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Old 09-01-2012, 05:02 AM   #1
Anthony
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Cool Anthony's 2012 NFL Preview

Predicted records in parentheses


AFC EAST

1. NEW YORK JETS (10-6): Maybe Tim Tebow is just what is needed to sanctify their sinful locker room, and they boast both a run-pass and an offense-defense balance that is actually rarely seen in the NFL these days.

2. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10-6): Only four of the last 14 Super Bowl runners-up have won their division the following year, and none of the last 18 have made it to the conference title game. And could Tom Brady's right shoulder be the new Peyton Manning's neck?

3. BUFFALO BILLS (5-11): The Masons have a degree for Ryan Fitzpatrick - Fellowcraft, originally known as "journeyman" - and even if Mario Williams does prove to be worth the mega-bucks he will merely make this team more low-scoring, not better.

4. MIAMI DOLPHINS (3-13): Now that they have some hope at quarterback with Ryan Tannehill, they have no hope at wide receiver with one of the worst contingents at that position in the chuck-rule era. Defense may give the appearance of being good, particularly against the pass, because everybody will be playing not to lose against it (see the 1998 Eagles).


AFC NORTH

1. BALTIMORE RAVENS (11-5): Have finished with the same record as Pittsburgh the last three years in a row. That logjam may break in their favor this season due to their rivals' injury travails.

2. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (10-6): Will enter the regular season without a decent healthy running back, have already lost their top draft pick, guard David DeCastro, to a preseason knee injury, and wide receiver Mike Wallace just ended his holdout. Big Ben might have to make his best Dan Marino impression to keep them within hail of Baltimore early.

3. CINCINNATI BENGALS (6-10): Last year was the easy part. Now comes the hard part - registering back-to-back non-strike winning seasons for the first time since 1976 and '77! And letting three-time thousand-yard running back Cedric Benson skip town in free agency was supremely dumb.

4. CLEVELAND BROWNS (3-13): They're obviously hoping that a comparison between Brandon Weeden and Chris Weinke isn't instructive, but it probably will be; and their receivers might be even worse than the ones in Miami (if that's possible), who they will battle for the stinking roses in the Matt Barkley Derby - only the Dolphins don't figure to be interested in Barkley.


AFC SOUTH

1. HOUSTON TEXANS (14-2): Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson missed 18 starts among them in 2011 - yet they still wrapped up the division title (their first ever) after 13 games. If that trio doesn't miss anywhere near that many starts among them this season, they will be wrapping up a lot more than that.

2. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (7-9): Blaine Gabbert can't possibly be as bad as what he showed as a rookie, could he? And with Maurice Jones-Drew having blinked in his stare-down with the new owner before the regular season started, completing the division exacta is well within reach.

3. TENNESSEE TITANS (7-9): How underwhelming were they a year ago? They lost to the Bengals - and at home, too (costing them a playoff spot on tie-breakers), the only over-.500 and/or playoff team to do so (even the pre-Tebow Broncos beat Cincy). And suddenly Chris Johnson doesn't seem so scary.

4. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (4-12): Andrew Luck might have had some sort of chance at leading them to something resembling an immediate rebound if not for front office's scorched-earth purge of veteran talent. Those who did stay, most notably Reggie Wayne, Donald Brown and Dwight Freeney, will need to step up mightily, otherwise any upward move from last year's 2-14 is destined to be marginal.


AFC WEST

1. DENVER BRONCOS (12-4): The best things in life are indeed free, as Peyton Manning cost them nothing in terms of compensation. It's just a matter of how far into the postseason he can take them.

2. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (9-7): Throw out their 2011 effort - they were making the biggest strength-of-schedule rise in the league and both their first-string QB, Matt Cassel, and RB, Jamaal Charles, went down with injuries. Cassel will be focused with his starting job likely gone if he doesn't produce this season, while Charles will return to team with free-agent pickup Peyton Hillis in a formidable Mutt-n-Jeff backfield reminiscent of the Maurice Jones-Drew/Fred Taylor and Ahmad Bradshaw/Brandon Jacobs duos the Jaguars and Giants, respectively, had in recent years. No menace to Broncos if P-Man is sound, but should round out division exacta.

3. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (7-9): The bloom is off the rose now. This is a mediocre team that lost its top receiver to free agency, and whose defense is a total mess. Unlike Gloria Gaynor, Norv Turner will not survive.

4. OAKLAND RAIDERS (6-10): Their quick-fix beat goes on - after ceding their first-round pick in 2011 for head-case defensive tackle Richard Seymour, their first-rounder this year went for Carson Palmer, who has a tale of his own to tell in that area. This is no way to run a franchise.


NFC EAST

1. DALLAS COWBOYS (11-5): Slowly but surely, they continue to recover from the 1-7 start of 2010 that ushered in the Jason Garrett era; and if for some reason you don't like Green Bay, they become one of as many as eight teams in with a realistic chance of making it all the way to New Orleans from the NFC on February 3rd.

2. NEW YORK GIANTS (10-6): Eli now has more Super Bowl rings than his brother. But no NFC champion, whether they won the Super Bowl or not, has repeated since the Packers did it in 1996 and '97, and they haven't won back-to-back NFC East titles since all the way back in 1989 and '90.

3. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (7-9): In order to get better, they need to get bigger - and that clearly won't happen so long as Andy Reid has any say in the matter. So they will disappoint again, with or without Michael Vick missing any games (and probably with).

4. WASHINGTON REDSKINS (7-9): Robert Griffin III changes less than you think. Mike Shanahan is still every bit as poor a fit for the NFC general, and this division in particular. Any improvement will be incremental.


NFC NORTH

1. CHICAGO BEARS (12-4): Reunited and it feels so good - Brandon Marshall with Jay Cutler, that is. Could indeed be the lucky commuter if the Packers do falter again and turn the NFC into Grand Central Station.

2. GREEN BAY PACKERS (11-5): Got exposed last winter by the Giants (as did the Patriots) as just another soft team with no defense - and even in today's determinedly offense-intensive league, those teams don't win championships. Oh, they will easily make the playoffs again - but the first physical team they face therein sends them packing, no pun intended.

3. DETROIT LIONS (8-8): Needed to upgrade desperately at two positions over the spring - running back and the secondary - and they came away with nothing in the former and actually less than nothing in the latter, as starting cornerback Eric Wright departed in free agency. And their offense has another major concern besides running back: Look who's on this year's Madden cover.

4. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (4-12): They had better be very careful with Adrian Peterson - bringing him back prematurely could destroy his career, as the then-Baltimore Colts did with Bert Jones 30+ years ago. Christian Ponder in essentially the same situation as Blaine Gabbert.

NFC SOUTH

1. ATLANTA FALCONS (11-5): Have inherited the "team to beat" role, if not the betting favorite's role, in this division as the result of the off-season ordeal in New Orleans. But will Matt Ryan continue to echo his namesake Buddy Ryan in neglecting to win a playoff game?

2. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (9-7): For the second time in three years, they take the biggest drop in the NFL in strength of schedule, based on the previous season's records (tied with St. Louis), and you may recall that the first time it led to them zooming from 3-13 in 2009 to 10-6 and a near playoff berth in 2010 - and wide receiver Vincent Jackson could prove to be the free-agent acquisition of the year.

3. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (8-8): As if the bounty scandal and the fallout therefrom wasn't enough - they take the biggest jump in the entire NFL in schedule difficulty (their 2011 opponents were a league-worst 113-143 last year; their 2012 foes, 129-127 in '11), and the 11 teams in the same situation since 2004 (three teams tied for the biggest jump in 2007 and two in 2005) plummeted from a combined 126-50 "the year before" to 81-95 "the year after," and all but one (the '08 Steelers) saw their record drop by at least three games. Furthermore, no defending NFC South champion has ever repeated since the division was created in the 2002 realignment.

4. CAROLINA PANTHERS (7-9): Did they really need another toy cannon at running back, signing Mike Tolbert as a free agent when they already have Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams? Their energies would have been better spent improving their porous defense. It looks like a "hermit's repose" in the Piedmont this year.


NFC WEST

1. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (9-7): For anyone more than 50 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, their 2011 season was dreadful to sit through. Alex Smith will never be an elite quarterback in this league, no matter how many highly-touted receivers they bring in via free agency (Randy Moss, Mario Manningham) or the draft (first-rounder A.J. Jenkins). Won't sneak up on anyone this time around, and only because this division is so, how shall we say, pedestrian, will they even make it back to the playoffs again.

2. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (8-8): If they are truly fortunate, the diminutive Russell Wilson's quixotic preseason run will peter out soon so that Matt Flynn - who has "system quarterback" written all over him - can take over. Could make things interesting if that happens early enough.

3. ST. LOUIS RAMS (6-10): The strength-of-schedule drop (see Tampa Bay) will come in handy - but Sam Bradford has something to prove and defense ain't so great either, although free-agent shutdown corner Cortland Finnegan did accompany new head coach Jeff Fisher from Tennessee. It will be a year or two before Fisher is ready to have them choking in the playoffs.

4. ARIZONA CARDINALS (4-12): Top draftee Michael Floyd might finally take the double-coverage heat off Larry Fitzgerald, but now there may not be anyone to throw to them with Kevin Kolb looking more every day like a 21st-century version of Gary Hogeboom with his constant injuries and John Skelton (the starter for now) lacking an NFL pedigree. Bill Bidwill's holiday gift to Ken Whisenhunt: A set of luggage - packed.


PLAYOFFS (Home teams in CAPS)

AFC Wild Card: BALTIMORE over New England
.......................... N.Y. JETS over Pittsburgh

NFC Wild Card: N.Y. Giants over ATLANTA
.......................... Green Bay over SAN FRANCISCO

AFC Semifinals: HOUSTON over N.Y. Jets
........................... DENVER over Baltimore

NFC Semifinals: CHICAGO over N.Y. Giants
............................ DALLAS over Green Bay

AFC Championship: HOUSTON over Denver

NFC Championship: CHICAGO over Dallas

Super Bowl XLVII: Houston over Chicago
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Last edited by Anthony; 09-04-2012 at 03:11 AM.
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