With the NFL season ready to kick off (doesn't it seem like the Ravens just won the Super Bowl), it's time to make some predictions for 2013.
We will not have a rematch of the last year's Super Bowl, as neither San Francisco nor Baltimore will be playing on the NFL's biggest stage.
In the AFC, the Ravens remain one of the top teams, but not the team to beat. Denver is the clear Super Bowl favorite, though others believe Houston or possibly even Cincinnati have a good chance to get to New York. The Patriots should still be the top team in their division, but there are a lot of questions on the offensive side of the ball.
I still have Baltimore as the top team in the AFC North. Maybe Cincinnati finally breaks through, but I have very little confidence in Andy Dalton and it's very concerning to me that the Bengals have beaten virtually no teams with winning records over the past few years. The Ravens defense should be much better, possibly dominant, and Joe Flacco knows he now has the keys to the offense after last year's postseason performance.
There is a lot of hype around Houston again, but the Texans have a tough schedule. I also have concerns about Arian Foster's health and Matt Schaub's arm concerns me (and he isn't getting any younger). The Colts were definitely fortunate to win as many games as they did last season, so they would seem like a logical candidate to take a step back. However, I like Chuck Pagano improving that defense now that he will be back on the sidelines full-time and I really like Andrew Luck and the weapons around him.
In the West, it's all about the Broncos. There are some concerns, though. Von Miller will miss the first six games for a team already struggling to get to the passer without Elvis Dumervil, and Champ Bailey is another year older. They are going to have to win some shootouts. The Chiefs will be better than many think and could even challenge for a wild card spot.
Over in the NFC, the East is a total crapshoot. I could make a case for any of those teams to win the division, though I think Philadelphia is a step behind New York, Dallas and Washington. I think Tony Romo is in for a big season and Eli and Co. should bounce back. RGIII's health is the wildcard. Can he stay on the field for a full season? I have Dallas winning the division because the Redskins have a difficult schedule after winning it last year.
The Packers should win the NFC North behind Aaron Rodgers and that explosive offense, but I think the Bears will be able to put some points on the board this year. The Lions can score in bunches, but can they hold onto the ball and play well defensively? I think they will win some of the close games they lost last year, but that division is tough. Minnesota won't be that bad, but I think Christian Ponder's arm holds them back. All four teams will be competitive.
The NFC South is another division where all the teams could be quite competitive. The Falcons are the team to beat, but the Saints should be right there with Sean Payton back on the sidelines. The Buccaneers are much improved and a darkhorse, while the Panthers defense is on the rise. I just wonder if Cam Newton is ready to carry that offense.
The NFC West is probably the best division in football. I like the Seahawks over the 49ers because of the homefield advantage and the fact that San Francisco lost their star wideout and cornerback for the season. The Seahawks did lose Percy Harvin, but they managed just fine without him last year. The Rams are a team flying under everyone's radar, and I'm sure they don't mind. St. Louis is well-coached, better on defense than people think and finally have some offensive weapons.
I have Denver and Seattle reaching the Super Bowl, with the Seahawks hoisting the Lombardi Trophy
Below is my projection for the final order of the standings.