If these predictions are accurate, I’ll make sure to remind you how much of a genius I am. If these predictions go horribly wrong, I’ll make sure to remind you that I don’t have a crystal ball and most prognostication of this kind is just a crapshoot.
I hope I do the first; it’s more likely I do the latter.
AFC East: New England– The Pats had a lot of firepower to start with, and the addition of Brandon Lloyd will prove itself to be one of the league’s more undervalued offseason acquisitions. Once again, the defense has major question marks, but once again the offense will be more than able to compensate.
AFC North: Baltimore-Unfortunately, I don’t have as high of an opinion of Joe Flacco as Joe Flacco does of himself. That said, the Ravens don’t need him to win games in the same way other teams in the league count on their quarterbacks. Rather, he just needs to find consistency and defer to Ray Rice and the defense, and Baltimore will be in good shape (that said, the “run and play d” approach doesn’t win Super Bowls in today’s NFL, so for the Ravens to take the next step, Flacco himself will need to take the next step).
AFC South: Houston-The Texans are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Andre Johnson continues to be one of the league’s best receivers and the team is one of the few teams in the league with a legitimately dominant running game. Mix these factors with a healthy Matt Schaub and one of the league’s best defenses, and Houston will be primed for a run in January.
AFC West-Denver-It would be an oversimplification to say that the Broncos won the division last year with Tim Tebow so naturally they will be even better with Peyton Manning. But there is, after all, some truth to this. The Denver offensive line has flaws but it is also substantially better than what Manning had in front of him in his last five or so seasons in Indianapolis. Manning’s stable of running backs is also his best since he was able to hand off to Edgerrin James and quality backup Dominic Rhodes. Demaryius Thomas is a fantastic talent and Eric Decker excels at route running in the mold of former Manning favorites Brandon Stokley and Austin Collie. Furthermore, the tight end tandem of Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen should remind Manning of past years with Marcus Pollard and Dallas Clark. The defense is also solid, and with a future-HOF quarterback surrounded by legitimate weapons, it is not unrealistic to think Manning can be the first QB to win a Super Bowl with two different teams.
AFC Wildcards: San Diego and Pittsburgh
Sidenote: I would have easily slotted the Chiefs into one of the wildcard spots, given their weapons at the “skill positions” and what looks to be a solid defense. That said, I believe Matt Cassell sinks them in the end.
NFC East: New York Giants- The lack of respect the Giants have been getting from the national media is dumbfounding. New York has an MVP-caliber quarterback, a talented group of receivers, and a defense, that if healthy, can be scary for opposing quarterbacks. While everyone else picks Philly and Dallas, I’ll stick with the champs.
NFC North: Green Bay-This team was the best in football during the regular season last year, and I don’t foresee Aaron Rodgers and this offense missing a beat when the new one starts.
NFC South: Atlanta-The Falcons have quietly been one of the more consistent teams in football the past few years. With weapons such as Julio Jones and Roddy White surrounding him, Matt Ryan is primed to position himself in the upper echelon quarterbacks in the league.
NFC West: San Francisco-Simply put, San Francisco is the only good team in this division. The defense is arguably the league’s best, and it will compensate for an offense that still has flaws.
NFC Wildcards: Philadelphia and Detroit
Conference Championship Predictions:
AFC Championship: Denver vs. Houston
While I could easily see New England here, I could also just as easily see their shaky secondary getting picked apart in one of the preceding rounds. I choose to see the former (sue me, I don’t like New England). Houston has all the talent in the world, and a healthy Peyton Manning at any age is difficult to stop. Having played against them since their inception into the league, Manning has a familiarity with Houston that could prove to be decisive. Denver is the pick.
NFC Championship: Giants vs. Green Bay
I see these two teams as the clear best squads in the NFC. Detroit is close, but not there yet, and I’m still not an Alex Smith believer; I feel the 49ers run the risk of him sinking what is a team that would otherwise also be on this level. The Green Bay offense is tough to stop, but a healthy Giants defense is one of the few units in the league that may be able to do this. On the other side of the ball, Eli Manning is capable of keeping up with Rodgers and exploiting the holes present in the Packers defense. New York wins (and I’ll say they do it in overtime).
Super Bowl 47: Giants vs. Denver
I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. This is a matchup I’d love to see happen, but as I’ve said in the previous paragraphs, it’s also one that has a realistic chance of happening.
The army of reporters sent down to cover the game could essentially just go to Bourbon Street and party for the two weeks leading up to the game, because the stories would write themselves. Manning vs. Manning…in New Orleans, the city they grew up in, and the city where their father played most of his career.
I’ll say Denver wins in overtime and Peyton Manning completes the greatest year-to-year comeback in sports history.
MVP: Eli Manning-I’m glad Eli is finally getting the praise he deserves as one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Forget his “clutchness” and late game heroics. That stuff is great, but we also should not forget that Manning has been producing at an insanely high level in recent seasons (throughout games and not just at the end of them). His 4,933 yards last season were the fourth most in the league last season, and the sixth most all-time. He’s eclipsed 4,000 yards in each of the past three seasons, while also throwing at least 27 touchdowns a season during that span. It’s not a stretch to say he can put himself at the top of the league.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Andrew Luck-Touted as the most pro-ready prospect since Peyton Manning, Luck has all the skills and intangibles to be elite. His receiving corps is underrated and all reports out of Indianapolis say he already has a good grasp of the offense. His biggest obstacle could be an offensive line that, if the preseason was any indication, seems hell-bent on getting him injured.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Janoris Jenkins-The Rams got what could be very well be the steal of the draft when they grabbed the North Alabama cornerback in the early second round. Jenkins fell due to character concerns stemming from his time at Florida, where he was kicked off the team. Character issues are always tricky. If a player gets his act together, the teams that passed on him look foolish and the team that drafted him looks smart for valuing talent over behavior; on the other hand, cases like Adam “Pacman” Jones show this approach comes with risks. Provided Jenkins has his head on straight, the Rams have one of the most talented young defensive players in the league (plus, the NFC West has enough shaky QB play for Jenkins to rack up INTs that will help his case).
Comeback Player of the Year: Peyton Manning. See above.
Note: I hope you weren’t keeping score for these, because if you were, you’d see I picked a Colt, a former Colt, the former Colt’s brother, and a former Florida Gator to win awards….I was being objective for all of this, I swear!!!