2012 NFL Preview

The National Football League is unique in that every year there are several surprises. Teams that finish at the bottom of the division one year somehow make it to the top the next. Favorites will disappoint and fall back to the pack. So who will be the surprises and disappointments? Let's take a look at each division and see if we can figure out where they might come from.

Let us start with last years Super Bowl champion New York Giants. It was Philadelphia that everyone was jumping on the bandwagon with last year with their free agent acquisitions. The Eagles disappointed everyone, while the Giants got hot at the right time and sailed through the playoffs to their second Super Bowl in five years. The Giants return most everyone from last year's team. Brandon Jacobs in now in San Francisco, but there is no reason to believe that New York will give up the top spot in the NFC East.

The Washington Redskins drafted Robert Griffin III to be their franchise quarterback. In a division that will be competitive once again, Washington should be much improved, but not yet a playoff team.

The Dallas Cowboys continue to hang their hopes on much-maligned QB Tony Romo. He has yet to deliver, but he still has the confidence of ownership and the coaching staff. Finally, the Philadelphia Eagles should contend for a wild card berth or possibly the division if the Giants fall.

The NFC South should be interesting this year. Atlanta will be solid again with an offense that can put up points with QB Matt Ryan and weapons like Michael Turner, Roddy White, and Julio Jones. The Falcons' defense is also good enough to go far in the playoffs. This might be the year they finally break through.

The New Orleans Saints are probably the most intriguing team this season. With all of the Bounty-gate and the Drew Brees contract situation, how will they respond to the adversity without their coach Jay Payton, suspended for a year? Let us not forget, the Super Bowl is in New Orleans.

The Carolina Panthers took a big step forward last year with rookie QB Cam Newton. Carolina could make a run at a wild card if Newton continues to get better and the defense improves. Tampa Bay is looking like the weak team in the division this season with questions at quarterback and a new head coach in Greg Schiano.

There is no reason to believe the Green Bay Packers will slow down this season. Behind QB Aaron Rodgers, the Packers should compete for another shot at the Super Bowl. The Detroit Lions made a big leap last year by making the playoffs for the first time in what seems like since Vince Lombardi retired.

QB Matthew Stafford established himself as a top QB in the league, while throwing to arguably the best WR in the NFL in Calvin Johnson. Detroit could replace Green Bay if the Packers somehow get derailed.

Finally, the Chicago Bears will have a difficult time getting past both Green Bay and Detroit. Their hopes will lean on RB Matt Forte and an opportunistic defense. Minnesota will have a tough year unless RB Adrian Peterson can regain the form he showed us two years ago.

The NFC West saw a new member at the top last year with San Francisco posting a 13-3 record with a stingy defense and efficient QB Alex Smith. Can Jim Harbaugh get another good year out of Smith? Vernon Davis emerged last year as one of the best tight ends in the NFL.

The Seattle Seahawks drafted a rookie quarterback in the third round and is making his first NFL start in week one. Jon Gruden said if Russell Wilson had the opportunity to win a starting job wherever he was drafted, he would win the starting job. Wilson was impressive in the preseason and looks to have all the intangibles to be a good quarterback in this league.

The Seahawks' defense is now one of the best defenses in the league. Top-10 a year ago, many feel top-five this year. The Arizona Cardinals are a mess at QB. John Skelton will get the start in Week 1 against Seattle. The Cardinals do have ever-dangerous Larry Fitzgerald that can takeover a game. The St. Louis Rams will hope that QB Sam Bradford can emerge as a great quarterback like they thought he would.

Elsewhere, the New England Patriots are the class of the AFC East and will have Tom Brady once again at the helm throwing to Wes Welder, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez. If the defense improves from last year, the Patriots might get to the Super Bowl. The New York Jets have distractions everywhere with the addition of Tim Tebow and the ongoing criticism of QB Mark Sanchez. Sanchez has yet to deliver for the Jets and Tebow led the Broncos to a playoff win over Pittsburgh last season. And now Sanchez is in the news again on a date with TV star Eva Longoria.

Buffalo, meanwhile, let go of Vince Young and brought in Tarvaris Jackson from Seattle. Bills fans might as well bundle up and watch curling this winter. Miami will start Matt Moore at quarterback and will spend the winter remembering the days of Dan Marino and the Marks Brothers.

The AFC South saw the Houston Texans finally get through with the Colts opening the door due to the injury to Peyton Manning. Houston looks to be the best of the division again this year with QB Matt Schaub and RB Arian Foster leading the attack. Tennessee will hang their hopes on second-year QB Jake Locker, who beat out Matt Hasselbeck for the starting job. RB Chris Johnson should have a big year this year. Look for Tennessee to hang around for a potential wild card.

Indianapolis has a rookie at quarterback in first overall pick Andrew Luck. Without the weapons on offense, Luck will find it difficult to put up big numbers and the Colts will find it hard to get many wins. The Jacksonville Jaguars get Maurice Jones-Drew back from his holdout, but have too many questions and not enough answers.

The AFC Central might be the best division in football. Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cincinnati all made the playoffs last year and will compete to do the same this year. Cincinnati might be primed to make the jump to division leader if QB Andy Dalton in his second year improves on his great rookie season. With A.J. Green to throw to and newly-acquired Benjarvis Green-Ellis running the ball, it could be a magical season in Cincinnati.

The Baltimore Ravens will be strong again this year as long as they stay with what gives them the best chance by running the ball and dumping off to Ray Rice and a ball hawking defense. The Pittsburgh Steelers will feel the heat this season with Baltimore and Cincinnati surging to the top. Look for the Steelers to miss the playoffs this season. Cleveland Browns are just to overmatched to compete in this division and will be shuffling quarterbacks all season.

The Denver Broncos brought in Peyton Manning to get them to the Super Bowl. It will take more than a good year from Manning to get them there. The San Diego Chargers still have QB Phillip Rivers. San Diego has a chance to win this division if they can stay healthy and Rivers has a great year. Oakland and Kansas City will take a step backwards this year in a weak division.

My predictions for 2012 is that the Broncos, Bengals, Patriots, and Texans all win their divisions, while the Ravens and Chargers get a wild card berth. In the NFC, I like the Giants, Packers, Falcons, and Seahawks to win their divisions with the Lions and Panthers getting the wild card. The Falcons and Texans meet in the Super Bowl, with the Falcons winning a shootout.

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