NFC East: Giants, Cowboys, Skins, Eagles
I'll start with the toughest division to predict of them all, since you could tell me that these four teams could finish in almost any order at season's end and I would buy it. I guess I can't see the Giants finishing last but other than that, anything goes. New York is my pick to win simply because when in doubt, go with the team that is competently run. Dallas could be good…but their innate Cowboyness will make them underachieve again. Washington could be good….or RG3 will get hurt and we'll see that this team made the playoffs solely due to a hot streak last year, not because they're actually a good team. Philly could be good….or Chip Kelly will become the latest college coach to flame out in the NFL and Michael Vick stinks.
NFC West: Seahawks, 49ers, Rams, Cardinals
Remember back in the 1990's when Dallas and San Francisco were clearly the two best teams in football and the rest of the NFC almost didn't need to bother showing up? That could be the case here with the Shawks and Niners, with one big caveat. At the end of the day, we're all putting a lot of faith in teams with a second-year QB and a third-year QB who hasn't even played a full season's worth of starts yet. My brother often points this out as a way of promoting his hero Joe Flacco, but he might have a point --- Wilson/Kaepernick/Luck/Griffin should need to put at least two good seasons on the board before we start crowning them as superheroes. The complexion of this conference changes drastically if Wilson or Kaepernick simply take a step back this season. As for the rest of the division, the Rams are still a year away though they continue to add good pieces, and the Cardinals made a huge mistake in firing Ken Whisenhunt. I honestly believe this. They overreacted to one bad season and fired the best coach in franchise history, only to hire a guy who caught lightning in a bottle in Indianapolis last year. Also, Carson Palmer has been washed up for years yet people continue to insist he's good. Palmer = Michael Vick.
NFC North: Packers, Bears, Lions, Vikings
So how'd the Packers do in addressing their faults from last season? Well, their rookie running backs show promise. I guess Mason Crosby has remembered how to kick, kind of. The defense is kinda okay? Yeah, overall, I'm not crazy about the Green Bay offseason, considering the O-line still looks shaky at best, and keeping Rodgers safe should be the first, second and third priorities. That said, I still like the Packers over the rest of the division by sheer dint of experience. Admittedly I'm very worried about Chicago since hiring (of all people) Marc Trestman after firing Lovie Smith following a 10-6 year is a bold move that I think will ultimately fall on the side of genius rather than insanity. Maybe there's just some innate patriotism that wants to see a top CFL coach succeed even though I couldn't give a damn about CFL football. Anyway, the Bears are a wild card pick for me. Detroit has a lot of sleeper buzz but sometimes the metrics that say a team is "unlucky" to lose so many close games don't account for a team full of stupid players and undisciplined coaching. I'll pick the Vikings for last because there's surely no way Adrian Peterson can carry an entire franchise single-handedly again, right? Uh, right?
NFC South: Falcons, Saints, Buccaneers, Panthers
Tampa Bay and Carolina both have some sleeper buzz surrounding them but at the end of the day, so I think teams coached by Greg Schiano and Ron Rivera are going to beat teams coached by Mike Smith and Sean Payton? Hell no. I see the Bucs burning themselves out by Week 12 again and Rivera getting fired by October. The Saints will be hugely invigorated by Payton's return but their defense is just too bad for them to be a serious contender. All four of these teams aren't bad, frankly, so I see this being similar to the NFC East in that they'll all beat themselves up and only the winner will make the playoffs. Go Falcons?
AFC South: Texans, Colts, Titans, Jaguars
Ughhh, this division. Houston has a minimum of five wins from their divisional schedule alone. The Colts are major regression candidates, the Titans are the blandest team imaginable and the Jaguars are just bad. Now, all this being said, I'm picking Tennessee to be the surprise "awful team that ends up being kinda good" candidate for 2013. I'm picking them since they're a LEGIT example of this phenomenon --- teams like the Chiefs, Lions and Dolphins have too much sleeper buzz and aren't considered to be actually 'bad,' whereas nobody gives a crap about the Titans. I'm not saying they'll make the playoffs or anything, but don't be surprised if the Titans are 9-7 or something.
AFC West: Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders
Ughhh, THIS division. It's even worse than the South, believe it or not. The Chiefs are a bit better but the Chargers and Raiders are flat-out awful. I'll be shocked if Oakland wins as many as three games. It's for this reason that I'm picking Kansas City to make the playoffs --- lot of easy division wins here on the table. While you won't win a Super Bowl with Alex Smith at QB and Andy Reid on the sidelines, they're still huge upgrades over what the Chiefs had last year at those spots and the rest of their team actually has a lot of talent (six Pro Bowlers?!). I think this is enough to crack the postseason in what I think is a very weak conference.
AFC East: Patriots, Dolphins, Bills, Jets
It's a good thing for the Pats that they play in this tire fire of a division, otherwise they'd be in a shaky situation given their offseason. So they ditch Wes Welker, Mr. Reliable and good for 100 catches a year, and replace him with the walking injury known as Danny Amendola. But hey, no worries, the Patriots will just rely on their tight end passing attack anyway…oh, what's that? Rob Gronkowski has undergone about 12 arm surgeries and Aaron Hernandez was charged with three murders? Huh. How about that. I'm sure Brady really feels good about taking that team-friendly contract now. These problems aside, New England is still streets ahead of Miami, who may not actually be a good team. The Bills are *certainly* not any good and may already be in a quarterback crisis, while the Jets have been in QB crisis mode for about three years and are just a living joke.
AFC North: Bengals, Ravens, Steelers, Browns
If Cincinnati had better management and coaching (and, ok, maybe if someone better than Andy Dalton was QB), they'd be my Super Bowl pick. There is a lot of talent on this team, complete with a potentially elite defense and one of the game's five best receivers in A.J. Green. I think this is the year they go from wild card to division winner because the Ravens will take a bit of a step back. As we saw on Thursday, the Ravens have a few roster depth issues, probably because they gave the second-biggest contract in NFL history to a borderline top-10 quarterback who had a few lucky weeks. There is a school of thought that thinks the Steelers will return to prominence this season but I just look at that roster and see hole after hole at key positions. An even crazier school of thought sees the Browns making a move, and LOL.
* Bengals over Chiefs
* Ravens over Patriots
* Falcons over Bears
* 49ers over Giants
* Broncos over Bengals
* Texans over Ravens
* Seahawks over 49ers
* Packers over Falcons
* Broncos over Texans
* Seahawks over Packers
Super Bowl 48: Seattle Seahawks over Denver Broncos
I remember picking this as a Super Bowl matchup about a decade ago in a school newspaper column, a prediction that ended up being as hilariously wrong as any prediction could be short of "Dewey Defeats Truman." So now, why not, I'll go back to the well again. Despite what I said earlier about maybe not trusting these second-year quarterbacks, I think Russell Wilson is indeed the real deal. And I may be slightly biased by the fact that I was in Seattle last month and fell in love with the city, so I want to see it rewarded with its first pro sports championship since 1979.