The 2012 NFL season officially begins later tonight with the Dallas Cowboys heading to New Jersey to face the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. With that game upon us, it's time to finally predict the season for the entire NFL.
I will first build the regular season standings for all eight divisions, predicting the division winners and the wildcard teams based on those records. From there, I will work my way through the playoffs before predicting a Super Bowl champion.
I will also give you my offseason awards predictions. These predictions went into SB Nation's overall predictions of the offseason awards.
Taking a look at each division, there are a few records that are somewhat surprising. Starting with the AFC East, the Patriots should run away and hide with the division for the 756th time (that number may be a little off). The Bills will be in playoff contention, making a late push through an easier schedule the second half of the season. Miami will use an early soft schedule to jump on some teams in worse shape than they are, then stumble down the stretch to 8-8, while the Jets stumble out of the gate, but pick up some late season wins.
The AFC North will feature two dominant teams, with two also-rans behind them. The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers will straight up destroy the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. I really see the Bengals taking a step back this year, with Andy Dalton suffering from a sophomore slump. The Browns continue to build and try to find a way back into relevance, but with the three teams ahead of them in the division, it's going to continue to be a difficult road.
The AFC South, meanwhile, will be over by October. The Houston Texans should be on cruise control throughout the season, winning the division by 10 games. The Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Indianapolis Colts all are rebuilding teams, starting young quarterbacks, and just cannot compete with the Texans yet.
The AFC West will come down to the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning will lead the Broncos back to the playoffs, but will have to get there as a wild card as the Chiefs should claim the division. I was surprised that both the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders came in so poorly, but I just don't see the teams they can beat.
Jumping over to the NFC, the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles should both come out of the East, with the Dallas Cowboys just missing out. Meanwhile, the Robert Griffin III led Washington Redskins struggle this season, although RG3 will have a good year, in route to his Rookie of the Year award.
The NFC North will be the most contested division, with the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, and Detroit Lions all capable of making the playoffs, and making deep runs into the playoffs. However, the Packers will win the division, and the Bears will claim the wildcard slot, while the Lions miss out on the post season - more because the Eagles will have an easier schedule than because they are better than the Lions. Detroit will be hampered simply because the division is so good. Even basement team Minnesota should be getting better.
The NFC South is the most confusing division in the league this year. The Atlanta Falcons will win the division at 9-7, simply because there is no dominant team. The Carolina Panthers will break even at 8-8, while the New Orleans Saints will be 7-9. The Saints could still become a dominant team, and they could rally around the "Bounty-gate" discipline, using it to fuel them throughout the year, but I can't think that the loss of coaches and players will not have an impact on the team in the long run. The Buccaneers will bring up the tail end of the division.
Finally, the NFC West will remain the mess it has been the last few seasons, with the San Francisco 49ers again being the only team that could even be called decent in the division. The 49ers will continue last year's success, carrying a 12-4 record into the playoffs. Behind them, the Russell Wilson led Seahawks will battle to 6-10, while the St. Louis Rams will stumble to 4-12, and the Arizona Cardinals will earn the league's number one overall pick, and most likely Matt Barkley, with a 1-15 record.
|AFC East||NFC East|
|New England Patriots||14-2||New York Giants||12-4|
|Buffalo Bills||9-7||Philadelphia Eagles||12-4|
|Miami Dolphins||8-8||Dallas Cowboys||10-6|
|New York Jets||6-10||Washington Redskins||2-14|
|AFC North||NFC North|
|Baltimore Ravens||14-2||Green Bay Packers||13-3|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||14-2||Chicago Bears||13-3|
|Cincinatti Bengals||6-10||Detroit Lions||10-6|
|Cleveland Browns||2-14||Minnesota Vikings||6-10|
|AFC South||NFC South|
|Houston Texans||14-2||Atlanta Falcons||9-7|
|Tennessee Titans||4-12||Carolina Panthers||8-8|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||3-13||New Orleans Saints||7-9|
|Indianapolis Colts||3-13||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||3-13|
|AFC West||NFC West|
|Kansas City Chiefs||11-5||San Francsico 49ers||12-4|
|Denver Broncos||10-6||Seattle Seahawks||6-10|
|San Diego Chargers||6-10||St. Louis Rams||4-12|
|Oakland Raiders||4-12||Arizona Cardinals||1-15|
From there, the AFC playoffs will look like:
- Baltimore Ravens
- Houston Texans
- New England Patriots
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Denver Broncos
And the NFL will be:
- Green Bay Packers
- San Francisco 49ers
- New York Giants
- Atlanta Falcons
- Chicago Bears
- Philadelphia Eagles.
Wildcard Weekend will feature Peyton Manning willing the Broncos over his nemisis Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, while the Steelers will knock the Chiefs out of the playoffs, giving the AFC a clean Wildcard sweep. The NFC, meanwhile, will see the Giants beat their NFC East division rival Eagles, and the Chicago Bears will take out the Falcons.
In the Division Round of the playoffs, the Broncos will drop to the Baltimore Ravens, while the Texans will dispatch the Steelers, setting up a Ravens/Texans AFC Championship. The NFC Championship game will be the 49ers against Bears, as they knock out the Giants and Packers respectively.
After the Championship Games, the Houston Texans will be facing the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. After the game, the Texans will triumph over the Bears - meaning this is the second straight year I am picking the Texans to win the Super Bowl.
My post season awards are:
- MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
- OPOY: Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
- DPOY: Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins (I have to have one homer pick, right?)
- Coach of the Year: Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans
- ORPY: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
- DROY: Whitney Mercilus, Houston Texans
- Comeback Player of the Year: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Okay, now it's your turn. Feel free to tell me how horribly wrong I will be. If you want to read some of my thoughts on the post seasaon awards, or on my Super Bowl picks, make sure you check out the SB Nation roll up of all of the NFL Blog awards.