It's almost that time of year where predictions and expectations start forming and everybody and their mother has this team or that team going on a deep super bowl run. I'm here to beat them to the punch, here are my predictions and why I'm fairly confident these will be the teams to make the playoffs.
I'm sorry to all the people going "DOLPHINS TO THE SUPER BOWL 2013" but I've got to burst your bubble. Here are the Dolphins ranks.
OPP Passing: 27th (They lost Sean Smith to US)
OPP Rushing: 13th (eh)
You don't go from a mediocre team, to a team that can beat out New England(THIS IS NEW ENGLAND WE'RE TALKING ABOUT) by losing some of your FAs and signing big name players to humongous contracts, that's not how it works. I'm sorry but I just don't see a team that can beat out New England. Actually this whole division is awful EXCLUDING NE and sometime MIA.
The Broncos are coming off a disappointing playoff run and probably have some bad taste in their mouth. They're going to be angry, and while they did lose Elvis Dumervil to FA, they signed Wes Freakin Welker. He's a great fit for a QB like Peyton Manning and I wouldn't be surprised if he had a career year(I'm not very high on Decker, Thomas is good but won't see nearly the production of Welker.) They have a great team with few holes and experience and chemistry can only help a team with expectations to win now. I would also like to add that the division is fairly weak right now, and I just can't see another team beating out Denver for the Division Title(Yes I know, I'm a chiefs fan, but let's be realistic)
I know. You just did a double-take. Yes, the Cincinnati Bengals will win their division next year. Why? They are the youngest team in the NFL as of last year, we'll see where they finish at the start of the year. They have a young QB-WR tandem in Dalton-Green and they will continue to develop chemistry and will most likely build off of two straight playoff appearances. They also have an extra, early pick in the second round which gives them some flexibility. AND to add to that, they have by far the most salary cap space of any team in the league, and have had a semi-successful FA, the highlight of that: Michael Johnson. Look for them to make more moves with all that extra cap space. The Steelers are coming off a year where Big Ben literally put the team on his back, and when he fell, the whole team fell. They don't have much supporting cast(The team as a whole, not the Offense) and they continue to grow older at key positions(Polamalu and Taylor just to name two). The Ravens lost several key pieces in FA and I don't have to write those out for you. They also have one of the toughest schedules in the league next year(5th at .535) They paid big bucks to a great QB(notice how I didn't say elite) and we'll see if that pays off. (I don't think it will) And the Browns, well. Let's just move on.
The Texans look poised to make yet another playoff run. After starting the season 10-0 last year they dropped off with injuries to some key players. They are a strong team, especially when healthy, and their run game might be the reason they can make a deep run with such weak run defenses in the AFC. Matt Schaub is overrated but does a great job winning games and putting his team in a situation to win, and their defense can only get better with the highlight of their offseason being Ed Reed. Look for the Titans ad the Colts to give them a run for their money though.
Alright alright, let me hear it. I'm going to be scolded for saying this. I may be a little biased, but to be completely honest I have less faith in my team than any other football fan. I constantly worry about even converting a first down, so predicting them to make the playoffs was tough for me. I have reverse bias. Here's why they will make it: ALEX SMITH. I know you all don't think he's a great QB but if you watch the tape(I did) you will see the vast improvement he has made since entering the league in 2005. He has improved his footwork, his vision, his reads, and his accuracy. He is great at the LOS, making audibles left and right, makes great reads, and delivers great passes, he is all you could need out of a QB. If you don't believe me, go watch the very first game he played back in 05-06, and watch the game against the Cardinals this past year where he went 19 for 20(Highest completion percentage in a game ever, and would have been 20 for 20 had Delanie Walker not dropped a ridiculously easy pass) and showed exactly how to play the position. All Chiefs fans should be very excited for this season. The Chiefs have had a great FA adding pieces to areas of need and solidifying the secondary. I know they have a trick up their sleeve and that's why we haven't heard what they're going to do. I trust John Dorsey and Andy Reid, they know what they're doing. This team was a decent QB away from making the playoffs last year and now they have him. Not to mention the Chiefs also have the 5th EASIEST schedule at .473, this is looking to be the year the Chiefs make a playoff run.
Somewhat ironic considering I pointed out some of the weaknesses the Steelers had. Essentially, the Steelers will go as far as Ben Roethlisberger can take them, which is pretty far. He is the non-sexy name when talking about elite QBs. He is a VERY talented QB and as much as I dislike him, you can't forget that. This is still a talented team even with Mike Wallace departing in free agency. You can never count the Steelers out until it's all said and done. Look for them to do some major work in the Draft to fill some needs, and add some depth to some aging positions. Another reason that I think the Steelers will make the playoffs is because of their strength of schedule(11th easiest at .496.)
Overall, I think the conference is a little weak this year, however there is a lot of potential, which could cause a team to rise to the top of the rankings, and make a deep run.
The biggest reason I see the Giants making the playoffs, even though I don't think very highly of them, is the rest of the division is looking at taking steps backwards, instead of forwards. Philadelphia is a developing team, and will look to add a lot of youth, while releasing their older guys, they're not looking for players to be good right now, they're looking long term, so we can almost completely count the out(Except for Mike Vick, you never know with him.) The Cowboys are stuck, they aren't old, but they aren't young, they don't have elite players, they have good players, they need to make that push if they want to make the playoffs and so far I haven't seen it. They haven't added any major talent through the draft OR FA in the past year and I just can't see them pulling off more than 8 wins on the overused arm of the talented Romo(I actually think he's a great QB, but the team needs work.) Lastly, this was tough, the Redskins aren't going to improve from last year. The picks they gave up last year are going to bite them now, and although RG3 is great, coming off tearing an ACL, usually doesn't mean improvement, and they're gonna need improvement to make the playoffs. They will be healthy, which is good, but they have work to do. Overall this division has a weak schedule, which is lucky for them, because if they had a hard schedule, I would predict none of them would break 8 wins.
Eli Manning is an elite QB as you can tell by his two super bowl rings, but that alone will not get you far. He makes the throws he needs to make, but nothing more. They are getting older, and can't afford to lose any players to FA, their window is closing, and they need to make the most of what they have right now, and go for it.
This is a very talented team, in a very talented division. They have only gotten better since the end of the season, adding several players such as Percy Harvin and are developing a young, talented, all-around team. They have a solid defense, a great young QB, some nice weapons offensively, and Beast Mode, what else could you need? The 49ers are also a very talented team, but in my opinion they were a better, more efficient team with Alex Smith at QB. They also lost some players to FA which kind of hurts them. On the bright side, they do have 14 picks. Geez. The Cardinals won't be doing much this year, while their search for a stable QB continues. The Rams are a team to watch. They are attempting to get younger at key positions, but also added FAs such as Jake Long, to make them better now. They have a nice RB in Daryl Richardson and a developing QB in Sam Bradford, look for them to come up in the next couple years.
There isn't much to be said here, they have a weak defense but they have possibly the best QB in the league right now, Aaron Rodgers. Any team with him at QB and weapons like Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson is bound to do well. If they can make visible improvements on the defense, they have got a LOT of potential. The Lions are a good team, but are very one-dimensional, and while Reggie Bush is an improvement, some question marks on the O-line worry me. The Vikings are a talented team, but I personally see Christian Ponder(I love this guy, so I hate to say this) making some regressions. The defense has some work to do, but losing Percy Harvin will hurt them. Look for them to make some waves in the next couple years. The Bears are also a great team, but I can't see them beating out the Packers.
One of my favorite teams, so I'm going to have a little bias. The Falcons have the most potential of any team this year. If they have a solid draft, and can upgrade at some positions, they will make it to the super bowl. The Combination of Ryan, Jones, White, Jackson, and Gonzalez is unrivaled except maybe by Denver, who lacks a standout RB. If upgrades are made on the defensive side of the ball, the Falcons are my team to watch. The Buccaneers can only go as far as Josh Freeman can take them, and well, to be honest, we don't really know how far that is. The Panthers are an average team, but with the hardest schedule in the league, it's not going to happen. Drew Brees IS the Saints, and while they will improve with Sean Peyton returning, I just don't see them beating out the Falcons for the division Title.
The Bears have a solid run-pass game with the combo of Cutler-Forte-Marshall and a stout defense with some younger players beginning to fill roles. They don't have the overall talent that the Packers do, but they make up for it with more of an all around team balance. They don't do one thing great but they do a lot of things well. Except for protecting the passer, if they can fix that, they have the players to make a playoff run. They also have one of the easier schedules in their division, and in the conference.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are a great football team with an outstanding run game, and a dynamic player at the helm, Colin Kapaernick, With the addition of Anquan Boldin, their passing offense takes a huge step up. Kapaernick is a good passer, but when the throws get too close to the defenseman, the smaller 49ers receivers tend to lose the "tussle." The great thing is Boldin specializes in taking those balls from the defense, any ball thrown in his remote area, he will catch. He is an incredibly underrated player and Baltimore took a huge hit by losing him. There isn't much to say about them, I mean come on, they made the Super Bowl.