebacker, the team needs former Packer Desmond Bishop to stay healthy as well as adjust to a 4-3, and Erin Henderson has to stop up more on passing downs. And after the mistake of letting Antoine Winfield go, the secondary is a mess save for safety Harrison Smith, so there is plenty of pressure on first rounder Xavier Rhodes.
It will be very hard for the Vikings to replicate last year, and plenty of things will have to go right once again.

4. Detroit Lions (6-10)
This is a make-or-break season for coach Jim Schwartz and possibly for GM Martin Mayhew as well after last year's 4-12 debacle after the breakthrough in 2011. That of course was not the fault of Calvin Johnson who had an all time great receiving season despite little-to-no running game and little production opposite him made him the sole focus of opposing defenses. Nate Burleson figures to start opposite Johnson but he isn't a guy defenses have to worry about, and third wideout Ryan Broyles has injury issues. Matthew Stafford will make a mistake now and again and sometimes his mechanics are a little messy, he is still prodigiously talented with a huge arm and only 25. And now he should have some semblance of a running game after the signing of Reggie Bush, who developed into a tougher runner in Miami and is a real weapon out of the backfield. If only Brandon Pettigrew could catch the ball, then he'd be a stud. The offensive line is not in great shape but Riley Reiff should be a fine left tackle and guard Larry Warford was a steal in the third round.
Detroit has as nasty and talented of a tackle combo as any in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley but they need more of a pass rush from the edge and thus there is a lot of pressure on first round pick Ezekiel Ansah, who I think could be the next Jason Pierre-Paul and thus whose selection I loved. The linebacking unit is a little underwhelming while the secondary got a big upgrade with the acquisition of safety Glover Quin. The hope is that he and Louis Delmas can make an excellent safety combo, provided Delmas stays healthy. The corners are not bad as Chris Houston is solid and rookie Darius Slay is a talented.
Schwartz is coaching for his job in 2013 but this season should not bode well for him.

1. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
Atlanta came so close to getting to Super XLVII, ten yards close to be exact, but it is hard to ignore the fact that they blew a 17-0 lead at home in the NFC Championship. If the club wants to get back to that position, they are going to have to improve defensively. The team made a wise decision to double down on the position in the draft by taking Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford and according to some folks, the move is paying immediate dividends. They will team up with Asante Samuel on the outside. While the secondary looks improved, the rest of the defense is a question mark. The pass rush may have gotten worse going from John Abraham to Osi Umenyiora and Kroy Biermann is nothing special unless you like to watch Bravo, but at least Jonathan Babineaux is an excellent tackle. The linebacking unit is nothing special with the exception of Sean Witherspoon.
The offense, however, is what drives the machine and with the acquisition of Steven Jackson to replace the plodding Michael Turner, it just may get even better. Jackson is still a top-notch back and should still have a few good years left. Matt Ryan was sensational this past season and now with a stronger running game, may just be even more dangerous. His top weapons return in Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. What makes the explosive passing game even more impressive is that fact that the Atlanta offensive line leaves something to be desired.
If the defense comes to play this year, they just may get to the Super Bowl after all.

2. New Orleans Saints (10-6)*
Last year was a complete mess for the Saints as they dug themselves into a 0-4 hole under interim interim coach Aaron Kromer but with Sean Payton returning to the club after being suspended last year for Bountygate, the club should rebound in a big fashion. He and Drew Brees know how to make beautiful music together and Brees, who was excellent yet again last year despite tossing 19 picks, should be tremendous yet again. What will make him even better is that tight end Jimmy Graham, perhaps the top playmaker at his position, should be fully healthy after getting surgery on his wrist. The rest of Brees' top targets (Marques Colston, Darren Sproles and Lance Moore) largely return, and the hope that Kenny Stills can replace the role as a deep threat that Devery Henderson did. The running back-by-committee role will likely return even with Chris Ivory with the Jets with Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Sproles sharing the load. Left tackle could be an issue with Jermon Bushrod in Chicago and no suitable replacement but at least the interior of the line is quite strong.
One of Payton's first moves when he returned was to fire coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who presided over an historically bad defense statistically speaking this past season, and announce that the club was moving to a 3-4. It could be a difficult transition but considering how bad the unit was, why not take that risk? The front will need rookie John Jenkins from Georgia to develop quickly to the NFL as he is the best nose on the roster. He will be flanked by a talented end combo in Cam Jordan and Akiem Hicks. The pass rush will likely struggle again with Will Smith, who has not been that good in a while, being forced to lead the way at outside linebacker. The secondary had a lot of issues last year but safety Kenny Vaccaro was an excellent selection and should upgrade the safety position and former Steeler Keenan Lewis and holdover Tracy Porter should be a solid combo at corner.
With Payton back in town, this is a team that will find themselves back in the playoffs.

3. Carolina Panthers (8-8)
I feel like I have written this before for other teams but the Panthers will go as far as Cam Newton takes them. It should surprise no one that when the team finished 2012 5-1 in their final six, Newton was playing brilliantly. He has all the tools to be a star and could this be the year in which he dominates? The rest of the backfield is disappointing as the club has struggled to run the football despite all the money invested in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. However, they are also too quick to ignore the rushing game, putting too much pressure on Newton to move the ball offensively. And unfortunately for Newton, his receiving corps is lacking. Of course, Steve Smith is rock solid, albeit aging, and Greg Olsen is a very good tight end, but that's about it.
But if the Panthers really want to make a serious push for the playoffs, the defense is going to have to improve by a solid amount. The interior of the defensive line saw a lot of focus on draft night with the team's first two picks going towards defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Those two will join a solid end combination in Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson to make a much improved defensive line. And an improved defensive line will be a talented linebacking corps that is led by the excellent Luke Kuechly, the 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year, and he is flanked by the talented but injury-prone Thomas Davis and Jon Beason. Meanwhile, the secondary is an absolute mess yet again as no upgrade was made to the garbage at both corner and safety.
There is potential here for a playoff berth, but that secondary is just so bad it could just ruin it all.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)
Remember how bad the Bucs' secondary was a year ago? What if I told you that it just may be the strongest unit on the team this year? Well, when you add a guy like Darrelle Revis, who they refer to as 'Revis Island' for a reason, as well as draft a solid corner talent like Jonathan Banks and sign a talented safety in Dashon Goldson to pair with Mark Barron, that will happen. However, that secondary could be wasted if the pass rush does not improve from its miserable performance over the last several years, and their top pass rusher signed with Seattle. That is a recipe for success, eh? However, I do love tackle Gerald McCoy but who will start next to him? The linebacking corps is decent, and little more.
Josh Freeman was playing brilliantly in his first nine starts of last season but he struggled over the next four weeks and absolutely fell apart over the final three, throwing nine picks over that span. Freemen has been consistently inconsistent during his tenure with Tampa and he is running out of time to show that he can be a franchise quarterback. Fortunately for him, his supporting cast is quite strong. Doug Martin was awesome last year, running for almost 1,500 yards, and should only get better as he further adapts to the NFL. The receiving corps was also very good as both Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams both had strong seasons. And you also have a plus offensive line to boot.
So you are telling me that it will come down to Freeman for the Bucs in 2013? Yes I am.

1. San Francisco 49ers (12-4)
Let me tell you something about Colin Kaepernick. There is no question that after he took over the starting job from Alex Smith that he gave this club a whole new dimension thanks to his remarkable athleticism and strong arm. Playing for a coach like Jim Harbaugh certainly does not hurt either. His receiving corps did take a hit with Michael Crabtree tearing his Achilles but the hope is that Anquan Boldin can help fill the void and that Vernon Davis can have a bounce-back campaign in 2013. It's a good thing that the backfield is strong as Frank Gore is a rock, LaMichael James should be a solid change-of-pace and if he is healthy, Marcus Lattimore could be a real steal. The offensive line is very good in both run and pass blocking.
Vic Fangio's defense should be tremendous yet again this season as much of the key faces return. Aldon Smith puts up huge sack numbers year after year and it is not crazy to see him breaking the sack record, particularly if Justin Smith has a bounce-back year after a relatively disappointing 2012. Opposite Smith is Ray McDonald who is a shrewd run stuffer and opposite the other Smith is Ahmad Brooks, who may not put up big sack numbers but is a very well-rounded linebacker. Of course, you could say that and much more about the ILB tandem of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman  who are both sensational. The one downside to this defense is that the secondary is a mess.
The Niners have to be one of the favorites to get back to the Super Bowl, and they just may do so, provided they get around the next team.

2. Seattle Seahawks (11-5)*
The Seahawks are one of the chic teams to win it all and they will certainly be in the mix to get to East Rutherford come February. They are fortunate to have one of the elite defenses in the NFL, one that should continue to perform well even with former coordinator Gus Bradley coaching in Jacksonville. The secondary just might be the finest in the league and a tremendous corner pairing of Brendan Browner and Richard Sherman got even better with the cheap signing of Antoine Winfield. The safeties are excellent as well with Earl Thomas being a brilliant centerfielder and Kam "Don't Call Me John" Chancellor playing the run very well. They are not a great run defense but they really get after the quarterback defensively and said pass rusher may get even better with the signings of Cliff Avril from Detroit and Michael Bennett from Tampa to team up with Bruce Irvin, who is deadly off the edge.
You know, it is somewhat of a shame that we will have to wait to see Percy Harvin debut with their exciting read-option spread scheme they fostered once Russell Wilson felt comfortable under center. They made an aggressive move to acquire Harvin from Minnesota as he gives them a weapon in the passing game that the likes of which they have lacked. The rest of the receiving corps is solid with Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate. Marshawn Lynch may just be the hardest runner in the league as he is simply tenacious. And Wilson was a revelation last year as he showcased plus athleticism, a good arm and great moxie.
It will be a tight battle atop the NFC West between them and San Francisco, and one of these teams could very well be the ones winning it all come February.

3. St. Louis Rams (8-8)
Honestly, I think I may be a little bit conservative with this prediction because I really like this Rams team, one that was very competitive last year, particularly in the division where they went 4-1-1. The offense saw a lot of attention in the offseason and rightfully so as that unit was pretty inconsistent a year ago. It looks like they will move schematically towards a spread offense, and that should bode well for Sam Bradford considering that is the kind of offense in which he excelled at Oklahoma. The receiving unit does not have any big names but does have a bunch of talented youngsters like Chris Givens, Brian Quick and especially the lightning in a bottle rookie Tavon Austin, who is a brilliant playmaker no matter how he gets the ball. Jared Cook is a talented tight end but he has yet to put it together. The running backs saw a nice decline at running back and thus now the team will have to rely on the quick Daryl Richardson or Isaiah Pead. The line looks to be in solid shape even as Jake Long was given a little too much money to protect Bradford's blindside, but he allows Rodger Safford to move to right tackle. The interior of the line is solid.
The Rams also have a nice amount of talent on the defensive side of the ball, particularly with a strong defensive line. Chris Long and Robert Quinn provided plenty of pass rush, combining for 22 sacks. Michael Brockers improved a lot over the course of the year and could be ready for a breakout and Kendell Langford is the worst player on the line, and he's still a solid tackle. Save for a complete mess at safety, the secondary is strong at cornerback with a pair of strong cover guys in Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins. There is potential for the club to have a fine linebacking corps with talented rookie Alec Ogletree joining James Laurinaitis and Will Witherspoon.
If you want to see a club that can be that club to surprise and reach the postseason, this is a popular choice.

4. Arizona Cardinals (6-10)
Hey, the Cardinals finally have themselves a competant quarterback! You know that Larry Fitzgerald must be excited to catch balls from Carson Palmer, the clear best quarterback he has worked with since Kurt Warner, and Palmer is a great fit for the long ball scheme championed by new coach Bruce Arians. Of course, Palmer is a shell of what he was a few years back and many of his numbers last year were compiled in garbage time, but he will be able to get the ball to Fitzgerald, still an elite wideout despite a career-worst season last year, and last year's first round pick Michael Floyd, who had a quiet rookie campaign and the club is hoping he breaks out in 2013.  The running game is a mess and has been since Edgerrin James was in town and the team is hoping that Rashard Mendenhall bounces back after a miserable 2012 or Ryan Williams shows more than he did last year. The offensive line was a disaster this year and thus it should get better after the drafting of talented guard Jonathan Cooper and the return of Levi Brown at left tackle. Brown is certainly not an elite blocker, but much better than what was there last year.
The defense for the Cards was very underrated last year, but a big part why was coordinator Ray Horton and he is now coaching the defense in Cleveland. His replacement is Todd Bowles, a talented coach in his own right but no Horton. This was a unit that was very good at rushing the passer despite not having much of a rush from the outside of their 3-4 scheme and a big reason was their defensive line, led by ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. Dan Williams may have a limited ceiling but he's coming along as a solid nose tackle. There are still holes at outside linebacker so there is pressure on rookie Alex Okafor to contribute right away. Daryl Washington was excellent last year at inside linebacker and led the club in sacks with nine but he is out for the first four games of the year due to a suspension for violating the substance abuse policy and he is also fighting a pair of counts of aggravated assault from an incident with his lady friend in May. Karlos Dansby is back again and he will help fill the void. Outside of budding star Patrick Peterson, the secondary is a mess.
Arizona will improve this year but in a tough division, it will be very hard to not be in the cellar.

AFC Wild Card
(3) Denver vs. (6) Indianapolis
The Colts are just not there yet to be able to go into Denver and upset the Broncos, although that Luck v. Manning storyline will be tantalizing.
Pick: Denver

(4) Houston Texans vs. (5) Baltimore Ravens
I am feeling the upset here and will take the home club to win it. I know I should not go with my gut over my mind, but isn't that what life is all about?
Pick: Houston

NFC Wild Card
(3) Atlanta vs. (6) New Orleans
Who doesn't love third matchups of the year? A pair of explosive offenses and a pair of questionable defenses should make this a whale of a game but ultimately, the Saints' 3-4 will not get the stop that they will need to win this game.
Pick: Atlanta

(4) Dallas vs. (5) Seattle
Honestly, this has to be the easiest pick for me to make in this projected playoff field. And I'm not that high on the Cowboys this year.
Pick: Seattle

AFC Divisional
(1) Cincinnati vs. (4) Houston
These two teams would match up again for the third year in a row, only this time there will be a different result. I just may trust Andy Dalton over Matt Schaub.
Pick: Cincinnati

(2) New England vs. (3) Denver
Nothing like a Brady-Manning showdown to get the juices flowing but I really think that Manning's winless record in cold playoff games is ominous.
Pick: New England

NFC Divisional
(1) San Francisco vs. #5 Seattle
I think we can all agree on that this hypothetical matchup is the one that we want to see the most, although it would probably be a shame if one of these teams was not able to reach the NFC title game. It always is hard to win on the road, especially in the playoffs, but this Seattle team will play loose and hard to pull it off.
Pick: Seattle

(2) Green Bay vs. #3 Atlanta
It has become a cliche here but once again, offensive showdowns come down to either who can make a key stop or who can force the other to make a crucial mistakes. Honestly, I think you have to take the Pack in either scenario.
Pick: Green Bay

AFC Championship
(1) Cincinnati vs. #2 New England
So we have got ourselves a club that seems to always been in this position, and the other one who will be making their first conference championship game since 1988. Which one do you think I'm gonna take in this projection? You got it.
Pick: Cincinnati

NFC Championship
(2) Green Bay vs. #5 Seattle
The Packers should have a better defense in 2013 but as we saw in last year's playoffs against San Francisco, they are vulnerable to mobile quarterbacks who can get out on the edge. I see a similar result here with Mr. Wilson.
Pick: Seattle

I would say that this is the Super Bowl matchup that Fox would be looking for but alas. These clubs are both strong defensively, but even with the tremendous A.J. Green and the talented offensive line, Seattle's offense just has more variety and thus will be harder to defend. And I would probably take the Seattle defense over the Cincinnati defense. Thus, your Super Bowl XLVIII champion.
Pick: Seattle

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