This is something I started doing a few years back, first on another non-football site and as of last year on this site. As a somewhat obsessive NFL 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 all the teams 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.
DALLAS COWBOYS- Here's a great big polarizing statement to start off this post… the Dallas Cowboys will play in the Super Bowl this year. They are not going to look the part of a super bowl team throughout the season. They will win some, they will lose some, Tony Romo will make mistakes and their secondary is going to look atrocious against high powered offenses. So how is it going to happen, you ask? I think it will happen in a similar fashion to the mirror of what has happened to them over the last five years. Each year they have gone in with high hopes, and each year they have had something go terribly wrong. This year I think they will have things go wonderfully right, especially for captain hard-luck Tony Romo. Dez Bryant will have a monster year, Miles Austin will stay healthy and recapture the magic from a few years back when he was in the conversation for a top 20 NFL receiver, and Demarco Murray will clear 1,200 rushing yards as the rookies and youngsters on the O-line gel and learn. My official, based on nothing concrete prediction is that they just edge the giants out to get in to the playoffs and ride a hot streak to the big game on the shoulders of Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant.
Of course that doesn't stop me from loving this meme…
NEW YORK GIANTS- The NFC East has a pretty tough common schedule overall, and all the teams in the division play each other tight. I think the giants are the best team in their division, but I have them missing the playoffs in a race that will see three of the four east teams finish within two games of each other, none of these teams with a significant record. I see the Giants having a poor run game and another up and down season from Eli, and I don't think the defensive front will be quite as dangerous as they have been in the past with Osi gone. A dark horse candidate for impact player is Louis Murphy, who I think could flourish as the third receiver when NY is playing well.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES- Any potential their season had went up in smoke with Jeremy Maclin's acl tear. There will still be weeks where Desean Jackson toasts defenses but he is not a guy who I buy as working in the new up-tempo system Philly will be running. You'd think he would be, but I just don't think he has the heart for it. He seems like the kind of guy who takes plays off. Michael Vick is a virtual lock to get injured at some point and I am not a Nick Foles fan at all. Isaac Sopoaga is a huge addition defensively but Cary Williams will prove to be a product of the Ravens system. I think the defensive player that takes the biggest step forward for them this year will be Vinny Curry. I think Lane Johnson will struggle early. They should be a 5-6 win team.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS- The Washington redskins are a tough team to call. We know that a lot of how good they are is riding on how healthy RG3 stays. We know they will have a good running game because it's a Shanahan team. We know that Pierre Garcon is highly underrated but often injured, that Fred Davis has been due a breakout season for four years now, and that Brian Orakpo was becoming an elite rusher before injuries derailed his last season. When Brandon Meriwether is your best 'no question marks' defensive player, you're probably not a very standout D. I think this team is well coached enough to hang around , but I don't view them as talented enough defensively or seasoned enough offensively to make any noise. A healthy RG3 helps them make a peep, but it won't be a very mighty one. Maybe next year.
ATLANTA FALCONS- The Falcons should have the most potent offense in football this year, with a top ten qb, a pair of number one receivers, a timeless prototypical passcatching tight end, a workmanlike O-line and an ageless running back who might have ranked among the all-time greats if he'd ever played for competitive teams where defenses couldn't just stack the box and chill. On the defensive side of the ball, Atlanta replaced John Abraham with Osi Umeniyora and drafted Desmond Trufant to play opposite the aging but still good Asante Samuel. They will be involved in shootouts this year but they clearly have the firepower to come out on top. I predict that their season will once again end a game short of the Super Bowl. I also look for Jacquizz Rodgers to have a 500 rushing yard season spelling Steven Jackson, with another 400 or so receiving yards.
CAROLINA PANTHERS- This team is still a project. They have their quarterback in Cam Newton but they have not done a great job in bringing him along with either weapons or coaching. Steve Smith is a year older, Brandon LaFell is still unproven as a go to guy, and the running back combo of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams have become far too injury prone for them to have not made any notable acquisitions to take the heat off Newton when that pair goes down. Throw in a slightly below average o-line and a defense made up of mostly castoffs in the secondary and youngsters up front, this team is not done with its growing pains. They will be the basement dwellers in the competitive NFC south.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS- The saints will get a boost from the return of Sean payton, but I am starting to wonder if last year was not the beginning of the end for them. Drew Brees still has a few more good years in him (and he could still break a few records before he goes) but I don't think their D is going to be able to control games for them before Brees begins his decline. Kenny Vaccaro stands to be a nice pickup for them and they have a decent trio of middle linebackers in David Hawthorne, Curtis Lofton and Jon Vilma, but they have whiffed on quite a few pass rushers, their corners are uninspiring and left tackle could become a major issue for them this season. They drafted a decent project player for the future but that future might not come in time to get Drew Brees another legit title shot. This year they will have a top 5 offense and a bottom 5 defense, and maybe sneak in to the playoffs but I don't think they do.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS- If Revis island is still the pre-injury Darelle, this team may make the playoffs. They have a mean front four, a very underrated linebacker corps, a pair of solid safeties and a versatile offense that can win them games. Doug Martin looked amazing last year and their o-line may have just upgraded in run blocking with the addition of Gabe Carimi, a guy I am high on to make the leap and live up to his draft billing. I think Chicago will regret giving up on him so soon. They have the quietly excellent Vincent Jackson catching passes for them and Josh Freeman looks like he can excel in the role of 'plus' game manager. They have drafted well over the last two years and I expect them to push for a wild card spot but ultimately fall just short. I predict that Freeman will solidify his role as their starting qb this year with some very impressive games, and that Darrelle Revis will regain his elite edge around the midpoint of the season.
CHICAGO BEARS- Da bears aren't going to be much better this year than they have over the last couple. Maybe they'll fight for a playoff spot and maybe they won't, but what's a pretty sure thing is that Jay Cutler is never going to evolve beyond the gunslinger mentality that has prevented him from joining the ranks of the elite, Brandon Marshall will still be his only real offensive option and the Chicago defense will force a lot of turnovers but it won't always result in wins. Chicago upgraded at left tackle with the addition of Jermon Bushrod but they may have downgraded in the long term at right tackle by getting rid of Gabe Carimi. Another interesting addition is Matt Slauson. I am a big fan of his and I'm looking forward to seeing if he can be the thing for them that I thought he could be here. DJ Williams isn't a terrible replacement for Urlacher, but I think they will suffer in short zone coverage with him gone. They'll be middle of the pack, but nowhere near the Pack. If ya know what I mean.
DETROIT LIONS- Despite a solid pickup in safety Glover Quin and the drafting of Ziggy Ansah to stick up front with Nick Fairley and N'damukong Suh, this is still not going to be a good defense. Their corners are awful and their linebackers are average. Offensively they added a nice piece in Reggie Bush but he doesn't stay healthy so I'm hesitant to call it a major upgrade. I trust more in Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell than I do in Bush. Matt Stafford still doesn't have a legit receiving option outside of Calvin Johnson. For some reason Detroit waited until round six to draft a receiver, and the guy they drafted is better known for speed than hands. It's no way to help your qb take the next step. Larry Warford was a good addition for their o-line. Ultimately I think their holes are too significant for them to sniff the playoffs. I do think Megatron will have another Megatron year though.
GREEN BAY PACKERS- It's all offense, all the time for the pack. BJ Raji, Tramon Williams and Clay Matthews were all major reasons that the Packers looked like they were about to become a dynasty back in 2011, but two of them have faded to mediocrity and the third has been very hot and cold. There is enough talent on the defensive side of the ball in Green Bay where I am led to believe that their shortcomings may be at least 40% their coaching staff's fault. For the most part, it will be the same defensive crew this year, and I'm not expecting much improvement. Green Bay should continue to dominate offensively though the loss of Brian Bulaga for the year could result in a few more hits on Aaron Rodgers, which is not really something he can afford with the way he already gets beat up. I predict a slim division win and an unceremonious first round exit for this team. I think Eddie Lacy will be good enough in stretches where GB will feel like they've found a guy to take the heat off of Rodgers, but if the rookie o-linemen they picked up this year don't pan out, they will have to pull off a trade or move of some sort to get a sure thing on their o-line before Aaron Rodgers get pummeled into oblivion. Oh, and I think Randall Cobb will have a dominant season, recording around 1,300 receiving yards and 12 scores.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS- The vikes have the best running back in football and a retooled receiving corps that will feature rookie Cordarelle Patterson and always underrated all-pro Greg Jennings along with athletic TE Kyle Rudolph. Christian Ponder took a small step forward last year after showing some promise in his rookie season, and I would not be surprised to see him continue to develop into a decent middle tier qb. I expect him to be around 3,200yds/22tds/12ints on the year. Not great, but something you can compete with. Defensively they have a pretty solid trio of linebackers in EJ Henderson, Desmond Bishop and tackling machine Chad Greenway. They also feature a premiere pass rusher in Jared Allen and a young, mostly unknown secondary. Their coaching staff last year made the most of what they had, and I don't think they'll regress or advance this year.
ARIZONA CARDINALS- The cardinals have a quarterback now. They also have a potential steal at running back with a healthy Rashard Mendenhall. This is going to be a much better team with someone who can actually get Larry Fitzgerald the ball. I am looking at Fitzgerald putting up a 1,500 yard season, Andre Roberts having a breakout year, and TE Rob Housler finally looking like the budding star athlete he is supposed to be. On the defensive side of the ball this team has a crazy talented corner in Patrick Peterson, a linebacking corps that should be very good in coverage and blitzing but might struggle a bit against the run, and a pass rush that may have just gotten a bit better with the addition of John Abraham. Arizona is my pick to surprise people this year. If not for the fact that their last two games are against the teams they will be competing with for a playoff spot (SF, Seattle), I'd have them getting a wild card berth. In some other divisions they'd be my dark horse pick to the division outright. As it is, I think they will have a respectable season.
SAINT LOUIS RAMS- The Rams have upgraded their offense significantly with the additions of Tavon Austin, Jared Cook and Stedman Bailey. Chris Givens and Daryl Richardson are two players who could be poised to have breakout years. Richardson is my favorite to assume the starting RB job and run with it, so to speak. I think he will put up a thousand yard season on the ground. They added Jake Long to what looks like a promising O-line, and they added Alec Ogletree to a defense that has a lot more talent than people realize. Ultimately what will keep this team in the basement is going to be two things. First, I don't believe in Sam Bradford. He's not Mark Sanchez bad, but he's not going to beat the Niners or the Seahawks. Or the Cardinals, imo. The second thing that will keep them from being a threat is Brian Schottenheimer. Nuff said, eh?
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS- Probably the easiest pick to win the Super Bowl this year, the niners are loaded defensively, have one of the five best head coaches in football, have a quarterback who looked unstoppable at times last year and have spent their offseason stocking up on players at all their weak points. Nnamdi Asomugha has a chance to re-establish himself as an NFL player that matters, first round draft pick Eric Reid will join a talented defense that should help him acclimate quickly to the NFL and the niners front should continue to pressure the qb like no other team can. I think they will look a bit worse against the run this year than they have in a while due to the loss of Isaac Sopoaga, but with the best inside linebacker combo in the NFL (maybe ever???? Certainly now.) it should not hurt them. At this point I still believe their downfall will come at the position most people are gaga over. Colin Kaepernick is going to regress this year. That is my prediction. He is going to get hit more, and it will affect him. Baltimore showed the blueprint for beating him in the first three quarters of the super bowl and he won't always have a time stoppage to regroup in. He will miss Michael Crabtree, and even though Anquan Boldin will be huge for them, Vernon Davis will still do his usual inconsistent act and there will be times when that offense will be stale with a capital S. I think they make the playoffs but don't make the big game.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS- Different team, different results. Whereas I expect Russell Wilson to experience the same growing pains that Kaepernick will, I think that Seattle's offense is more well rounded and more suited to survive the occasional bad from Wilson. Golden Tate is poised to have a breakout year, people have forgotten how good Sidney Rice is when he's healthy, and there is amazing depth behind Marshawn Lynch on the RB chart. Between their blue collar o-line and d-lines, their efficient linebacking corps and their star studded secondary, I like Seattle to edge out SF for the division and make the NFC championship game. I think Tate gets his first 1,000 yard season and that forgotten TE Zach Miller, whose last good season was 2010 in Oakland, will put up a respectable 50 receptions and six scores.