It’s Football Opening Day Eve, so here are my predictions.
This is based on the fact that I don’t think the Redskins will be as good as they were in the second half as the Giants were bad last year. Robert Griffin III will start for the Skins, but after not playing all preseason, there’s no way to know just how he’ll look. The mobile second-year QB is coming off right knee surgery. Yes, the Giants offense looked lost in the preseason, but Eli Manning will get better once Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are both on the field at the same time. And the defense looked better than last year (though that’s not saying much). If Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul (who was full-speed in practices Wednesday) can get the pass rush going again, there’s no reason why the Giants can’t get back to the playoffs. The Cowboys will be right there at the end for the division as they’ve been the last two seasons.
- San Francisco
- St Louis
- Arizona Cardinals
Coming off an 11-5 record, the Seahawks are poised to make a deep run into the playoffs. With a staunch defense, second year QB Russell Wilson, a good run game led by Marshawn Lynch and the best home-field advantage in the league, look for the hawks to take the west. They lost the division last season to the 49ers 11-4 record. The difference was a tie San Fran got against St. Louis. The Cardinals picked up Carlson Palmer, giving them stability at the position they’ve lacked since Kurt Warner retired, but the way this team collapsed after a 4-0 start last year scares me. It’s might not be make or break year for Sam Bradford in St. Louis after improving his teams record from 2-14 to 7-8-1, but I dont see them getting past both the niners and hawks. This will be a competitive division.
- Green Bay
It’s the Packers divison until the either Christian Ponder can better compliment Adrian Peterson or Jay Cutler can help his top flight defense. Aaron Rodgers is a perennial MVP candidate, and with a run game that expects to be better. Alex Green led the team with just 464 yards. the Vikings AP finished just 9 yards short of the single season rushing record, and says he feels 2,500 yards this year is the goal. It will be a close race, but I still think Green Bay is the most complete team.
- New Orleans
The Falcons have gotten better every year since Matt Ryan joined the league, and after finally picking up a playoff win, look for the birds to fly high again. One of the biggest additions league wide was when Atlanta added running back Steven Jackson from the Rams. Michael Turner got off to a slow start last season, though he did finish with 10 rushing TDs. Now the trio of Jackson, Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers might be the deepest in the league. The Falcons will have more competition in the South this year, with the Saints looking to rebound from a down 2012. After starting 0-5, Drew Brees lead New Orleans to a 7-9 record, despite having one of the worst defenses in NFL history. Head Coach Sean Payton is back after bounty gate, and new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will help make New Orleans a wildcard contender.
NFC WILD CARDS
- New Orleans
- New England Patriots
- Miami Dolphins
- New York Jets
- Buffalo Bills
Tom Brady lost a lot of his favorite targets in the off-season, but the run game is good and Brady is great at making whoever’s around him better. But the East won’t be a runaway for the Pats because the dolphins have gotten a lot better. They have an underrated defense, Ryan Tannehill has a new weapon in wide receiver Mike Wallace. The Jets and Bills are both relying on rookie QBs to start the season, but the Jets defense can keep them in games, so this might be more of a first to 10 wins division, not a 13-14 record year for the Pats.
- Kansas CIty
- San Diego
Denver got better on offense. Yes, you read that right. Year 2 under Peyton Manning will see addition of reception machine Wes Welker to an already potent receiving core of Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. Montee Ball looks to breakout as a top-tier running back. The Broncos need their offense to be great because their defense isn’t whole to start the year. Champ Bailey is hurt, Elvis Dumervil left for the Ravens and Von Miller is suspended for the first 6 weeks. They easily won the division last year, and I don’t see it being hard to repeat this year. But don’t look past the Kansas City Chiefs for a possible wild card. Just 2-14 last year, the Chiefs still had 6 pro-bowlers, and upgraded at QB with the addition of Alex Smith. There’s a lot of talent for new head coach Andy Reid to work with, including top-flight rusher Jamaal Charles and above average receiver Dwayne Bowe. The Chargers have loads of talent, but never seem to be able to put it all together. Phillip Rivers needs to learn how to make better decisions with the football. And the Raiders brought in packers backup QB Matt Flynn, only to name Terrelle Pryor the week 1 starter.
Just like the Falcons, it’s time for the Texans to get deep into the playoffs. Like Ryan, Matt Schaub was able to get the lack of a playoff win off his back last season. Houston brings back defensive player of the year JJ Watt. But concerns for pro-bowl running back Arian Foster linger. Backup Ben Tate could see a majority of the carries week 1. And new addition Ed Reed will start the year on the PUP list, a blow to their secondary. I still think they can hold off Andrew Luck and the Colts for another division win. Luck is a star in the making, but with a league record 7 come from behind wins last year, you have to think some of those will go the other way for Indy this year. But they will be a threat and could challenge for a wild card spot.
The Superbowl Champion Ravens made a lot of changes over the off-season, but their major pieces on offense remain. Joe Flacco signed a big contract extension, Ray Rice is healthy and Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones add deep play threats for their QB. But font look past the Bengals. Who have a great running back of their own in BenJarvius Green Ellis, a QB on the rise in Andy Dalton, and a very strong defense. The Steelers could make things interesting, but I think the North shakes out as it did last season.
AFC WILD CARDS
1 Green Bay 1 Denver
2 Atlanta 2 Houston
3 Seattle 3 Baltimore
4 New York 4 Patriots
5 Dallas 5 Cincinnati
6 New Orleans 6 Indianapolis
- Seattle over Atlanta
- Denver over Houston
- Denver over Seattle
And finally here are my award winners:
Comeback Player of the Year:
- Giants Cornerback Terrell Thomas: Coming off two years of ACL issues, Thomas is back and ready to be a force in New York’s secondary. Thomas was on his way to becoming a top-tier CB in the league before back to back season ending injuries. With the loss of Free Safety Stevie Brown, and the inconsistency of Corey Webster, the Giants need Thomas to get back to his old self, and quick.
- Other possibilities: Bucs CB Darrelle Revis, Eagles WR DeSean Jackson and Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe.
Offensive Rookie of the Year:
- Texans Wide-receiver DeAndre Hopkins: Andre Johnson has been the #1 receiver for the Texans for a while now, but now it looks like he has a number 2. One thing that could hold him back is a concussion suffered in the preseason. He has been cleared to play in their opener, but the symptoms can linger. But if he’s healthy, expect him to have a big year with all the attention Johnson is paid.
- Other possibilities: Rams WR Tayvon Austin, Broncos RB Montee Ball and Packers RB Eddie Lacy.
Defensive Rookie of the Year:
- Steelers Outside Linebacker Jarvis Jones: The two-time All-American out of Georgia will only help the leagues best past defense from a year ago. He could approach or get to double-digit sacks as a rookie. Injury worry surrounds him though, after straining his chest in week 3.
- Other possibilities: Panthers DT Star Lotulelei, Bears MLB Jon Bostic and Rams LB Alec Ogletree.
Offensive Player of the Year:
- Lions WR Calvin Johnson: He’s pretty good. He only broke the leagues receiving yards in season record last year, with broken fingers, on a 4 win team. And with a better run game this year, to go with healed fingers, I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t come close to breaking his own record.
- Other possibilities: Saints QB Drew Brees, Vikings Adrian Peterson and Broncos Peyton Manning.
Defensive Player of the Year:
- Bengals Defensive Tackle Geno Atkins: He just signed a new five-year extension, and is the heart of the defense. A career high 12.5 sacks last year, the durable Atkins could push that number higher and help his team get far into the playoffs.
- Other possibilities: Panthers LB Luke Kuechly, Texans JJ Watt, and Giants Jason Pierre-Paul.
Breakout Player of the Year:
- Giants RB David Wilson: In his second year, Wilson will start for the first time, and if he can improve upon what he did last year, look out. Wilson showed big play ability for New York last year while acting as Ahmad Bradshaw’s backup. He did the same thing in the preseason, but now he needs to show more consistency. 80 yard runs are nice, but you need those 3 and 4 yard gritty runs to help open up holes for the home run. With backup Andre Brown out, Wilson will need to step up even more, and help Eli Manning and the pass game.
- Other possibilities: Colts WR TY Hilton, Packers WR Randall Cobb and Patriots WR Danny Amendola.
Most Valuable Player:
- Packers QB Aaron Rodgers: Already an MVP winner, Rodgers will get back there this season as he leads his team to another playoff berth. With the addition of RB Eddie Lacy, Rodgers will have more options and it will open up options in the passing game even more. If the o-line can prevent him from being sacked as much as he was last year (51 times), look out.
- Other possibilities: Broncos QB Peyton Manning, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and Vikings RB Adrian Peterson.
Coach of the Year:
- Seahawks Pete Carroll: I have him getting his team all the way to the Superbowl and past powerhouses like Atlanta and Green Bay. I’d say that’s enough.
- Other possibilities: Chiefs Andy Reid, Bengals Marvin Lewis and Saints Sean Payton.