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Season predictions: Bears rising, Ravens falling, Packers prevailing

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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NFC East

1) Philadelphia; 2) N.Y. Giants; 3) Dallas; 4) Washington

NFC North

1) Green Bay; 2) Chicago; 3) Detroit; 4) Minnesota

NFC South

1) Atlanta; 2) New Orleans; 3) Carolina; 4) Tampa Bay

NFC West

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1) San Francisco; 2) Seattle; 3) Arizona; 4) St. Louis

NFC wild card

Chicago over Atlanta; Philadelphia over New Orleans

NFC divisional

Philadelphia over San Francisco; Green Bay over Chicago

NFC championship

Green Bay over Philadelphia

AFC East

1) New England; 2) Buffalo; 3) N.Y. Jets; 4) Miami

AFC North

1) Cincinnati; 2) Pittsburgh; 3) Baltimore; 4) Cleveland

AFC South

1) Houston; 2) Tennessee; 3) Jacksonville; 4) Indianapolis

AFC West

1) Denver; 2) San Diego; 3) Kansas City; 4) Oakland

AFC wild card

Pittsburgh over Denver; Cincinnati over San Diego

AFC divisional

New England over Pittsburgh; Houston over Cincinnati

AFC championship

Houston over New England

Super Bowl

Green Bay over Houston

Individual awards

MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay. He's going to pile up yards, wins and touchdowns even though the Packers won't run effectively and the defense is suspect. Guess that defines an MVP.

Offensive Player: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. He just keeps piling up numbers, so why should this year be any different? In fact, my guess is that he and the Saints have something to prove, which means more yards and touchdowns coming up.

Von Miller will be the next big thing in pass rushers. (Getty Images)  
Von Miller will be the next big thing in pass rushers. (Getty Images)  
Defensive Player: Von Miller, LB, Denver. He was a load as a rookie, and that includes playing the last portion of the season with a broken thumb. I can only imagine what happens now that he's whole again.

Coach of the Year: Gary Kubiak, Houston. I picked him last year, and he didn't win. Following the advice that anything worth doing is worth overdoing, I'm choosing him again.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis. A no-brainer. He's the most prepared quarterback I've seen make the jump from college since Peyton Manning. He won't win much, but he will be successful ... if that makes sense.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Melvin Ingram, LB, San Diego. I'll take a flyer here because, like San Diego, I couldn't believe he dropped in the draft. He looked good in preseason. I say he continues.

Most Improved Player: Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis. I don't know, I just believe a change in coaching staff and changes in the roster make a change in Bradford ... and hallelujah. He was the best quarterback in the division two years ago; he slipped in 2011. Time for a recovery.

Step Back Player: Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville. He led the league in rushing last year. A year later, he reports late to a team that now is centered around the passing game. Uh-oh.

Comeback Player: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver. If he stays upright he wins. The guy overcame four neck surgeries to get this far, and, yes, I'd say that makes him a leading candidate.

Team on the rise: Chicago. It's not out of the question to think these guys could challenge Green Bay for the NFC North. They're covered in areas that sabotaged them a year ago (QB, RB), and they're ready.

Team on the decline: Baltimore. I have a funny feeling about these guys, and it's not good. Maybe it's because I don't think Terrell Suggs plays this season. Maybe it's the Ed Reed drama or the Joe Flacco contract. Anyway, I don't see them making the playoffs for the first time in John Harbaugh's tenure.

Best free-agent signing: Jason Campbell, QB, Chicago. The Bears were 7-3 last year when Jay Cutler bowed out. They were 1-5 afterward. It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out they need a backup who can win. Well, they just found him.

Worst free-agent signing: Matt Flynn, QB, Seattle. He's already won this award. I mean, the Seahawks gave him millions to become their starter, and he's beaten out by a 5-foot-11 rookie? Check, please.

First coach to get fired: New Orleans' Aaron Kromer. Can't see him making it past six games.

Titus Young is bound for a big year in Detroit. (US Presswire)  
Titus Young is bound for a big year in Detroit. (US Presswire)  
The next Victor Cruz: Titus Young, Detroit. The Lions love to throw, and Calvin Johnson draws-double coverage. That leaves an opening for someone else. Connect the dots.

The next Rob Gronkowski: Coby Fleener, Indianapolis. It's not as if he and his quarterback are just getting to know each other. He's Andrew Luck's security blanket.

QBs over 5,000 yards passing: Two. Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

Will Robert Griffin III thrill like Cam Newton did? Absolutely. But thrill doesn't always mean succeed. The guy has a better supporting cast. My question: Will the Redskins allow him to freelance as the Panthers did Newton?

Who will be the hot assistant? San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. He had the hardest hitting defense a year ago, and every starter is back. Trust me, he'll get noticed.

Will the wildcat work with the Jets? I'll take a middle ground here. I don't know what "work" means? Will it gain yards? Sure. Will it stun clubs like it did when Miami caught New England by surprise? No. But opponents must prepare for it, and that's the key.

Will replacement refs work the entire season? Absolutely not. The last time we were here refs were out of work one game. I don't care if you're a locked out player or ref, there's no greater leverage than missed game checks.

Worst team in the league: Cleveland. The Browns don't have enough playmakers on offense to make a difference in a brutal division.

Will any team finish the year perfect? No. The Patriots have a cake schedule, but I can see them losing Game 3 in Baltimore.

Will Randy Moss finish the season with San Francisco? Yes. Randy Moss is, as one Pro Bowl receiver told me, one of the "great front-runners," and he'll be OK if the 49ers win. Case closed.

Who will lead the league in rushing? Arian Foster, Houston. Texans will be ahead in so many games he'll get fourth-quarter carries others may not.

Who will lead the league in receiving? Wes Welker, New England. Why not? He's at or near the top every year for a reason -- he's Tom Brady's security blanket.

Who will lead the league in sacks? Who's the next premier pass rusher? Von Miller, Denver. The guy had 11.5 sacks as a rookie, and that was with a broken thumb that handicapped him down the stretch.

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