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Old 08-30-2013, 03:54 AM   #1
Anthony
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Cool Anthony's 2013 NFL Preview

Predicted records in parentheses


AFC EAST

1. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (11-5): Receiving corps took two huge hits over the spring with Wes Welker's departure and Aaron Hernandez's arrest for murder, as Rob Gronkowski struggles to get healthy again. But most of their key conference rivals didn't exactly have trouble-free off-seasons either, and they're one of two AFC teams who could be compelled to play the entire season with 10 men on the field on every down and they'd still win their division.

2. MIAMI DOLPHINS (8-8): What if Ryan Tannehill underachieves this season to the same extent that he overachieved last season? In that case, free-agent wide receiver acquiree Mike Wallace will wither on the vine, and don't expect Reggie Bush-bereft RB contingent to bail them out. The hype machine is cranked up in South Florida once again, but this team has teased too many times over the past decade or so to be trusted.

3. BUFFALO BILLS (5-11): The selection of E.J. Manuel in the first round has been widely castigated as a colossal reach, while Kevin Kolb continues to do a totally awesome Gary Hogeboom impression. And is local product Doug Marrone (late of Syracuse) the man to lead this team where they want and need to go? Far from convinced of that.

4. NEW YORK JETS (4-12): Goodbye, cruel world - the Rex Ryan/Mark Sanchez circus comes to its long-overdue and merciful end. Look for them to think big in their search for Ryan's successor - and if they're lucky, Sanchez's will prove to already be in place (Geno Smith).


AFC NORTH

1. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (11-5): They are no more a "team in transition" than any of the other AFC teams that count - and if the injury bug will only give them a break this year, who knows? And even in this offense-happy day and age, the best defense in the league - although a drop-off is certainly possible with James Harrison having defected to division foe Cincinnati - is not a bad thing to have.

2. CINCINNATI BENGALS (9-7): Finally broke their no-two-winning-seasons-in-a-row jinx last year, and did it with a repeat playoff appearance into the bargain. But until proven to the contrary, one has to assume that they're good enough to make the playoffs - especially in what is now clearly the weaker conference - but not good enough to do any damage once there.

3. BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-8): Eight starters from the team that won Super Bowl XLVII are gone, six of them from a defense that wasn't exactly its customarily dominating self to begin with (17th in yards allowed and tied for 12th in points given up). Can't see them not taking major step back.

4. CLEVELAND BROWNS (6-10): They may have changed head coaches, again (this time handing the reins to Rob Chudzinski), but no changes in quarterbacking and receiving situations which both leave, to be charitable about it, much to be desired, free opposing defenses to focus on Trent Richardson. And defense can't even give the appearance of playing well because no one has to gain too many yards or score too many points to beat them (they ranked 23rd in the league in 2012). Still, this will be their best season since 2007!


AFC SOUTH

1. HOUSTON TEXANS (11-5): Two years ago late-season injuries on offense cost them a high playoff seed. Last year it was late-season injuries on defense. But even if it's neither this time around, they must find a way to get it done on artificial turf, upon which they're an atrocious 6-27 since 2004.

2. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (9-7): Rode easy schedule from 2-14 in 2011 to playoff-making shocker last year, and did it despite -12 turnover differential. But this year's slate isn't a whole lot more demanding, so a cut-down on miscues can limit how much ground they give back - always a concern the year following a surprise season.

3. TENNESSEE TITANS (7-9): Kyle Boller's 14-26 record as a starter in college turned out to be a red flag worth heeding. Well Jake Locker was 10-21 as a college starter - and is it just me, or has Chris Johnson fallen completely off the radar? Add a defense that doesn't even deserve to be on the radar, and not much changes from last year's 6-10 jaunt.

4. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (3-13): You mean to tell me that even Tim Tebow wouldn't have represented a massive improvement over last year's - and now this year's - Blaine Gabbert/Chad Henne-led debacle? I'd love to get Dave Caldwell in a poker game. He'd stand part with 7-5-4-3-2.


AFC WEST

1. DENVER BRONCOS (12-4): They're unproven at running back, and don't seem to be in a hurry to do anything about it. But even that, plus the defensive losses of Elvis Dumervil in comical fax-machine mix-up and Von Miller to a six-game suspension, will only serve to delay division clinching from about Halloween to about Thanksgiving. But once in the playoffs, then what?

2. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (6-10): Eschewed the "Big Four" - Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Tony Dungy and Brian Billick - and opted for low-budget Mike McCoy as successor to the ill-fated Norv Turner. McCoy and incoming GM Tom Telesco have a lot to prove, and won't do it this year - although if Philip Rivers revives the echoes and Manti Te'o turns out not to be a weapon of mass distraction, they're the least of three evils to complete division exacta behind Broncs for third straight year, and fourth all told.

3. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (6-10): What has Alex Smith ever done without a running game? And he may be confronting that issue again this year with Jamaal Charles' return to pre-ACL tear form no slam dunk. Andy Reid engineered a two-game improvement in his first season with the Eagles, by the way. Reid doubling his pleasure here sounds about right.

4. OAKLAND RAIDERS (5-11): Matt Flynn would have to pick this team for his new start after Russell Wilson came out of nowhere to steal his opportunity in Seattle. Dennis Allen is sadly out of his depth. It was a surprise that he held onto his job at the end of last season. It will be an absolute shock if he's still there after this one.


NFC EAST

1. DALLAS COWBOYS (10-6): Have key angle in their favor - and that is that they take the league's biggest drop in strength of schedule from 2012 to 2013 using the former's final records, although the actual drop (48 percentage points) is modest by the standards of these things. But if Tony Romo gets more than modest help from his running game (next to last in the NFL in '12) and defense (19th), he should at least get the chance to fall flat on his face in the postseason again.

2. WASHINGTON REDSKINS (9-7): Robert Griffin III's knee gets all the ink but what about the two-year, $18 million salary-cap "fine" that pretty much kept them out of the free-agent market again this spring? The RG3 trade also kept them out of the first round of the '13 draft, and one of last season's two notable defensive injury casualties, DE Adam Carriker, has already been shelved for at least the first six weeks, and maybe the entire season. So it's hard to see where any further improvement will come from, and they won't sneak up on anybody this year.

3. NEW YORK GIANTS (9-7): They do have one thing going for them, in that they didn't win the division last year (they haven't won back-to-back division titles since 1989 and '90). But line play on both sides of the ball remains a major headache. Yes, they do have a 10-6 Super Bowl championship team (from 2007) and even a 9-7 Super Bowl championship team (from 2011), but those kind of regular-season records might not be enough to so much as get them in the playoffs now that the balance of power between the conferences has shifted firmly to the NFC.

4. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (2-14): Replace Andy Reid with Chip Kelly when everything Reid was supposedly bad at, Kelly is even worse at? But Kelly figures to wear out his welcome very quickly, quite possibly even after one season - a season keynoted by lopsided defeats, destabilizing injuries (especially at quarterback), and a few laughs where none were intended.


NFC NORTH

1. GREEN BAY PACKERS (13-3): Maybe the wake-up call they received last year - an 11-5 regular-season finish following 2011's 15-1 - was just what they needed (and since they exited the playoffs in the same round both years, how much did it really cost them?). Aaron Rodgers has proven that he can win without a running game (and he will probably have to do it again), and defense comes off 21-spot jump in yards-allowed rankings (from last in 2011 to 11th in 2012).

2. DETROIT LIONS (8-8): Arrival of Reggie Bush via free-agency breaks long-time talent drought at running back, but defense must step up when it matters (13th in yards allowed but 27th scoring-wise a year ago). This division is nowhere near as tough as advertised, so there is room for them to move up - but they better; otherwise, Jim Schwartz could be in trouble.

3. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-9): They can sign away all the receivers they want from division rivals (Greg Jennings), but it will do them no good so long as their quarterbacking remains among the worst in the NFL. And there really isn't much here on defense once you get past front four headed by outspoken (to say the least) defensive end Jared Allen. They might literally need 3,000 yards from Adrian Peterson to get back in the playoffs.

4. CHICAGO BEARS (6-10): Firing Lovie Smith after a 10-6 season was, to understate it, a bit cheeky, and Marc Trestman was the Susan Lucci of NFL head-coaching candidates until he finally struck paydirt with this assignment. What did all those other teams know? Defense won't be the same now that Brian Urlacher has been forced into retirement by suddenly penurious front office.


NFC SOUTH

1. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (13-3): Just get out that blue pencil and line-item-veto their 2012 season, marred as it was not only by the bounty-related suspensions (including that of head coach Sean Payton) but also the league's sharpest rise in schedule difficulty from 2011 - a fate which befalls their arch-division rivals this year. Look for more balance all the way around, with not only the defense carrying its fair share of the load again, but a breakout season from RB Mark Ingram - which will form the basis of what, if analyzing things statically, would appear to be a stunning turnaround. Who dat gonna beat dem Saints in 2013? Just maybe nobody at all.

2. ATLANTA FALCONS (10-6): As alluded to above, they take the biggest strength-of-schedule jump in the league, an imposing 82 percentage points - a scenario that has produced an average drop in record of four games and change the following season since 2004, and of at least three games all but once over that span. And how many times has free-agent pickup Steven Jackson gotten through an entire season without missing at least some games due to injury - and they expect him to suddenly start now, at age 30? Finally, we're still looking for our first repeat winner of this division in its now 11-year history.

3. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (6-10): Will the real Josh Freeman please stand up? Greg Schiano has more than a little of Buddy Ryan in him - and not in a good way.

4. CAROLINA PANTHERS (5-11): If Cam Newton wants to take up mixed martial arts during the off-season, I've got the perfect walk-out song for him: Eric Carmen's All By Myself. Please, get this dude some help! But it won't happen soon enough to save Ron Rivera from the axe.


NFC WEST

1. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (13-3): They're the favorites to go all the way in most of the sports books. But when the Patriots got to the conference title game last year, they became the first defending Super Bowl runner-up in 19 years to do so. That means none of them have still gotten back to the big dance the following year since then - and remember that it's been almost as long since an NFC champion has repeated, regardless of how they fared in the Super Bowl: The Packers of 1996 and '97. The pick to stay atop the division, but will take a stand against beyond that.

2. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (12-4): Colin Kaepernick may have the larger body but Russell Wilson has the larger body of work, with an entire NFL season as a starter under his belt. If Percy Harvin can liven up a passing game that was actually 27th in net yards gained in 2012, they can be right there for all the marbles - or should I say all the Skittles?

3. ARIZONA CARDINALS (7-9): Maybe the third sticker on Carson Palmer's luggage will be his last - and some excuse has to be found for not picking the complete order of finish in this division to repeat itself, having already predicted that in the AFC South. You see, it's only happened seven times in 80 chances since the 2002 realignment.

4. ST. LOUIS RAMS (5-11): The last time they tantalized us with a seven-win season (in 2010), they followed it up with a two-win stinker (in 2011). And Bernie Kosar could have been onto something with his preseason rant about this offense. The fall-off won't be as bad this time around - but Jeff Fisher's first playoff choke in his new surroundings will nonetheless have to wait.


PLAYOFFS (Home teams in CAPS)

AFC Wild Card:
HOUSTON over Indianapolis
............................NEW ENGLAND over Cincinnati

NFC Wild Card:: SAN FRANCISCO over Atlanta
.............................Seattle over DALLAS

AFC Semifinals: DENVER over New England
.............................PITTSBURGH over Houston

NFC Semifinals: NEW ORLEANS over Seattle
.............................GREEN BAY over San Francisco

AFC Championship: Pittsburgh over DENVER

NFC Championship: NEW ORLEANS over Green Bay

Super Bowl XLVIII: New Orleans over Pittsburgh
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Last edited by Anthony; 09-05-2013 at 06:06 AM.
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