Senior NFL Columnist

Season predictions: Bengals rising but Packers final team standing

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AFC East

1. New England; 2. Buffalo; 3. New York Jets; 4. Miami Dolphins

AFC South

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

AFC North

1. Cincinnati; 2. Pittsburgh (wild card); 3. Baltimore; 4. Cleveland

AFC West

1. Denver Broncos; 2. San Diego Chargers (wildcard); 3. Oakland Raiders; 4 Kansas City Chiefs

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NFC East

1. New York Giants; 2. Dallas Cowboys (wildcard); 3. Philadelphia Eagles (wildcard); 4. Washington Redskins

NFC South

1. Atlanta Falcons; 2. New Orleans Saints; 3. Carolina Panthers; 4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers; 2. Chicago Bears; 3. Detroit Lions; 4. Minnesota Vikings

NFC West

1. San Francisco 49ers; 2. Arizona Cardinals; 3. Seattle Seahawks; 4. St. Louis Rams

Playoffs: First-round byes

AFC: Patriots, Broncos; NFC: Packers, Giants

Wild-card round

AFC: Bengals 21, Chargers 17; Texans 24, Steelers 20; NFC: Cowboys 28, 49ers 17; Falcons 33, Eagles 30

Divisional round

AFC: Patriots 31, Texans 23; Bengals 20, Broncos 17; NFC: Packers 27, Cowboys 21; Giants 23, Falcons 17

Championship Games

AFC: Patriots 28, Bengals 14; NFC: Packers 30, Giants 24

Super Bowl

Packers 37, Patriots 31

Individual awards

MVP: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. Who can possibly think he will slow down? The beat goes on and he wins a second-consecutive MVP. Runners-up: Patriots QB Tom Brady, Falcons QB Matt Ryan and Giants QB Eli Manning.

Offensive Player: Patriots QB Tom Brady. He will carry his team to the Super Bowl by putting up huge numbers, including a 5,000-yard season. Runners-up: Brees, Rodgers, Falcons WR Julio Jones and Eagles RB LeSean McCoy.

Pierre-Paul: NFL's best rusher by season's end? (Getty Images)  
Pierre-Paul: NFL's best rusher by season's end? (Getty Images)  
Defensive Player: Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul. He was just learning how to play last season and he had 17 sacks. The sack record might come down this season. Runners-up: Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware, Jets CB Darrelle Revis and Seahawks S Earl Thomas.

Coach of the Year: Marvin Lewis, Bengals. The team gave him a contract extension before the season, and now he repays them. His team is talented. Runner-up: Mike Smith, Falcons.

Offensive Rookie: Colts QB Andrew Luck. He looks like a seasoned pro and he hasn't even played a game. Runners-up: Redskins QB Robert Griffin III and Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon.

Defensive Rookie: Chargers outside linebacker Melvin Ingram. He can flat out rush the passer. He will be a double-digit sack guy as a rookie. Runners-up: Patriots DE Chandler Jones, Panthers LB Luke Kuechly and Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne.

Most-improved player: Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert. He was awful last season, but there were reasons. He looked so much more confident this summer. Runners-up: Falcons WR Julio Jones, Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas, Bengals TE Jermaine Gresham and Titans TE Jared Cook.

Step-back player: Falcons RB Michael Turner. I don't think he gets as many carries in the new-look offense. That will cut down his numbers. Runners-up: Jets QB Tim Tebow, Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch and 49ers safety Donte Whitner.

Comeback Player: Broncos QB Peyton Manning. He didn't play last year, some thought his career might be over, but he will show he's close to the same guy. Runners-up: Rams QB Sam Bradford, Bills DE Mario Williams and Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles.

Team on the rise: Bengals. Laugh all you want. They are being built for the long haul. Runners-up: Cardinals and Panthers.

Team on the decline: 49ers. They will still win the NFC West, but not because they are better. I see them winning nine games maybe. Runners-up: Ravens.

Best free-agent signing: Manning. He will get the Broncos to the playoffs. They have a real quarterback now. Runners-up: Mario Williams and Cowboys CB Brandon Carr.

Matt Flynn: A big swing and miss so far for Seattle. (US Presswire)  
Matt Flynn: A big swing and miss so far for Seattle. (US Presswire)  
Worst free-agent signing: Seahawks QB Matt Flynn. They paid him to be their starter and he lost out to a third-round pick. Yecch. Runners-up: 49ers WR Randy Moss, Redskins WR Pierre Garcon and Chiefs RB Peyton Hillis.

First coach to get fired? Nobody. I don't think we will see a coach fired during this season.

Next Victor Cruz: Titus Young, Lions. They throw it around, and in his second season he could be poised for a big one.

Next Rob Gronkowski: Jared Cook, Titans. He just needs to be more consistent. The talent is there.

QBs over 5,000 yards passing: Four. I like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Stafford.

Will Robert Griffin III thrill like Cam Newton did? No. I don't think he's as good a passer as Cam Newton. It will take time.

Who will be the hot assistant? Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Watch what he does with that passing game.

Will the wildcat work for the Jets? (LOL) Absolutely not. It is a gimmick that has been figured out. Forget about it. Let Mark Sanchez play.

Will replacement refs work the entire season? No. This is called negotiating. Eventually the two sides will come together.

Worst team in the league: Browns. Brutal division. Rookie quarterback. Growing team. That's a bad combination.

Will any team finish the year perfect? I picked the Patriots to do it, but I doubt they will. But since I did, I'll go with New England.

Will Randy Moss finish the season with San Francisco? Yes, but he will be a so-so factor in their offense.

Who will lead the league in rushing? LeSean McCoy. I know the Eagles don't run it like other teams, but he is explosive enough to do it without the high number of carries.

Who will lead the league in receiving? Calvin Johnson. The Lions love to throw and he is tough to stop.

Who will lead the league in sacks? Jason Pierre-Paul. He was still learning last year. Now watch.

Who's the next premier pass rusher? Right now: DeMarcus Ware. By season's end: Pierre-Paul.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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