Greetings! We’re back with more NFL talk, but this time, it’s not necessarily Falcons-centric. In this edition, we’ll be throwing a few league-wide predictions against the wall, and predicting the full NFL standings before the opening kickoff between the Ravens and Broncos tonight. Let’s go!
- Offensive Rookie of the Year – Giovanni Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals – Bernard gets my nod simply because I think he’s the most explosive player. Green Bay RB Eddie Lacy will probably get more opportunity, but only BenJarvus Green-Ellis stands in the way of Bernard winning the ROY award.
- Defensive Rookie of the Year - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers – This is NOT a hometown pick, but one of opportunity. You could list many, many players who have excelled on the outside of Pittsburgh’s 3-4 scheme, and if Jones is healthy, he’ll make 10+ sacks.
- Offensive Player of the Year (non-MVP edition) – Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions – Because this is a non-MVP award, I’ll give it to the guy who is better than everyone else at his position. Johnson’s 5-touchdown season last year screams fluke, and I think he goes for 12-14 touchdowns with 1,500+ yards. Done and done.
- Defensive Player of the Year - JJ Watt, DL, Houston Texans – JJ Watt is a monster. He made 20.5 sacks last year while playing in a scheme that shouldn’t allow him to be a pure pass rusher. Think about that. He’s the best defensive player in the NFL in my estimation, and he’ll repeat here.
- Coach of the Year - Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals – This is a tough one to pick (always) because it is so record-dependent. I’ll take Lewis based on the fact that I’m higher on Cincy than just about anyone.
- NFL MVP - Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots – The best in the business puts together one more dominant campaign and leads the Pats to the #1 seed in the AFC despite losing Hernandez and Welker in the off-season. Done and done.
This is about as clear cut as any division in the league. The Broncos are still the class of the West despite the Von Miller suspension, and the offense is leaps and bounds better than anything else in the division. Kansas City will be feisty under the Alex Smith/Andy Reid regime, but they don’t have enough to make a bigger leap than this already-considerable one. San Diego won’t be wretched as some people believe, and Philip Rivers will redeem himself a bit, but they have no pass catchers and their defensive depth is troubling. Oakland is flat-out abysmal, and they will take the crown of the worst team in the league behind the fully capable hand of Terrelle Pryor.
I love Cincy, as I mentioned above, and their defense is why. Geno Atkins and company will form a top-5 unit, and they’ll carry the solid but unspectacular offense led by AJ Green and rookie breakout candidate Gio Bernard. Baltimore takes a step back from what many believe they’ll be, but I have to remind you that they barely squeaked into the playoffs last season. Flacco isn’t quite the guy that he was in January, they have no depth behind Torrey Smith on the outside, and the defense is suddenly a question mark. Pittsburgh is getting a lot of love because they’re Pittsburgh, but with a bad offensive line, zero running game, and no Mike Wallace… how do they score? Cleveland is going to be feisty, but predicting more than 6 wins from a team quarterbacked by Brandon Weeden is a leap I can’t make.
Hello, Houston. They are a great regular season team led by Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, and JJ Watt, and they’ll cruise to the title. I am in love with Andrew Luck like few other people are, but his defense is going to be an issue, and Reggie Wayne is on the downside. Tennessee and Jacksonville have QB-driven issues with Locker and Gabbert, but the rosters are pretty bad anyway, despite the presence of Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew, respectively.
As mentioned in the “Brady for MVP’ selection, New England lost offensive weapons, but they still have Brady and Belichick. The defense is going to be better than last year, and that offense will never be less than upper-echelon as long as Brady can walk. The rest of the division is semi-hopeless, but Miami could be interesting. They need progression from Tannehill (maybe) and an emergence from Lamar Miller (maybe) to have a shot at the playoffs, but I hedged and went with 7 wins. Buffalo is a year or two away with EJ Manuel, but on the bright side, CJ Spiller and Mario Williams are monsters. The Jets will challenge Oakland for “worst in the league” honors, but their defense will win them a game or two on their own.
I personally believe that San Francisco and Seattle are the two best teams in the NFL. San Francisco is blessed with the best offensive line in the league (by a wide margin), an upper-echelon defense and the emerging Colin Kaepernick. They aren’t devoid of weaknesses (wide receiver!), but they’re loaded. Seattle’s defense is probably the best in the league, and if there is a guy that I love almost as much as Andrew Luck, it’s Russell Wilson. I’ve been in on Wilson since his time at NC State (yes, pre-Wisconsin, even), and that backfield is fantastic. They’ll need a lot from Golden Tate and Sidney Rice, but the running game will allow them to flourish. St. Louis is frisky behind an overhauled defense, but it’s going to come down to Sam Bradford and company. The Steven Jackson loss will hurt, but Bradford will take the next step and be solid. Arizona gets the bump to 7 wins because they have a competent (-ish) quarterback now in Carson Palmer, and a very good, underrated defense.
Aaron Rodgers. Randall Cobb. Jordy Nelson. James Jones. Eddie Lacy. Rinse. Repeat. I like the Packers. Chicago is relying a lot on an offense that no one has seen before, but can they protect Cutler? For me, their defense is the key, as they replace Brian Urlacher and a few others. Minnesota is going to succumb to Christian Ponder, but AP will try to carry them with another 1,800-yard campaign. Detroit’s offense is going to be great at times, but they’re Detroit. They’ll lose close games, and their back 7 will struggle on defense.
You can check out any of 9 parts for the Falcons preview, and you know I’m high on them. Tampa Bay gets the surprising nod over New Orleans because I trust their defense infinitely more than the Saints, and Doug Martin is a big-time player. If Josh Freeman is solid, they can challenge the Falcons. The aforementioned Saints have a top-5 offense… and a bottom-5 defense. You can’t fade that even if Drew Brees and Sean Payton are reunited, and anyone who believes that New Orleans is a Super Bowl threat would have to believe that their defense somehow improves. For Carolina, it’s the same old story. Cam Newton will be great, they’re a mess at running back, they only have one pass-catching threat (Steve Smith), and the defense will be bad. Ron Rivera, you’re on the block.
Finally (and mercifully), we land in the NFC East, where I’m going on the limb to take the Cowboys. They have the best skill position quintet in the division with Romo, Murray (if healthy), Bryant, Austin (if healthy), and Witten, and the defense has talent everywhere. I’ll never be convinced that Jason Garrett is a good coach (he isn’t), but I’m picking talent and banking on Romo and company. Watch out. The Giants are the impossible-to-predict team… so I punted and gave them 9 wins. That’s honesty. I don’t believe that Robert Griffin III will be fully healthy/explosive on return, and the Redskins are going to be relying heavily on an undrafted running back with a 1-year track record in Alfred Morris. Philly rounds out the division in Year 1 of the Chip Kelly era, and while I actually think he’ll succeed, it’s going to take a little bit longer.
- AFC Wild Card #1 – Broncos over Ravens
- AFC Wild Card #2 – Bengals over Colts
- NFC Wild Card #1 – Packers over Giants
- NFC Wild Card #2 – Seahawks over Cowboys
- AFC Divisional Round #1 – Patriots over Bengals
- AFC Divisional Round #2 – Broncos over Texans
- NFC Divisional Round #1 – Seahawks over Falcons (sorry, everybody)
- NFC Divisional Round #2 – 49ers over Packers
- AFC Championship Game – Patriots over Broncos
- NFC Championship Game – Seahawks over 49ers
- Super Bowl – Seahawks over Patriots (the Pete Carroll Bowl!!!)
The 2013 NFL season kicks off tonight, and it’s going to be a wild ride. Stay tuned in this space for all of your Falcons news, and enjoy the season!