Predicting the Records of All 32 NFL Teams in 2012
Last year’s edition of my NFL predictions went so swimmingly, I figured I’d once again strap on my fearless forecaster hat and subject myself to trolling abuse from deluded fans who foolishly believe their teams can do no wrong and will most assuredly be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy next February. Broncos backers showered me with adulation for pegging them to qualify for the postseason in 2011, while Ravens addicts are still cursing my name for daring to suggest they would drown in mediocrity at 9-7. Which fanbases will love and loathe me in 2012? Stay tuned as I take a stab at predicting the records of all 32 NFL teams.
Here goes nothing…
- AFC East
New England Patriots (12-4)
Barring a catastrophic injury to Golden Boy Brady, there is no way the Pats don't notch at least 11 wins. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either a contrarian or a moron. They play the AFC South and the NFC West; the toughest road dates are in Baltimore and Seattle; Houston and San Fran travel to Gillette Stadium in December. The defense should be improved and the quartet of Welker, Gronk, Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd give Brady the most potent quartet of playmakers in his career. Hate them all you want, but Belichick's boys are still the team to beat in the conference.Yes, I feel dirty for writing that.
Jersey to own in 2013: #95 Chandler Jones - The rookie pass rusher has incredible burst and a tenacious attitude. A 12-sack season will anoint him a stud in the making.
Buffalo Bills (10-6)
The last time the Bills qualified for the postseason was 1999. Since then they've boasted exactly one winning campaign. Needless to say, it's been a solid decade of suffering for a franchise that dominated the '90s. Consider the drought over. A favorable schedule, stacked defense and healthy quarterback-running back combo is enough to penetrate the thick cloud of failure hanging over Western New York. A competitive Bills team just sounds right. By the way, is there a more underrated duo than Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson? I think not.
Jersey to own in 2013: #99 Marcel Dareus - Might be the best pure defensive tackle in the league. He can rush the passer, stuff the run and his lateral pursuit is freakishly good for a dude tipping the scales at 340 lbs.
New York Jets (8-8)
How can anyone, besides Rex Ryan, feel good about this team? A powder keg quarterback situation, a lead-footed lead back, an overrated malcontent number one receiver and insanely high expectations. Sure the defense is still stout, but it's far from suffocating. In today's NFL, the ability to score 25-plus points consistently is what separates the contenders from the wannabees. Not even Quarterback Jesus will be able to save this sputtering engine from flaming out by November.
Jersey to own in 2013: #98 Quinton Coples - I didn't like Coples coming out of college, but Rex Ryan's 3-4 scheme perfectly suites his skill set. AFC quarterbacks will know his name quickly.
Miami Dolphins (5-11)
Pushing Ryan Tannehill into the top spot under center strikes me as a premature move. The Fins are rebuilding in 2012, so why not ease the rookie into the lineup to lessen the odds he doesn't become overwhelmed? This reeks of Blaine Gabbert in Jacksonville last year. Tannehill has no one to throw to (sorry, Davone Bess) and Reggie Bush is hardly reliable. There are pieces in place on defense, but newbie head coach Joe Philbin will be hard pressed to squeeze more than six wins from this bunch.
Jersey to own in 2013: #33 Daniel Thomas - Bush sprains an ankle and DT goes from doghouse to penthouse by season's end.
Does preseason matter? The AFC East better hope not, because they went a combined 1-15. Ouch.
- AFC North
Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
John Harbaugh has adopted similar qualities to his mentor, Andy Reid. He's an above average coach who knows how to extract the most out of his players. He's also transformed the Ravens into a perennial Super Bowl favorite. And like Reid, Harbaugh has consistently failed to propel his charges over the top. Joe Flacco is still Joe Flacco, i.e. painfully adequate. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have been alive for 70 years. Terrell Suggs is likely out for the season. Anquan Boldin has lost a step. I like Torrey Smith's big play potential and Ray Rice is the most versatile back in football. That said, Baltimore remains a tease and nothing more.
Jersey to own in 2013: #82 Torrey Smith - The hype is starting to reach ridiculous proportions, but the kid oozes talent.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)
The presence of Big Ben and a stingy defense is enough to keep the black and gold from plummeting too far down the standings. However, a wounded backfield, questionable offensive line and age across the board make the Steelers a prime candidate to trip and fall in 2012. A perturbed Mike Wallace, a rehabbing Rashard Mendenhall and a gimpy James Harrison are cause for concern. You can never count these guys out but something tells me it's going to be a rollercoaster year in Steel City.
Jersey to own in 2013: #84 Antonio Brown - He, not Wallace, got paid. If he increases his touchdown production from two to eight, he'll enter elite company.
Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)
I swung and missed badly on the Bungals in 2011. I assumed they'd be terrible and Marvin Lewis would be run out of town. Didn't happen. Andy Dalton surprised the pundits, the defense became one of the league's best and Ced Benson pounded the rock effectively. Well, Dalton has looked suspect, the offensive line is riddled with injury and Benson is a Packer. Ex-Pat BenJarvus Green-Ellis was brought aboard to spearhead the run game and the aforementioned defense appears poised to make some noise, but a stumble seems inevitable.
Jersey to own in 2013: #18 A.J. Green - If you don't own one already you will after he blows up this season. Wouldn't be shocked if he finishes in the Top 5 among wide receivers in yards and touchdowns.
Cleveland Browns (6-10)
The Browns are quietly assembling a potentially potent offense, but it's asking too much for three rookies and a second-year player to inflict damage now. Trent Richardson's dinged knees make me nervous, as does Brandon Weeden's readiness; in a division famous for great defenses, it could be a long year for the first-round duo. But don't sleep on the defense. Joe Haden and D'Qwell Jackson are legit and Phil Taylor is a budding star at tackle. I anticipate the Brownies being a feisty gang that will spring a couple of head-scratching upsets.
Jersey to own in 2013: #33 Trent Richardson - No-brainer here. If he stays healthy, he'll be an instant stud.
None of these four screams Super Bowl. By default, Baltimore is the safest bet.
- AFC South
Houston Texans (11-5)
Weeks 6-10 will tell us all we need to know about Houston's prospects of taking the next step. Home games against the Packers, Ravens and Bills, followed by a trip to Chicago is a tough stretch indeed. Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are back and the combo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate will punish defenses all season long. But a vastly improved defense is the reason a second consecutive division title is in the works. Mario Williams will be missed, but his defection is hardly devastating.
Jersey to own in 2013: #98 Connor Barwin - He'll replace Williams as the team's go-to pass rusher.
Tennessee Titans (10-6)
TITANS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS!!! Behold, my "where the hell did they come from" team for 2012. Obviously I'm buying into Jake Locker, which is incredibly risky. I also believe Chrissy Johnson will rebound, which is equally ballsy. I'm also counting on Kenny Britt's brittle knees and infantile antics, which is just plain stupid. I don't care. Surviving a brutal schedule won't be easy, but I'm getting positive waves from Music City. No, I'm not drunk.
Jersey to own in 2013: #13 Kendall Wright - With Britt's future very much in doubt, Wright will become Locker's most trusted deep threat.
Indianapolis Colts (5-11)
If fantasy drafts are any indication, Andrew Luck is in store for a better than average rookie season. In my three drafts he went in the 7th, 9th and 8th rounds, respectively. That's awfully high for a baby signal-caller, no matter how polished he might be. I chalk this up to the Cam Newton effect. Will lightning strike twice? Maybe. A dearth of playmakers is problematic, but great quarterbacks have a tendency to turn no-names into solid contributors.
Jersey to own in 2013: #13 T.Y. Hilton - Since everyone already owns a Luck, I'm rolling with Hilton, who has DeSean Jackson-like speed.
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)
MJD strolled into camp with his disgruntled tail between his legs after months of sitting on his ass. Stay tuned for the inevitable hamstring pull or sprained ankle. Blaine Gabbert actually looked competent in the preseason, but it's the preseason. Chad Henne is still in the picture, for better or worse. A putrid defense won't provide much assistance. They play the NFC North, New England, Oakland and Buffalo. A max of five wins is the best they can hope for.
Jersey to own in 2013: #14 Justin Blackmon - Could be the next Terrell Owens.
If Houston doesn't take the division they should be banned from the league.
- AFC West
Oakland Raiders (10-6)
As someone who has spent the last ten years eviscerating the Raiders for their cacophony of front office blunders, I am reluctantly waving the silver and black flag in 2012. Carson Palmer is serviceable, the O-line is legit, the front seven is nasty and Darren McFadden is healthy (for now). They may need to call in that sawed-off chick from Poltergeist to make sure the ghost of Al Davis doesn't fu*k up the mojo, but I'm fearlessly venturing into the Black Hole.
Jersey to own in 2013: #17 Denarius Moore - He'll probably only play ten games, but when he's on the field he's special.
Denver Broncos (8-8)
Every part of my being wants the Peyton Manning Horsies to be worse than the Tim Tebow Horsies. It's unlikely to play out that way, but a guy can hope. Trusting Peyton's fused neck and noodle arm to hold up for 16 games seems absurd to me. Same can be said for Willis McGahee, who was a revelation in 2011. And the Eric Decker/Demaryius Thomas love is stomach churning. Putting all that negativity aside, this hints of Joe Montana and the '93 Chiefs.
Jersey to own in 2013: #87 Eric Decker - White wide receivers are always consumer friendly.
Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)
I have no idea what to make of the Chiefs. Romeo Crennel is a terrible head coach, but for some strange reason his players respond to him. Matt Cassel is a terrible quarterback, but somehow he manages to hold onto his job. Jamaal Charles is a would-be Brian Westbrook, but he's one year removed from a torn ACL. Dwayne Bowe is good, but not great. They're like the hot girl you string along for two years with no intention of marrying.
Jersey to own in 2013: #89 Jon Baldwin - Has to stay out of the trainer's room.
San Diego Chargers (6-10)
Since the Bolts bandwagon is rusting in a ditch on the side of the road, this will probably be the year the finally prove the naysayers wrong. But I've been duped too many times by A.J. "Dumb" Smith and Norv "Dumber" Turner to prognosticate a successful season. Ryan Mathews is already hurt. The offensive line is dreadful. The secondary is atrocious. Vinnie Jackson and Mike Tolbert are gone. Yeah, this is the year they careen off a cliff.
Jersey to own in 2013: #24 Ryan Mathews - Buy it then burn it.
Draw straws. Any of the four can win it.
- NFC East
New York Giants (10-6)
The G-Men are usually at their best when Tom Coughlin's job is in jeopardy. Both the 2007 and 2011 teams were nearing collapse when they suddenly rallied to win championships. So it stands to reason the 2012 squad won't be playing with urgency. Eli is clutch in the playoffs, but he still goes schizo on occasion during the regular season. A fearsome front four and a dynamic duo at wideout will leave them atop a division rife with lofty goals.
Jersey to own in 2013: #22 David Wilson - He wasn't drafted to be a backup. Look for him to be the best Big Blue back by December.
Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
The Eagles are the mirror image of a fantasy team: dual-threat QB, stud RB, two shifty wide receivers, underrated tight end, defense that piles up sacks. Problem is fantasy never translates to reality. Andy Reid was put on notice in January by owner Jeffrey Lurie. Win or else. Even with Vick sidelined for a few games the talent-rich Birds are capable of reaching the playoffs. However, the loss of Jason Peters to a ruptured Achilles and Reid's pattern of blowing games to lesser opponents will prevent them from ending the Philly faithful's agony.
Jersey to own in 2013: #95 Mychal Kendricks - Not since Jeremiah Trotter has an Eagles linebacker attacked the ball with such ferocity.
Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
A revamped secondary featuring first-round pick Morris Claiborne and free agent acquisition Brandon Carr has Jerry Jones and his investors grinning with glee. Too bad Tony Romo is still the quarterback and Miles Austin's toddler-sized hamstrings are still healing. If both sides of the ball reach their full potential da 'Boys will be close to unstoppable. But hasn't every pundit and talking head under the sun been saying that for the last five years?
Jersey to own in 2013: #24 Morris Claiborne - He'll struggle early, but kid is the real deal.
Washington Redskins (7-9)
Being a long-suffering Eagles fan, I am predisposed to hate the 'Skins. That said, I'm intrigued by Robert Griffin III. Maybe it's because he reminds me of Randall Cunningham. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I have no doubt I'll be searching for Redskins highlights throughout the season. A sound defense and upgraded receiving corps make them a trendy pick to sneak into the playoffs. I say they're a year away.
Jersey to own in 2013: #10 Robert Griffin III - Money in the bank.
The Eagles are 11-1 odds to win the Big Game. Giants are 22-1. In what world does that make any sense?
- NFC North
Green Bay Packers (13-3)
Blah, blah, it's chalk to pick the Pack. Wah, wah, way to go out on a limb. Boo-hoo, bitches. Aaron Rodgers is the shit. The offense is loaded. Even the Ced Benson signing was smart. Besides, this team is pissed about tanking to the Giants last January. I'm leery of the defense, especially with Desmond Bishop out for the season. And Mike McCarthy must commit more to the run game. It's a passing league, but an 80-20 ratio is pure lunacy.
Jersey to own in 2013: #42 Morgan Burnett - He was great in 2011. He'll be awesome in 2012.
Chicago Bears (10-6)
The Bears were both proactive and aggressive in the off-season. To add insurance, they inked Michael Bush and Jason Campbell. To improve a woeful group of wideouts, they traded for Brandon Marshall, thus reuniting him with Jay Cutler. I'm not anticipating Lovie Smith cloning the Packers playbook, but if he wants to keep his gig, he better dump the ground and pound crap. Can an aging defense stand tall for one more year? If so, these Bears will be dangerous.
Jersey to own in 2013: #17 Alshon Jeffery - He'll make a handful of WOW plays.
Detroit Lions (8-8)
An off-season of criminal behavior and a beat-up stable of running backs has placed the Lions square in the cross-hairs of a letdown. The Matthew Stafford injury watch is ticking. Trips to San Francisco and Philly will be tests, as will home showdowns with Atlanta, Houston and Seattle. Shootouts make for must-see TV, but unless their leaky secondary tightens up it's going to be a season of missed opportunities. Despite the glaring immaturity, I'm pulling for the Lions to prove me wrong and return to the playoffs.
Jersey to own in 2013: #87 Brandon Pettigrew - Next stop, Pro Bowl.
Minnesota Vikings (5-11)
I'm sure Adrian Peterson is itching to take the field, but rushing him back makes zero sense for a team that's going nowhere in 2012. They should've shipped him to the PUP list instead of subjecting their franchise runner to further punishment. Christian Ponder needs seasoning and the defense lacks playmakers. The Vikes are on the right track. Just not a track to a winning season.
Jersey to own in 2013: #82 Kyle Rudolph - Someone other than Percy Harvin has to catch the ball.
An ascending division that runs through Green Bay.
- NFC South
Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
You can talk all you want about Matt Ryan and Julio Jones and Roddy White and Jacquizz Rodgers and the explosive offense. It won't amount to jack squat if the defense doesn't rush the passer better and stop getting torched by the league's elite gunslingers. The addition of Asante Samuel helps, but relying on 34-year-old John Abraham to once again lead the sack charge spells trouble. Ask the Packers and Patriots how far a below average defense will take you.
Jersey to own in 2013: #11 Julio Jones - The next Larry Fitzgerald.
Carolina Panthers (9-7)
Despite Cam Newton's pedestrian numbers in the latter half of 2011, loads of optimism is flooding Charlotte these days. But a lot will have to fall right for the Cats to claw their way into the postseason. Steve Smith has to stay healthy for at least 13 games. Brandon LaFell and Greg Olsen must combine for 120 catches. Jon Beason has to play like Jon Beason. The defense as a whole needs to force more turnovers. In other words, Cam can't do it all.
Jersey to own in 2013: #59 Luke Kuechly - Skills to be a future All-Pro.
New Orleans Saints (8-8)
I just can't help but think the Saints nightmare year will carry over into the season. And if you're one of those nitwits positing Sean Payton isn't a key component to this team's success then you don't understand the importance of coaching in football. The weight on Drew Brees' shoulders will be heavier than normal. A ghastly pass defense did nothing to cure what ails them. The "us against the world" attitude could have a positive impact, but I wouldn't count on it.
Jersey to own in 2013: #28 Mark Ingram - A little bird told me he'll lead the team in rushing touchdowns.
Tampa Bay Bucs (8-8)
The Raheem Morris era came to a crashing and merciful end in January, proving once again that fire and brimstone cannot substitute for basic teaching. New head coach Greg Schiano wasted little time placing his stamp on the young Bucs when he called out LeGarrette Blount for being a lazy fumbler. Then he signed Vinnie Jackson and drafted Doug Martin. If Josh Freeman bounces back from last year's abysmal showing, the pirate ship will be righted.
Jersey to own in 2013: #24 Mark Barron - Dude has a nose for the ball.
A Falcons stumble opens the door for the other three.
- NFC West
San Francisco 49ers (11-5)
Bad division combined with a stout defense equals another run at the Super Bowl. Alex Smith is still a liability, but Jim Harbaugh has mastered the art of winning ugly. I still don't know what to make of the Mario Manningham and Randy Moss signings because neither did anything in the preseason. Perhaps 'The Great Harbaugh' is waiting to pull a rabbit out of his hat, or it could be he's accepted the fact that his quarterback is nothing more than a weak-armed game manager.
Jersey to own in 2013: #7 Colin Kaepernick - One Alex Smith swoon away from being the man.
Seattle Seahawks (9-7)
Pete Carroll treats the Seahawks like his personal game of Risk. Hand the running back reins to a headcase like Marshawn Lynch. Pay Matt Flynn $20 million, then turn around and start rookie Russell Wilson. Reach for Bruce Irvin in the draft. Flirt with Antonio Bryant and Terrell Owens. Hey, you can't accuse of the guy of being boring. His mad scientist methods were good enough to knock off the defending champion Saints in 2010, so he's not completely off his rocker.
Jersey to own in 2013: #22 Robert Turbin - Lynch is destined to flop, giving way to the Utah State rookie.
St. Louis Rams (6-10)
Jeff Fisher is one of the game's better coaches. He built the Oilers/Titans into a legit contender and he'll do the same in St. Louis. It will take a couple of years, but having Sam Bradford under center should accelerate the process. His conservative, run-first approach goes against the direction the NFL is heading, but slow and steady is all it takes to compete in the NFC West.
Jersey to own in 2013: #88 Lance Kendricks - The next Frank Wycheck?
Arizona Cardinals (3-13)
Note to the other 31 teams in the NFL: DO NOT ACQUIRE A FORMER EAGLES QUARTERBACK. The Kevin Kolb experiment appears to be over before it ever had a chance to start. That leaves John Skelton as the starting quarterback... John Skelton. The good news for Ken Whisenhunt is he won't be around very long to witness the carnage. I feel sorry for Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson -- they are way too good to be stuck in such a quagmire of buffoonery.
Jersey to own in 2013: #94 Sam Acho - Was a beast-in-training once he became a starter a season ago.
A 49ers flop seems unlikely. Just don't sleep on Seattle.
Let’s recap. Pats, Ravens, Texans, Raiders, Bills and Titans in the AFC. Giants, Packers, Falcons, 49ers, Eagles and Bears in the NFC. Call your bookie, pronto.