NFL Prediction Time!

With the NFL season finally getting underway tonight, it's time to talk predictions.  We know everybody has them.  Most will be inaccurate.  But they are still fun to discuss.

Well - that and my predictions will be 100% accurate, or your money back.

Now I'm not going to try to predict individual records or anything like that.  I'm just going to pick the standings, the playoff teams, the AFC and NFC Championship Games, and the Super Bowl.

To save space on the front page, I've put all of my predictions after the jump...

AFC

East
Patriots
Dolphins*
Jets
Bills
North
Steelers
Ravens*
Bengals
Browns
South
Colts
Titans
Texans
Jaguars
West
Chargers
Broncos
Chiefs
Raiders

Breakdown: While I don't think the Patriots are going to be this dominant team that many seem to believe they are, they do have enough offensive firepower to win the division.  I'll say probably 11 or 12 wins for the Patriots, if I had to guess.  I believe the Steelers are going to have a very strong season, tallying at least 11 wins.  I'm fully on the Colts bandwagon, too.  Some like the Titans or even the Texans in the south, but I'm not buying it.  I'm not sold at all on the Titans coming close to repeating their outstanding 2009 regular season.  And Peyton Manning is not a player I will ever bet against.  In the west, the Chargers should have this division wrapped up by week 10 or so.  They are far and away the best team in the division.

Wildcards: While I think Joe Flacco might take a step back in 2009, I still like the Ravens a lot as a Wildcard team. Their defense will be good as usual - and will be extra motivated to prove they don't need Rex Ryan to be great.  And I love Ray Rice and Baltimore's running game.  Rice is versatile and will be a factor both running and catching the ball as Flacco's safety valve on most plays.  Being the "homer" I am, I see the Dolphins winning 9 or 10 games and earning the other Wildcard spot.  When you look at it, I think that the last spot comes down to the Dolphins, Titans, and Texans.  The rest of the AFC is average at best.  But like I said, I'm not sold on Tennessee and the Texans have too many questions (secondary, health of QB).  The Dolphins, though, will have to knock off both Houston and Tennessee to win the tie-break that I think the final Wildcard spot comes down to.

Sleeper: They seem like everyone's favorite AFC sleeper, but I think the Texans could surprise.  They have a lot of weapons on offense and a pretty solid front seven on defense.  DeMeco Ryans is an very good, and underrated, middle linebacker and Mario Williams is the real deal.  The only question on offense for Houston is Matt Schaub.  If he can stay healthy, they are a dangerous team.  I see at least 8-8 for Houston will the possibility of a surprise Wildcard berth - which would probably come at the expense of Miami.

AFC Championship: Chargers vs Steelers
Thanks to their poor division, I think the Chargers could win 12 or 13 games this year - giving them a first-round bye and possibly home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  Their window to win a Super Bowl might be closing as LaDainian Tomlinson is getting older.  They've been so close so many years but have fallen short.  However, Philip Rivers has proven he is the real deal and San Diego's defense remains a very physical and talented group.  Even if they are without Shawne Merriman, they drafted pass-rusher Larry English in round one and he's going to be a force in this league.  So I'm taking the Chargers to advance to the Super Bowl.

NFC

East
Giants
Eagles*
Cowboys
Redskins
North
Packers
Vikings*
Bears
Lions
South
Saints
Falcons
Panthers
Bucs
West
Seahawks
Cardinals
49ers
Rams

Breakdown: I'll be honest about the Giants.  I think they have the deepest team in the division but their passing game worries me a lot.  However, they will still get to the opposing QB and will be able to run the ball with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw - and both will top 1,000 yards rushing.  In the north, the Packers are going to surprise.  Their offense is very good and their defense is vastly underrated.  The team has taken to Dom Capers and his new 3-4 defense.  Capers is one of the best defensive minds in the NFL and that unit is going to surprise this year.  Meanwhile, what the Saints lack in defense they make up for in offensive firepower.  That offense can be "scary good."  Out west, Seattle is primed to re-take that division.  The Cardinals are going to take a step back.  I don't think Kurt Warner will make it through the year healthy and Anquan Boldin is always a safe bet to miss a game here or there just because of how physical of a receiver he is.  The Seahawks, meanwhile, have a healthy Matt Hasselbeck, a new target for him named T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and a solid defense.

Wildcards: I think that the battle for the NFC Wildcard spots will be more competitive than in the AFC.  This is because I think there are five or six teams who will be battling for those two spots.  The Cowboys, Bears, Falcons, and Panthers will all be in the mix into December.  But I expect the Vikings, behind Adrian Peterson and their physical defense, to get one of the spots (assuming Brett Favre doesn't blow it for his new team).  The other spot will go to Philly because Donovan McNabb will stay healthy and have a good season throwing to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.  The tragic death of Jim Johnson this past offseason will also only motivate the Eagles on defense to make a push in his honor.  And never doubt the power of those kinds of motivations.

Sleeper: Thanks to a weak division, I think the 49ers could surprise in 2009.  Nine wins will probably be enough to win the division and if Frank Gore can stay healthy, the Niners might just be able to pull it off.  Shaun Hill is a capable starter as long as he doesn't have to win any games himself.  And Josh Morgan might be in store for a little break-through season.  On defense, I really like their young free safety Dashon Goldson.  He's a play-maker in the making back there.  And I think the signing of Dre Bly was a good move by SF.  If they can get consistent pressure on the opposing QB, their defense will be better than last year.

NFC Championship: Packers vs Saints
The NFC is so wide open this year that you can make a case for as many as 10 different teams to represent the conference in Miami at the Super Bowl.  But I'm firmly on the Packers bandwagon.  I'm not a fan of Green Bay's by any stretch of the imagination.  They are probably among my 10 least favorite NFL teams.  But Aaron Rodgers is very good and will take the next step.  Ryan Grant will bounce back and have a better 2009.  Their receivers are big-time play-makers.  And their defense is going to be very good.  So I'm taking Green Bay to knock off the Saints in a very exciting NFC title game.

Super Bowl XLIV: Chargers vs Packers
If this was to happen, it would be a very entertaining game to watch.  Both offenses can score points.  Both defenses can make big plays and big hits.  But in the end, I think the Chargers and their Rivers/Tomlinson/Gates trio will be too much for the Packers to handle.
Champions: San Diego Chargers

Awards

NFL MVP: Drew Brees

Offensive Player of the Year: Drew Brees

Defensive Player of the Year: Patrick Willis

Coach of the Year: Mike McCarthy

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Knowshon Moreno

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Sean Smith

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