With training camps well under way and pre-season games getting started this weekend, I figured now is as good of a time as any to give my professional opinion on how the NFL season will play out. It may be more prudent to wait until teams get a pre-season game or two in, but I don'tthink you can really learn too much from a team from their pre-season games. They're known as exhibitions for a reason.
I see the Ravens as the team to beat in the division this year (as much as it pains me to say it). I don't think they're good enough to be considered a strong Super Bowl contender, but I think they will have a strong season. Call me a homer when it comes to theSteelers, but with Polamalu and Aaron Smith back and healthy this year, andI think Big Ben will want toremind peoplethat he is an elite QB despite all the offseason issues. I'm not sold on Cincinnati at all, even with the addition of T.O. Under the tenure of Marvin Lewis the Bengals have generally been a .500 team, and they'll have to prove they are a legit contender before I consider them one. And Cleveland will once again be Cleveland.
Like the past decade, the Colts will be the class of the South again this year. They're a proven great regular season team, and I don't expect anything different from them until they show some great decline, or Peyton Manning retires. The surprise team I'm looking at this season is Houston. They've been heading in the right direction the last few years, nearly making the playoffs last year. I think they'll break through this year and earn their first playoff appearance in team history. I see Tennessee and Jacksonville taking major steps backwards this season.
*New York Jets -- 11-5
New England Patriots -- 9-7
Miami Dolphins -- 8-8
Buffalo Bills -- 3-13
As much as I dislike Rex Ryan and how over-hyped the Jets have been this off-season (people seem to forget they were a 9-7 team last year and were handed a playoff spot), I do think they have improved and are good enough to win the division this year. However, if Darrelle Revis ends up sitting out this season, I'm not sure if the Jets will win more than 8 games, but time will tell. I think the Pats are currently on the down years of their dynasty and they won't have as a strong of a season this year. They are an aging team, and the Ravens exposed them last year in their massacre of a playoff game. Also, I think the East will be stronger this year. Miami I could see having a strong season this year and make a push for the playoffs, but I'm not completely sold on Chad Henne yet. Buffalo will suffer from a tough division and an even tougher schedule.
The Chargers will have another walk through the West again this year. I don't think they'll will be as good as some of their past teams, but they have a relatively easy schedule, and the other 3 teams in the West are in current re-building modes. Kyle Orton is a solid QB for Denver, but he can't win games for them. The loss of Dumerville for a chunk ofthe season will hurt their defense. Oakland could be a surprise team this year, but I don't see them having a good enough team in place just yet. Kansas City will pull a Cleveland.
AFC Playoff Seeding
San Diego Chargers
New York Jets
Whether or not Brett Favre decides to come back, I think this is Green Bay's division this year. They have a strong defense and a solid offense with Aaron Rodgers at the helm (my darkhorse MVP this year). I think Rodgers and the Pack take the next step this year towards becoming a contender. Minnesota will take a step back this year, mainly because I don't see Favre coming back. I think this is a 9 win team without Favre, 11, possibly 12 with Favre. But as I said, I don't see Favre coming back. I don't see anywhere Chicago will find offense. Jay Cutler is only good if he has elite receivers, Matt Forte needs to bounce back after a sophomore slump, and someone in the receiving corps will need to step up. I think Detroit is close to turning it around (somewhat), but this will be another slim year in the winning column.
I'm not just giving Saints respect for winning the Super Bowl last year, I think they have a solid team once again this year. It'll depend mainly depend on if the defense can create so many scoring opportunities once again this year. Brees will be awesome again. Atlanta and Matt Ryan will have a strong bounceback season after missing the playoffs last year. They have a great running attack, and if Ryan and the passing game can take the next step, this team will contend for the division. I just can't place Carolina. Matt Moore will have to have a strong season if he doesn't want to lose his job to Jimmy Clausen by the end of the season. Tampa will just be bad.
As much as it pains me, I think Dallas will have a strong season this year, and be the class of the NFC with the Saints. I still think of the Saints as the favorites for the NFC, but Dallas will have alot to say about it. I'm stuck in the middle when it comes to the Giants and the Eagles. One of those 2 teams will earn a wildcard seeding this year, but I can't separate the two. Both sport strong defenses, but both have questions on offense. Kevin Kolb is the major factor for the Eagles, and the Giants biggest question mark is their running game. It seems like alot of people like the Redskins this year, but I don't see it this year. Shanahan and McNabb will improve the offense, but Portis needs a strong season, and some receiver will need to step up. Also, the defense is a question mark too. Will Haynesworth play and be a factor?
Along with Houston, the 49ers are one of my surprise teams this year. Although they may not be that much of a surprise to many. They're building a strong team, offensively and defensively, but Alex Smith is their major question mark. Mike Singletary will bring a strong defense, but Smith needs to improve to take the 49ers to the next level. Arizona will take a step back after losing Warner to retirement and Boldin to the Ravens. Matt Leinhart will have to prove this year if he's an NFL-capable QB. Pete Carroll will have the Seahawks more competitive this year, but I don't see them much more than an average team. St. Louis will once again suffer this season as Sam Bradford begins the changning of the guard. 3 wins may be a little gracious for this team
NFC Playoff Seeding
New Orleans Saints
Green Bay Packers
San Francisco 49ers
New York Giants