Ah, the NFL season is upon us and after Thursday night's thrilling display put on by the ageless Peyton Manning, it appears that we will have quite the entertaining season. Going on a team by team schedule and looking over their rosters, I have compiled my predictions and preview for the 2013-14 NFL season. Let me preface this by saying that I am no expert, but I feel comfortable in my assertion that the only certain thing in the NFL in recent years is uncertainty. So, let's dive in; starting with the AFC.
This very well could be the worst division in the NFL this year. The Jets should be absolutely awful and I am not sold on Ryan Tannehill in Miami. Throw in the fact that if there was ever a year to upend New England, it will be this year. That is why I am picking my favorite team, the Buffalo Bills, to end their 14 year playoff drought and steal the division with a 9-7 record. A new head coach and a new quarterback, in rookie E.J. Manuel, will surprise a lot of other teams in the weak division and the Bills will take advantage of New England minus the two biggest Buffalo killers in recent years: Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker.
1. Buffalo (9-7) 2. New England (8-8) 3. Miami (6-10) 4. New York Jets (3-13)
It is no secret that I loathe the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens more than any other teams in the league. I cannot stand the arrogance of Steeler Nation and I have a soft spot for my two Ohio teams as well. Even though, I don't think that the Steelers awful preseason was a mirage. Their age, lack of depth, weakening secondary and unproven running backs will lead to a long season in the Steel City. I also think that people are underestimating the losses sustained by the Baltimore Ravens in the off season. I don't want to discredit their championship season, but they were one complete coverage break down away from seeing Denver represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The Browns continue to get better and Cincinnati will emerge this year as one of the best teams in football. Andy Dalton has so many weapons now to fail. The long time strength of this division will have a down year and the two orange clad teams from the Buckeye State will be the top two in the toughest division in the AFC.
1. Cincinnati (12-4) 2. Cleveland (9-7) 3. Baltimore (8-8) 4. Pittsburgh (8-8)
The Texans are the sexy pick this year to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, but I think the rest of this division catches up to Houston this year and they miss the playoffs. After a sluggish start look for journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to takeover and lead Tennessee back to the playoffs; much to the dismay of the experts. Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck will come back down to Earth a little bit and the Colts will take a step back. Jacksonville might challenge the Jets as the worst team in football. Mid-season they will bring in Tim Tebow to finish the season after Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne are absolutely horrendous. Tebow will make the Jags competitive, but right now their roster has too many holes to fill, regardless of who is under center.
1. Tennessee (9-7) 2. Indianapolis (8-8) 3. Houston (8-8) 4. Jacksonville (4-12)
Denver will be very good again, but they really will need to develop a consistent running game once the weather turns. Andy Reid will lead the talent-rich Chiefs back to the playoffs as well. The Terrelle Pryor era in Oakland will see the Raiders be an improved team, but they are an offensive line and some linebackers away from challenging for the division again. San Diego fans will soon realize that Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner weren't the problem. It's their over rated roster that keeps them in the cellar.
1. Denver (11-5) 2. Kansas City (11-5) 3. Oakland (7-9) 4. San Diego (5-11)
This division will be very interesting. I like Dallas to finally get over the hump and put it all together and win the division. Tony Romo is an elite quarterback and his defense is good enough now to do their part in big games. Philadelphia should be much improved as they get healthier and the new uptempo offense should fit Michael Vick's unique skill set. I don't love the Giants defense like I used to and RGIII, like Luck, will come back down to Earth this season. The 'Skins defense is getting old and will put too much pressure on Griffin to outscore opposing teams. This division is very balanced and positions 2-4 could be in any order of Philly, New York and Washington.
1. Dallas (11-5) 2. Philadelphia (10-6) 3. New York Giants (9-7) 4. Washington (8-8)
This division is almost as bad as the AFC East. The difference is the at least the teams in this division have good offenses. None of the defense's in this division are anything to write home about, though, which is why I like the new offense in Chicago to carry them (by default) into the playoffs. Green Bay will score a ton but their defense is severely over rated and more like the one that got thrashed by San Francisco. Detroit will look good for awhile, until teams realize that they absolutely can't run the football and Minnesota can do nothing but run the football. AP is a beast, but teams will force Christian Ponder to beat them through the air this year and stack the box. A year older, and without the benefit of surprise, Minnesota takes a step backwards. This division is a stinker, in my opinion.
1. Chicago (8-8) 2. Green Bay (8-8) 3. Detroit (7-9) 4. Minnesota (5-11)
There is a trend emerging in my prediction of this year's season and that is mediocrity. Save for the top 4 or 5 teams in the league, I envision a bunch of mediocre football this year. The NFC South will also fit that bill. New Orleans will ride their outstanding offense to the division crown, even though their defense will give up 25 points a game. Atlanta is over rated and the Steven Jackson experiment will blow up in their faces, keeping them on the bubble of good and great. Carolina will be improved but not enough to dethrone the Falcons or Saints. I believe Tampa will be worse this year, as I don't like their defense. Considering they are in a league that features three above average to great quarterbacks, I don't see many wins for the Bucs this year.
1. New Orleans (10-6) 2. Atlanta (10-6) 3. Carolina (8-8) 4. Tampa Bay (6-10)
This division will once again be battled out by Seattle and San Francisco, but I'm giving the nod to the Seahawks this year for one reason. I think defenses will be able to better defend the 49ers read-option, and after seeing a non-spectacular Baltimore offense torch them in the Super Bowl, teams will be able to find holes in the Niner defense. San Francisco's defense is solid, but holes in their pass coverage will allow teams to compete with them. Arizona will be improved with Carson Palmer throwing to Larry Fitzgerald, but they still won't be able to run the ball and Palmer is talented but doesn't possess the leadership traits that you wish for in a quarterback. Ask Cincinnati, who surrounded him with elite talent for years and were left with nothing but excuses. St. Louis has added some nice pieces for Sam Bradford but will also struggle to run the ball. The Rams defense will keep them in every game but I don't know if Jeff Fisher quite has the roster he needs yet. They will be the best 5-11 team in football, if there is such a thing, meaning that they will be a better team than their record suggests.Think of the Cleveland Browns the past few years, a tough team to beat but too few wins to show for it.
1. Seattle (11-5) 2. San Francisco (11-5) 3. Arizona (8-8) 4. St. Louis (5-11)
1. Cincinnati 2. Denver 3. Buffalo 4. Tennessee 5. Kansas City 6. Cleveland
1. Seattle 2. Dallas 3. New Orleans 4. Chicago 5. San Francisco 6. Atlanta/Philadelphia
Cleveland will head to Buffalo and the Bills will avenge their early season loss to Cleveland. A playoff game in Orchard Park will be too big of a deal for Buffalo to blow it. The game will also be in two feet of snow and right now C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are a more lethal rushing attack than what Trent Richardson offers for the Browns, for now.
The improved Kansas City Chiefs will head to Nashville for a match-up with Tennessee. The Chiefs have the far superior roster, but Tennessee will find a way to pull it off in front of their home crowd.
Whoever owns the tiebreaker between Atlanta and Philadelphia will represent the six seed and will travel to New Orleans and will upset the Saints in a shootout. Either by Atlanta's passing game or Philly's ground game the Saints will have an early exit.
San Francisco will travel to Chicago and their far superior roster won't be able to hold up in the frigid conditions of the Windy City. In spite of Jay Cutler's ego, Chicago lives another week.
Buffalo will go to Denver and see their magical season ended by Peyton Manning. There is just too many weapons for Manning to choose from for the Bills secondary and their old nemesis Wes Welker will have a field day. Denver moves on to their second consecutive AFC Championship game.
Tennessee will travel to the Queen City and run into one of the NFL's best defense's against the run. With Chris Johnson virtually ineffective, Tennessee's season comes to an end with a solid thumping at the hands of the Bengals.
The Atlanta/Philadelphia representative will go to Dallas and meet a Cowboys team on a mission. Dallas' defense will be one of the best in football and neither the Falcons or Eagles have much of a defense; leaving plenty of opportunity for Romo and Co. to build a nice cushion that they won't relinquish.
Da Bears will travel to a very hostile environment in Seattle and lose. The Bears offense will be stymied and the 'Hawks win 9-6.
Due to the mediocrity of the other 28 teams, these playoffs see no real surprises as the top two teams in each conference will play for the chance to play in the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, for Broncos fans, Manning and Co. will again come up short in their quest for their first Super Bowl since the Elway days. A January visit to Cincinnati is a bad combination for a team that can't run the football. The Bengals renewed focus on running the ball will lead them past Denver and into the Super Bowl for the first time in 25 years.
Dallas will travel to Seattle and win a hard fought game against the Seahawks. Tony Romo will avenge his first playoff game snafu in Seattle and lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl for the first time since the pasted Neil O'Donnell and the Steelers in 1996.
Super Bowl XLVIII
These two teams will be pretty evenly matched, as this position by position break down will show you:
Quarterback - Dallas
Running Backs - Even
Wide Recievers - Even
Tight End - Dallas
Offensive Line - Cincinnati
Defensive Line - Cincinnati
Linebackers - Even
Secondary - Even
Special Teams - Even
I envision this match up being one of those epic, one for the ages Super Bowls because talent wise, these teams are about as even as it can get. The problem for the Cowboys, though, is that this game will be played in New York. Outdoors. In February. In that environment, this type of game will be won by the lines. Cincinnati has the superior offensive and defensive lines and has far more running back and tight end depth than the Cowboys do. Cincinnati wins it 23-17 in overtime. WHO DEY think gonna beat them Bengals?