As a somewhat well informed fan who pays attention to not just his own team but the entire league, I thought it would be fun to take a quick look at the league and make some predictions. This is not a well-researched post, but more of an opinion based one. Enjoy it for what it is, and leave your own predictions/disagreements in the comments section. It'll be fun. I promise.
For the AFC Edition, check older posts, it was posted on August 3rd.
1-What is there to say about Dallas? They are a team of perennial underachievers with all the talent in the world and even more bad luck. This team could just as easily have been a dominant force in the NFC East over the last five years as the inconsistent fools they have been. And my first prediction about this team is… it won't end this year. This is a vague prediction, but a safe one when considering recent history. Something will go terribly wrong for this team. Let's call it the Romo curse and move on.
2- Despite the Romo curse, this team won't lose because of Romo this year. He will have a career season, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant will have huge seasons, and Demarco Murray will be good enough to not hurt his team. I'm not so sure about them on the defensive side though. I think that's where things go wrong for them this time around. But Romo? He'll be in the conversation for mvp. Until it all goes horribly wrong.
3- Jason Garrett will be fired if Dallas does not make the playoffs this year. Not because he should be, but because Jerry Jones is slowly becoming Al Davis. And not the good Al Davis from the 70s. The 'let's draft Jamarcus Russell' Al Davis.
NEW YORK GIANTS-
1-New York will lose the NFC East to the Philadelphia Eagles in their final game of the season and will miss the playoffs due to strong showings by three teams in the NFC North.
2- Eli Manning will throw over 20 interceptions this year. The lucky tips to receivers that he benefited from more often than you'd realize last year will not repeat themselves and he will come back down to being the very good quarterback that he is, as opposed to the top 4 guy people are starting to believe he is. He's still going to throw for over 4,000 yards, but he won't sniff 5,000 like he did last year.
3- Victor Cruz will also come back to earth as defenses focus more on him than they did last year. This will result in probably 300-400 or so fewer yards over the course of the season, but I also think we will see the added attention to him benefit Hakeem Nicks on the other side. This offense overall could struggle if nobody steps up to fill the void left by Mario Manningham's departure. Rueben Randle could be a key player.
1-The eagles came on strong at the end of last season and I expect them to continue the trend. If not for the likelihood that Michael Vick misses a few games at some point, I could see them running away with the division.
2- The additions of Demeco Ryans and Fletcher Cox will make this defense one of the best in football. Cox should make it even easier for Trent Cole and Jason Babin to get to the quarterback, and Ryans can be the guy they've been sorely missing in Philly, a guy who can consistently tackle running backs. The loss of Asante Samuel should not hurt them very much as they continue to get better.
3- DeSean Jackson will inspire Philly fans to boo him at some point, and Philly management will regret the contract they gave him. I don't see him staying with the team throughout the entire term of the deal. He's a very good #2 receiver with the attitude of a very good #1. He doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who will learn from his mistakes.
1-Santana Moss will not experience the career resurgence that Steve Smith did last year. Santana has visibly slowed and cannot get down the field like he used to. I think Washington will suffer from the lack of having a true number one receiver and will not be real contenders in the division due to that, though they will be competitive due to a very good selection of targets in Moss/ Pierre Garcon/Fred Davis/Roy Helu out of the backfield.
2- Robert Griffin III will not have a season like Cam Newton did last year. Newton is a once in a lifetime story. Griffin will be good enough eventually but he will not be breaking any records anytime soon, and I don't think he'll even be particularly good his first season. He will surely show flashes, his talent is certainly there. But he will not win many games for his team this year. He also suffers from the misfortune of playing in a division with Michael Vick, because there are at least two defenses in that division with experience and skill necessary in containing scrambling qbs.
3- Brian Orakpo will have a big defensive season for the Redskins, with 60+ tackles/15 sacks/5 forced fumbles. He may be the lone bright spot though. It is a defense that will be starting Brandon Merriwether, after all.
1-Cutler to Marshall. Learn it. It's gonna be the next big thing. There is not going to be a better Qb/Wr combo in the league than that with the exception of Stafford to Johnson. I can see Marshall having a season very similar to Megatron's last one, without quite so many touchdowns. Somewhere in the vicinity of 1,400 yards and 10tds, I'd say.
2-The above prediction combined with an above average defense, a good young receiver in Alshon Jeffrey, Forte and Bush forming perhaps the second best RB tandem in football outside of Houston's duo and an offensive line that has gone from terrible two years ago to just very bad last year and isn't going to be as porous this year as people seem to think (look for Gabe Carimi to get real good and make the entire right side better), this team is primed to steal what will be a very tight division race. I think the Bears, Packers and Lions all make the playoffs, with Chicago pulling out the division crown by either a one game margin or by virtue of a tiebreak advantage.
3- Devin Hester will eventually lose offensive snaps to Alshon Jeffrey and will be even better on special teams than he has been over the past couple of years. He will continue to grow the margins of his return records.
1-Jahvid Best is going to be a major force for Detroit this year, if he can get healthy. Best is apparently still suffering from the concussions he sustained last year, which is a shame for Detroit as he may very well be the player that puts them over the top with a full season.
2- Calvin Johnson will best the Madden Curse and stay healthy the entire season. He will also continue his trend of being awesome and better than everyone else.
3- The biggest offseason move for Detroit will prove to be Jacob Lacey. Lacey has been a decent but unspectacular corner who always seemed like he was about to have a breakout year but never did in Indy. He's an athletic, speedy guy who should thrive in Detroit with a D-line that forces a lot of hurried throws.
GREEN BAY PACKERS-
1-Randall Cobb will slowly usurp the third receiver's job from Donald Driver and James Jones this year. He is more talented and sure-handed than either of them right now, and Green Bay will figure it out pretty soon.
2-James Starks will have a 1,000 yard rushing season for the team despite being part of a rotation and on a team that passes as much as Green Bay does. If he shows any improvement at all as a receiver, he could become one of the better backs in football. I don't think that will happen though. I expect him to 'just' be a very reliable runner when GB is trying to run down the clock on opponents.
3- The addition of Jeff Saturday will make the entire offensive line better and will make Aaron Rodgers even harder to get to, which is something opposing defenses really don't want to hear. After being sacked over 30 times for the last two years, I would not be surprised if the number dropped to 20-25 or so this year.
1-The Vikings will have a top eight draft pick in the coming NFL draft. Not because that they are necessarily that bad, but because all the other teams in their division are just so much better than them. I would not be surprised if they didn't get a single in-division win this year, and maybe even not more than two in-conference wins.
2- Jared Allen is really the only defensive player of note, but it's a pretty significant note. Any wins this team gets will probably be due in large part to him. I predict that he will keep playing the way he has and will have another 20 sack season, becoming the first player in NFL history to do so.
3- Christian Ponder will do enough in his first full NFL season to convince Minnesota that he is their answer at quarterback. They will use their first rounder next year on either a wide receiver or another o-lineman to pair with Matt Kalil. Probably a guard.
1-This is a very good but not great football team. They have a good quarterback, good receivers, a pair of good running backs and a bunch of good defensive players. Unfortunately for them they are very good and not great. Their final eight games include New Orleans twice, a revamped Bucs team twice, the Giants, the Lions and a game at Carolina. As I do not believe there will be a wildcard spot coming out of this division this year, there can be only one. And I'm going with Drew Brees over Matt Ryan. The regular season warriors don't get another crack at the postseason this year.
2- Asante Samuel will be the most frustrating guy in Atlanta football this year. He's going to have games where he looks excellent, there's no doubt. But he's also going to be seeing Drew Brees twice a year, as well as a slew of other lesser quarterbacks you can't really gamble against the way he is wont to do. They'll love him and hate him, pretty much like the fan of any other team he's ever been on.
3- Ray Edwards could be the key to the entire Atlanta defensive front. He did not look as good last year as he had the few years prior, and with John Abraham probably nearing a decline, the Falcons need Edwards to start being the guy they signed him to be.
1-Carolina will only improve on its record from last season by 1-2 games this year. Luke Kuechly was a solid addition but they are still a few defensive moves away from being a legitimate threat to take the division. They will probably play very well at points this year. I do not think Cam Newton's season last year was a fluke. He will continue to grow and may end up being the most dangerous quarterback in the game within 3-4 years, assuming Carolina is able to replace any fading talent at wr or rb as they need to.
2- Look for Louis Murphy to be a significant pickup for Carolina's offense if he can stay healthy. Murphy has always shown flashes but unfortunately, got most of his opportunities in Oakland with Jamarcus Russell at quarterback. He's got really good speed and solid hands, and should fit right in in Carolina.
3- Another receiver who is more likely to have an impact for Carolina this year is Brandon LaFell. He came on strong last year and looked very solid late in the season. I expect him to continue to play well. Carolina could get two guys over 1,000 receiving yards.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS-
1-First off, you know how you've heard that New Orleans is in for a bad year because of their offseason drama? Don't bet on it. That team is not the defense, nor is it the head coach anymore(though Sean Payton certainly did build it.), it's all the offense. Joe Vitt, the interim head coach for the team, has been with the team for several years now and while few people have Sean Payton's mind, he surely knows all of the ins and outs of the system at this point. You also have that Brees guy, who knows the system equally well and has always had influence over playcalling. So expecting anything to change on offense in New Orleans is foolish. They are still going to outscore almost all of the teams they play. They still have a dynamic stable of running backs, a bunch of big and fast receivers, and perhaps the best tight end in football. They'll be fine.
2- The aforementioned tight end is Jimmy Graham. Last year, he had 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 scores. He quickly became Drew Brees' favorite target. This year, he may very well improve on those numbers. There is of course a great debate to be had when comparing the best TEs in football. Gronkowski had the splashier season last year, and Vernon Davis would probably be the consensus number one if he had a qb of the caliber that the other two have. Graham is a bit faster and Gronk is a better blocker, otherwise they are comparable in every way. This year, I can see Graham clearing 100 receptions and nearing the TD record Gronk set last year, as Brees will probably lean a bit more on his big two targets due to the loss of Robert Meachem.
3- The Saints defense will also not be quite the wreck you'd imagine. Two of the four suspended players are with other teams now. Second year defensive end Cameron Jordan is going to need to step up and improve over his rookie season, and the saints acquired two very solid linebackers in David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton during the offseason. Those two are more than capable of filling in for Jonathan Vilma. They are not as athletic as he is, but they are more cerebral players, and better tacklers at the line. The saints defense has never been great, and should continue to be just good enough to allow the offense to win.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS-
1-Despite the numerous offseason moves this team made, I still expect them to finish fourth in their division. They are on the right path though. They have a good receiving corps and a pair of good running backs but I'm still not sold on their qb, their o-line is only slightly better, and their defense is still a huge question mark. They will not compete for the division this year, and probably not next year either.
2- Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin are the immediate future of this team. They will both have big seasons. I question the decision to part ways with Kellen Winslow, but Dallas Clark is not a terrible replacement.
3- I think this defense will still be pretty awful this year. Ronde Barber is one year older, Aqib Talib is still a headcase and the corner that was brought in to play opposite of him is Eric Wright, a guy who couldn't stick in Cleveland or Detroit. Gerald McCoy never quite became 'that' guy (remember when the debate was Suh or McCoy? That's over.) and the two rookies on D (Mark Barron and Lavonte David) strike me as guys who may develop in year two but will struggle in year one.
1-This is a show-me year for Kevin Kolb. It's never good when they guy who was supposed to be the savior of your franchise is in a battle for a starter spot with a guy named Skelton. If Kolb does not have at least a solid game manager type season, there is a good chance that Arizona drafts a quarterback early next year. They don't need him to be a star, their offense is still designed to run through Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams. He has a solid run game, one of the premier receivers in football and a pretty decent o-line. It's all on him to cut down on the poor decision making he displayed in his last year. I don't think he will be convincing enough.
2- The Cardinals receiving corps has, since the departure of Anquan Boldin, been Larry Fitzgerald and nothing else of note. This year, that could all change. The Arizona WR depth chart now features at least four other guys with real potential; first round draft pick Michael Floyd has the size and speed to be an above average NFL receiver, Andre Roberts, who is built like a slot receiver but can play on the outside, had a promising season last year with approximately 50 receptions for 600 yards, Early Doucet, who is not that unique but developed good chemistry with his qbs last year and was heavily leaned on in a couple of games, and a longshot potential beast in the 6'5 Stephen Williams, an undrafted free agent from last season with excellent speed who still needs to refine the other aspects of his game. If either Kolb or Skelton becomes a reliable quarterback we could see a better pass attack than you'd think in Arizona.
3- The Arizona defense is a tale of three very different units. The defensive line is a very good group, including underrated Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. They are beasts up front. The secondary for Arizona is pretty talented but tends to disappear for games at a time, featuring last year's rookie sensation Patrick Peterson, the very solid Adrian Wilson, Mister Hollywood Kerry Rhodes (who I confess I still kinda miss) and new addition William Gay, who is best known for getting absolutely destroyed by Adrian Peterson on a catch and run play a couple of years ago. The big problem with this defense, and the reason they will still not be very good as an overall unit, is the linebacking corps. Paris Lenon is an okay tackler but they really don't have much going for them at inside or outside LB.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS-
1-San Francisco spent the offseason loading up on offensive talent. They have a stable of four running backs who all look good enough to warrant a few touches a game and their receiver corps are extremely deep, though how good they are is debatable. Michael Crabtree is a guy we probably haven't seen the best of yet. Randy Moss is a guy I doubt we'll ever see the best of again. AJ Jenkins has potential, Mario Manningham is an inconsistent receiver who parlayed his super bowl highlight into a nice little contract, Ted Ginn is more of a return specialist than a receiver and Kyle Williams is the guy who fumbled away a Super Bowl berth. I think that by year's end, Moss and Williams will no longer be on the team and we will have come to realize that Alex Smith is not as good as he was last year.
2- Despite the fact that I think Smith will regress this year, SF should still have an easy road to the division. Their defense is just too good and the Harbaugh family produced some fine coaches. Expect more of the same from that D.
3- The playoffs last year were a bit of a coming out party for tight end Vernon Davis. He showed with speed, athleticism and his great hands why many consider him to be the best tight end in football despite the fact that he never really has huge numbers. Skill-wise those people may be right. I still think he'll have an inconsistent year, which has been the norm for him all his career, due mostly to the fact that he has Alex Smith at quarterback and he sometimes gets lost in the offensive gameplan. For some reason.
1-The noisiest, most feared homefield advantage in football will be put to the test this year as Seattle faces Dallas, New England and Green Bay for their first three home games of the year. The team also has a fairly tough overall schedule. I predict that Seattle will get off to a rocky start and will not be able to recover to prevent San Francisco from running away with the division.
2-Seattle's defense features a lot of promise up front and what may become the best safety tandem in football within a few years in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Down the line Bruce Irvin will be a beast for them, but I don't think he'll do much in year one.
3- There is reportedly an open quarterback competition between Matt Flynn, Russell Wilson and Tarvaris Jackson. I think we can all safely assume that Jackson won't win it, but the other two are interesting. Flynn was just brought in on a three year deal after a few good spot performances in his time in Green Bay, but Wilson has been making a big impression on his coaches and teammates. He could be their qb of the future, but I think that for now the job will be Flynn's. I think he will start all sixteen games for them if healthy, and he will be pretty good. I can see him putting up about 3,000 yards and 20 scores throwing to an underrated receiver corps and a solid pair of TEs.
ST. LOUIS RAMS-
1-This will be another bad year for St. Louis. Their schedule is too tough and neither their defense nor their offense is talented enough to win many of the sort of games they will be playing. After signing Cortland Finnegan and assuming Janoris Jenkins lives up to his hype, their secondary could be better than it has been, but still not good enough. I'd look for this team to become more competitive next year.
2-I expect the bright spot of St. Louis' defense to be their defensive ends. Chris Long has improved every year that he has been in the league, and I think he will continue that trend. I expect a 15+ sack season from him, and I expect Robert Quinn to get about 10 on the other side.
3- In the most obvious prediction ever… I predict that St. Louis will have a terrible offense this year, and that Brian Schottenheimer will continue to not be fit for an NFL coaching job. I'm sure you're all shocked.