I sense a rematch....from a long time ago.....
1) Washington Redskins: Even if RGIII has a hiccup or two, Kirk Cousins is good enough to start for half the league. If Alfred Morris even approaches his output of last year, the 'Skins will be just fine.
2) Dallas Cowboys: No doubt this is it for Jason Garrett. Dez Bryant isn't a championship receiver, but he's darn good. He and Romo will put up numbers. But DeMarco Murray cannot stay healthy and their defense is....eh. This is a one-team playoff division. Dallas won't be that team.
3) New York Giants: My G-Men are in for a down season. They'll miss Osi up front defensively, and it's past time for Eli to have a down year. He has them, and this will be one.
4) Philadelphia Eagles: Really excited to watch Eagles' offensive lineman's tongues drag on the turf...in the second quarter. Already down Maclin, they are certain to lose Vick at some point, then who runs the cardboard offense, Nick Foles? No, thanks.
1) Green Bay Packers: This pick is almost by default as the other three teams having talent, but glaring issues. The Packers' issues are more minor. A good year running by Lacy or Franklin unleashes Rodgers to throw to Nelson, Jones, et al. Their defense needs to keep opponents under 20 points. If they can, the Packers make the playoffs with an inflated record.
2) Detroit Lions: One of my sleeper picks. Too much talent on this team for them to pull another clunker season. If they had a legitimate #2 wide receiver, they'd be VERY dangerous. But they don't. So triple team Megatron and force Brandon Pettigrew to win games. That's what I'd do.
3) Minnesota Vikings: No, Adrian Peterson won't run for 2,500 yards. He may not run for 1,500 yards, as history dictates years after a 2,000 yard season aren't nearly as successful on average. And I'm not sold still on Christian Ponder. Blair Walsh's leg may win a game or two, flipping the Vikins and Lions final positions in the division.
4) Chicago Bears: The CFL comes to Chicago! The only problem is, Jay Cutler is still there. Urlacher's presence is gone (it will prove to be a bigger loss than anyone is speaking of right now). Can you say 6-10?
1) New Orleans Saints: I just can't see Drew Brees going any longer without winning the division. Plenty of interchangeable parts on offense. In a scary similar scenario as the Packers, their defense much hold opponents to under 20 points. I'm not as secure in this unit doing this, but I think they'll have enough to hold off...
2) Atlanta Falcons: Last year is as close to the Super Bowl as Matt Ryan will get. He and Matt Schaub, to me, and two classic quarterbacks in the mold of those I've seen in my lifetime like Dan Pastorini, Neil Lomax, Warren Moon, Bert Jones and Brian Sipe. Very good quarterbacks that simply couldn't get to the Big Game. Julio and Roddy will score TD's, Stephen Jackson is a big question mark (health). They'll stub their toe a couple of times and get swept by New Orleans, but they'll make the playoffs.
3) Carolina Panthers: Don't you think it's about time Cam Newton reminded everybody who he is and what he does? Of course, it doesn't seem like the Panthers know what the whole world does, they desperately need a #2 receiver to line up beside 52-year old Steve Smith. If Newton finishes another 6-10 season, you think he'll be itching for his rookie contract to expire?
4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The coaching hire last year is slowly proving to be a disaster. It all falls apart this year. Doug Martin will get yards, but Josh Freeman won't, and we'll realize once and for all he was really a psuedo-one year wonder. A top five 2014 draft pick is possible here.
NFC WEST: (By the way, the best division in football. Imagine saying that 4 years ago....)
1) San Francisco 49ers: A full season of Kapernick, the addition of Anquan Boldin, which stifles the loss of Michael Crabtree until his return. Then there's that Vernon Davis guy, and Frank Gore's got about two seasons left in him. LaMichael James brings a nice change of pace. Then there's that Kapernick guy....and the defense is ferocious. One possible achilles heel: why replace one breaking down kicker in David Akers with another aging kicker who could unwind at any moment in Phil Dawson?
2) Seattle Seahawks: I love, love, love Russell Wilson. What character, what a rookie season to end, finally, all the naysayers who have been in his ear since he graduated Collegiate School here in Richmond. Add Skittles guy in the backfield and a monster defense, and I think by season's end people will be saying, "Wasn't this team supposed to have Percy Harvin?" The two 49ers/Seahawks games should be the roughest, and best, of the regular season schedule. Move over Steelers/Ravens....
3) St. Louis Rams: In any other division, this team would fight for the title. They're just not good enough offensively to hang with the above two. Tavon Austin excites me. And their defense can hang with about anyone.
4) Arizona Cardinals: Bruce Arians steps in hoping to find the magic he had last year when subbing for Chuck Pagano in Indy. He won't find it. This franchise is ruining Larry Fitzgerald's career. It's painful to watch run 20-25 routes a game knowing there's no way that ball comes close to him due to bad snaps, bad offensive line play, and, of course, the lack of a quarterback. As a Raiders fan I can testify, Carson Palmer is NOT the answer. Long season in the desert.
NFC SEEDINGS: 1) Green Bay 2) San Francisco 3) New Orleans 4) Washington 5) Seattle 6) Atlanta
WILD CARDS: Atlanta gets revenge for sweep by Saints in regular season and wins in Big Easy, and in rematch of the game where RGIII went down, Seattle will send him to the offseason a 2nd straight year.
DIVISIONALS: Atlanta goes to Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers tears them apart in a track meet. The Seattle/San Francisco game goes overtime, and the 49ers win.
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: San Francisco 30, Green Bay 27
1) New England Patriots: The winner...by default. Who in the world else could possibly knock them off? Tom Brady could throw to ME and win the division. That's all I need to say. :)
2) Buffalo Bills: If this team could stay healthy, they could be interesting. And EJ Manuel will be the best of the rookie QB's, though this season's crop are minor league imposters compared to Luck, RGIII and Wilson. I hope CJ Spiller can play the full 16. He could get closer to 2,000 yards than AP. Spiller loves breaking off long, long runs.....
3) Miami Dolphins: When I think of Ryan Tannehill, I think of Jay Fiedler, and Chad Pennington, and Daunte Culpepper....and whoever else has played QB there since Marino left in the sprinkler playoff game. I'd add David Woodley for old-schoolers but he at least made a Super Bowl. The closest Tannehill gets is when he plays at the Jets at the site of Super Bowl XLVIII.
4) New York Jets: The collapse, and end, of the Ryan Administration draws near. And to think, Mark Sanchez made back-to-back AFC Championship games. Good luck, Geno. Good luck. For 2014, a new coach and a top 3 draft pick will be in order.
1) Cincinnati Bengals: There. I said it. This is their year IF, and only IF Andy Dalton takes the next step forward. Dalton must avoid the inevitable bad interception he's had in critical games the first two years, must throw 27 or more touchdown passes and should become more demonstrative on the field as their general. He has red hair. Let's see some fire. Mohamed Sanu, if healed 100 percent, will give AJ Green the partner he's always needed. The Law Firm gets help in the backfield. And the defense added James Harrison. He's a 3rd down player with an every down presence.
2) Baltimore Ravens: Everyone's raving (pun intended) about the defense in camp. Better even without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Yes, Elvis Dumervil is there, but I feel like all the Ray Lewis worship I heard in the Super Bowl run last year was smokescreen. It's amazing how dismissive pundits are now of his absence. They're gonna miss both him and Reed. They were the heart and soul of that squad, even if they didn't lead the tackle or interception department. They instilled fear in opponents who will go to their death bed denying it. The defense will be good, but not Super Bowl good. That's too bad for Ravens fans because last year it was the offense, not the defense, that won the day in New Orleans. But, Boldin's gone, Pitta's gone, and Dallas Clark is running out of lives. Ray Rice is fine and Joe Flacco is, to me, the poster boy for "one-time Super Bowl champion". He's got Kurt Warner, Brad Johnson and Steve Young written all over him.
3) Pittsburgh Steelers: This is Big Ben's 10th season. He's breaking down. Who's his running back? Who replaces Mike Wallace? Will they overwork Heath Miller? How old is the defense? See all these questions? For the Steelers, such a consistent team, a 6-10 season is a disaster. Send disaster relief in late December to Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.
4) Cleveland Browns: I hear rumblings about their camp and preseason performances. That's nice. Their starting quarterback is Brandon Weeden and they're guaranteed to lose 5 or 6 division games. Welcome back to last place. I love Trent Richardson, though. He'll single-handedly keep them in some games.
1) Houston Texans: Andre Johnson gets help in the form of DeAndre Hopkins, so Matt Schaub has two wide receivers to throw to, and somehow he'll still find a way to short circuit this team's run. It seems the city of Houston itself is just cursed to not be able to reach a Super Bowl. Had there been TV replay in 1979, the Oilers may have made it. But they never did. Neither will this group of Texans.
2) Indianapolis Colts: I see Andrew Luck equalling 2012, but not more. Overall, I see the Colts around .500, taking a step back from a year which was fueled by emotion, inspired QB play, and surprisingly results from several newbies. They come back to earth and are an average team this time around.
3) Tennessee Titans: No team in the NFL is spinning its wheels like the Tennessee Titans. Jake Locker is about as good as he'll get. Jared Cook is gone, part of his O-Line protection is gone and Chris Johnson is about gone. Does any Titans wide receiver stay healthy for 16 games? Why did they ever let Jeff Fisher go....
4) Jacksonville Jaguars: That Clowney kid at South Carolina should learn the road to Jacksonville. He'll be there as the #1 pick in 2014 after the Jags are lucky to win 2 or 3 games. A healthy Maurice Jones-Drew will ensure those wins. If he's out again, it actually could be worse. Justin Blackmon is a lost cause and no one is going to win with the two-headed quarterback monster of Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert. Not even Jon Gruden's bus could save them.
1) Denver Broncos: No-brainer here, though please remember the defense doesn't have Dumervil, Von Miller is out six games and Champ Bailey is out for the opener. Bailey, Manning and Welker aren't getting any older and they're on their fourth-string center. Another injury there and they'll call out the really large guy sitting in Section 323 to sign a one-year deal. But, with all this, there simply isn't another team in the division with talent enough to beat this crew.
2) Kansas City Chiefs: Andy Reid will shake things up, and he'll like Kansas City BBQ, too. Alex Smith got the shaft in San Francisco, and gets to manage an offense with no pressures like he felt on the Bay. Jamaal Charles is a top 5 back, and maybe Dwayne Bowe actually overperforms once in his career. Lots of talent on a defense that seemed to stop playing last year, but, to their defense last year was rough at Arrowhead. Imagine watching a teammate shoot themselves in the stadium parking lot. Then you're supposed to go in and study film? I believe the Chiefs will play with new hunger and Reid will be the Reid of 5 straight NFC title games, not the Reid barely holding on in Philly the past few years.
3) San Diego Chargers: We've seen the best of Philip Rivers, which is bad news for Bolts fans. Ryan Mathews still hasn't played a full season, and after Vincent Jackson and an aging Antonio Gates, who catches the ball? The defense is marginal, and that's being nice. The top question in San Diego in 2013 will be what is decaying faster, the Charger roster or Qualcomm Stadium?
4) Oakland Raiders: In a dogfight with Jacksonville and the Jets for the #1 pick in next May's draft. To think, this is the 40th anniversary of my decision to become a Raiders fan. There won't be much reason to celebrate....
AFC SEEDS: 1) New England, 2) Houston, 3) Denver, 4) Cincinnati, 5) Baltimore, 6) Kansas City
WILD CARDS: Cincinnati takes giant leap forward in franchise history, finally getting a home playoff win, knocking off defending champions. Andy Reid tries everything in the playbook, but it's not enough in Denver.
DIVISIONAL ROUNDS: Cincinnati turns the NFL on its ear as their defense gives Brady fits all day, and Dalton finally plays "that game" Bengals fans have been begging for. Peyton won't throw under ill-advised pick and the Broncos knock off Houston.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Dalton completes the trifecta by knocking off the legend Peyton Manning, dominated by the Bengals defense, now being recognized by casual fans and pundits alike for being just that good.
SO, SUPER BOWL XLVIII:
San Francisco vs. Cincinnati
I don't think precipitation would make much of a difference for either team, though it would lend to a low-scoring affair. And if these teams win conference championships on the road in Green Bay and Denver respectively, cold weather's not an issue when they head to Met Life Stadium
But Bengals fans, this is where the train must end. There's just too much firepower for a franchise that should have made the Super Bowl two years ago and didn't, then should have won a Super Bowl back in February and didn't. With Jim Harbaugh leading the way, you keep kicking that wall 'til it comes crashing down.
FINAL: San Francisco 30, Cincinnati 21