NFL Season Preview
It is that time of year again. The NFL is set to kickoff Week 1 with a rematch of the 2013 AFC Championship Game between the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens Thursday night. But before the season gets started, returning sportswriters Eric Russo, Tyler Sullivan, Daveson Perez and Mike McMahon lay out all of their predictions for the 2013-14 NFL Season.
Eric Russo: Washington Redskins: If RGIII stays healthy, it looks like the Redskins could take their second straight division title. The Giants seem to be on a bit of a decline and the Cowboys are…well, the Cowboys.
Tyler Sullivan: Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III will start Week 1 and never look back after returning from an ACL tear in last year’s playoffs. Before his injury, RGIII was one of, if not, the most electrifying players in the NFL and you could argue that this injury could make him even better than he was last year. Griffin will be forced to rely more on his arm rather than his legs and could turn himself into the most versatile player to ever play the position. Cowboys and Eagles will be a non-factor this year and the Giants will just miss the playoffs.
Daveson Perez: New York Giants: The Giants are the only team in this division with a foreseeable direction. Romo will fall just short. RG3 will have a down year coming off of his injury. Chip Kelly is in his first season in the NFL. Expects some bumps in the road for him this season.
Mike McMahon: New York Giants: The Giants have one of the best One-Two punches at wide receiver in the NFC when Hakeem Nicks is healthy. David Wilson is ready to emerge out of the Tom Coughlin Doghouse; and Justin Tuck and JPP are still playing on the ends of the 4-3 defense. The Giants have the deepest core in the division and they also have the best coach in the division.
ER: Green Bay Packers: Sticking with the Packers here. It’s a quarterback league, and when you have one of, if not the best, in the league it’s a recipe for success.
TS: Chicago Bears: With new coach Mark Trestman, the Bears offense should see an upgrade in production, Matt Forte and second year wide-out Alshon Jeffery being the primary beneficiaries to the coaching change. Add a better offense with arguably the best defense in the NFL and you get the 2013 NFC North Champion Bears.
DP: Green Bay Packers: The acquisition of Eddie Lacy gives the Packers something they haven’t had in years: a running threat. Lacy will help set up the play action that Aaron Rodgers flourishes in.
MM: Green Bay Packers: I’m with Daveson on this one, if the Packers find a way to incorporate Eddie Lacy’s strength into the offensive attack, its only going to make Aaron Rodgers that much more dangerous. The Bears, Lions and Vikings just don’t present enough for me to go otherwise in this division.
ER: Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons are a team on the rise. They once again fell short in the postseason last year, but Matt Ryan is rapidly becoming a top-5 quarterback.
TS: New Orleans Saints: Much like the Patriots in 2008 after Spy-Gate, the Saints will burst back onto the scene and dominate the regular season. Now that Sean Payton is back on the sidelines, the Saints are once again the NFC South’s team to beat despite a questionable defense.
DP: Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan is looking to make a statement this season. Steven Jackson makes them an offensive juggernaut this season.
MM: New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees and Sean Peyton reunite on a Saints team that is 110% determined to shove it to the NFL. I’m starting to get sick of hearing that Matt Ryan is due and is looking to make a statement. Drew Brees is looking to make a real statement and he has actually proven he can win big games.
TS: San Francisco 49ers: Can a team that won the NFC Championship last year get any better? When you add guys like Anquan Boldin and Nnamdi Asomugha to an already explosive offense and defense you can. The loss of Michael Crabtree will hurt the 49er offense, but that is why Coach Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in the league. He will find a way to make Colin Kapernick and the 49ers to not miss a beat on offense until Crabtree returns for the playoff push.
DP: San Francisco 49ers: Most balanced team in the league let alone the division. Seattle makes it difficult but San Fran comes out on top
MM: Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick both burst into the scene last year and have a ton of hype going into 2013, my bold prediction is that one of them is going to drop off considerably this season, based on my division winner, I have Kaepernick as that guy. The Seahawks defense is scary, like “The Conjuring” scary and I think Russell Wilson just knows how to win football games, which didn’t do much for Tebow, but it goes a long way. (Tebow reference covered)
NFC WILD CARDS:
ER: Seattle and Minnesota: Here’s where I put the Seahawks. They’ll challenge the 49ers and find themselves in the postseason once again. The Vikings have Adrian Peterson. He carried the team on his back last season and he’ll do it this year, too.
TS: Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons are just too good to not make the playoffs. Matt Ryan, Stephen Jackson and the best one-two WR combo in the league in Jones and White will find a way to make it in the post season and make a deep run.
Green Bay Packers: The Packers will struggle early on in 2013 as they play five very tough opponents to start the season, but the cheese heads will still make the playoffs despite it being a short stint.
DP: Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson is headed into his sophomore season at quarter back and is looking like he is going to have another great season this year. In addition to that, the defense is also looking sharp.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees is still a formidable force in this league. That being said, if the Saints hope to have a chance to come out on top there secondary has to step up to the plate.
MM: Carolina Panthers: This could be my laugher pick of 2013 but I think Cam Newton is sick of hearing about Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III. Newton can do huge things in 2013 and he has solid weapons in Steve Smith, Brandon Lafell and Greg Olsen. The running game has seen better days but I think Kenjon Barner has a chance at emerging as a real threat. The defense is pretty bad though, bad enough to make this pick a huge risk.
San Francisco 49ers: I know I said that Kaepernick would drop off this season, but luckily for the 49ers, Kaepernick playing well is really just a bonus because the defense alone is good enough to get this team into the playoffs. A solid run game with that defense is going to let the 49ers control the ball and the pace of the game.
ER: New England Patriots: The Patriots will be without Tom Brady’s five most productive receivers from last season. But when your division consists of the Bills, Dolphins, and Jets it’s not even a contest.
TS: New England Patriots: As long as Tom Brady is under center and Bill Belichick is on the sidelines, this division will always belong to the Pats.
DP: New England Patriots: While New England is far less experienced at wide receiver, their budding running game, Stephen Ridley and Lagarrette Blount will help Brady set up the pass. And of course, “In Belichik we trust.”
MM: New England Patriots: You could put my 56 year old father with two fake hips and arthritis at wide out, Tom Brady is going to find a way to get him the football. Ridley and Vereen will become the big weapons, not necessarily running the ball, but catching those short passes and that Welker used to catch and that everyone is expecting Amendola to catch.
ER: Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens took a bit of a hit leading long-time faces of the franchise Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. The Super Bowl champs will take a step back, but there isn’t a clear-cut challenger to them in the division.
TS: Cincinnati Bengals: Even though the Bengals offense has big weapons in A.J. Green, Andy Dalton and rookie Giovanni Bernard, it will be their defense that will knock off the Stealers and Ravens and win the North.
DP: Cincinnati Bengals: The loss of Anquan Boldin to the Niners and Pitta to injury, are what give Cincinnati the edge in this division. The Ravens won’t be the same team with Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokely, two players who are on the tail ends of their careers.
MM: Cincinnati Bengals: I guess the Bengals aren’t as much of a sleeper as I thought they were. Ive always liked Andy Dalton and lets face it A.J. Green is nasty. Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham at tight end, and the Bengals have a nice little passing game there. Still, its the defense that will shine the brightest.
ER: Houston Texans: The Texans had a breakout season last year, but were exposed towards the end of the season. Their defense is top-notch, though, and with Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson on offense they will be right there contending in the AFC.
TS: Indianapolis Colts: The AFC South could soon start to look more like the AFC East now that Andrew Luck has arrived. With one season under his belt, Luck is now poised to take the next step and dominate this league. The Texans will take a step back this year with Foster dealing with injuries and Schaub lacking elite quarterback status. Titians and Jaguars will be a nonfactor as they usually are.
DP: Houston Texans: The Texans will continue to be one of the best defensive teams in the league as long as J.J “Swatt” is anchoring them.
MM: Houston Texans: I don’t think the Colts are as good as people think, then again I don’t think the Texans are either. I’m giving Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson one more year before I jump ship. J.J. Watt and the defense are good enough to win the division. Bold prediction, DeAndre Hopkins will put up better numbers than Andre Johnson
ER: Denver Broncos: The Peyton Manning-Wes Welker connection is scary to think about. It could be just as good, if not better, than the Brady-Welker tandem. The Von Miller suspension will hurt them early, though.
TS: Denver Broncos: Peyton is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and shows no sign of slowing down, especially when the Broncos went out and signed former Patriots WR Wes Welker. Not to mention that they play the Chargers and Raiders twice giving them an easy four wins. The Chiefs will give them some trouble, but only enough to annoying Peyton for a couple games, not to rival for the division.
DP:Denver Broncos: It will be a rough start to the season without Von Miller at linebacker, but with the experience of Peyton Manning accompanied by Wes Welker, the Broncos will be the best team in their division.
MM: Denver Broncos: Think back to the days when Peyton Manning had Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley each gain 1,000 yards receiving and then think about the fact that he now has Wes Welker, Denaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. The surprise threat though, Montee Ball out of the backfield. The Broncos may not have three 1,000 yard receivers because they might end up running the ball more than people expect.
AFC WILD CARDS:
ER: Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers: Andrew Luck is a year older and I don’t expect a sophomore slump for him or the the rejuvenated Colts. Pittsburgh isn’t what they were a couple of years ago, but they’re better than the 8-8 they posted last season.
TS: Houston Texans: Even though I feel the Texans will take a step back this year, they will still make the playoffs because of their division. The Titians and Jaguars both lack the talent to compete with their defense and cannot match the offensive firepower that Houston brings each Sunday in Foster and Johnson. Probably an early exit, but Houston makes the playoffs non-the less.
Baltimore Ravens : The Ravens will not suffer from the “Super Bowl Hangover” rather they will suffer due to all the key players they lost this past offseason. Players like, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin and Paul Kruger all left leaving their offense but mainly their defense in shambles. Yes, they signed OLB Elvis Dumervil in the offseason, which will help cushion the blow, but it does not automatically throw them right back into Super Bowl contention. Ravens will make the playoffs and could make some noise but not enough to pose a huge threat
DP: Baltimore Ravens: This season the Baltimore Ravens have been dubbed “Flacco’s team,” which means he is the leader of the team. Last year, the leader was Ray Lewis. Therein lays the difference between these two teams. The emotional push that they had last year thanks to Lewis won’t be around to push them past any other team in the playoffs.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts have a similar situation to the Ravens. They no longer had the emotional push to “win the super bowl for Pagano.” Without this added energy, all they can do is trust Andrew Luck. That alone will be enough to move on to the first round.
MM: Baltimore Ravens: Sure the Ravens have lost a lot of the starters that they won the Super Bowl with last year but that does not mean that this team hasn’t put itself in a position to win football games. The biggest concern is that Flacco doesn’t have Dennis Pitta at tight end. Otherwise, I don’t think the offense skips a beat. The defense is what has people concerned, but I wouldn’t worry too much up front, its the secondary that will lose a couple games for the Ravens.
Kansas City Chiefs: Love me some Andy Reid. Jamaal Charles is healthy, and with Alex Smith controlling the ball under center, the offense will flourish with Andy Reid giving direction. Will the defense follow suit?
ER: Tom Brady: If Brady is Brady and gets the Patriots to the playoffs with an entirely new receiving corps, he will run away with the award.
TS: Tom Brady: Brady will have his normal numbers like he always does; 4500+ yards and 35+ touchdowns, but the reason he will win his third MVP and OPOY is because of what happened in the offseason. Losing Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker Brandon Lloyd and still putting up dominate numbers will only further instill his face as one of the best players to ever play this game.
DP: Wes Welker: I have a feeling this is going to be a superb year for Wes Welker. His quarter back, the best regular season quarter back in the game, and him are developing a good rapport this preseason. I believe this combination leads the Broncos to the Super Bowl.
MM: Jamaal Charles: This guy is to the Chiefs what Adrian Peterson is to the Vikings and there is serious talent there with Charles. If Kansas City can put together a winning season that gains them a playoff birth, it will be because Jamaal Charles brought them there.
Offensive Player of the Year:
ER: Adrian Peterson – Minnesota: The reigning MVP will defend his title in this category. He doesn’t look like he is slowing down anytime soon.
TS: Tom Brady – New England: See MVP
DP: Stephen Jackson – Atlanta: Steven Jackson has always been great in St. Louis, but now that he has a far better offensive line he will have a historic season rushing.
MM: Cam Newton – Carolina: Newton really can prove a lot to people this season running and passing, I think he is ready to grow up and become that veteran quarterback that people have been waiting for.
Defensive Player of the Year:
ER: Luke Kuechly – Carolina: Going a little bit off the board here. The Panthers linebacker led the league in tackles last season as a rookie. This year he’ll have more of a spotlight on him and he won’t disappoint.
TS: Patrick Peterson – Arizona: A modern day Dion Sanders and Bo Jackson, Patrick Peterson can flat out play football. He has the rare ability to lineup with any teams number 1 WR beat him every play. This year he will prove that he is the premier defensive player in NFL and will also show some of his offensive capabilities in a Bruce Arians offense.
DP: Aldon Smith – San Francisco: The Niners will go as far as their defense goes. Aldon Smith is going to be a gigantic part of that.
MM: Clay Matthews – Green Bay: The Packers defense has slipped the past couple of seasons. With Charles Woodson gone, Clay Matthews will fill that leadership role, he will do it by posting ridiculous numbers and with tremendous lettuce.
Coach of the Year:
ER: Bill Belichick: We know there is nobody better than Belichick at dismissing distractions. After SpyGate, the Patriots came within a couple minutes of a perfect season. This year it’s Aaron Hernandez and a revamped receiver corp to deal with. Like Brady and the MVP, if Belichick gets the Pats into the playoffs it will be an easy award to vote for.
TS: Bill Belichick: Much like the reasons for Tom Brady getting the MVP nod, Bill will win his fourth Coach of the Year award because of what happened in the offseason. Despite all that happened with Hernandez and losing Wes Welker, Belichick will still lead the Patriots to a deep playoff run. He will also get a lot of credit for rebuilding a once terrible defense for New England into one that is top five in the league.
DP: Bill Belichik: There is a lot of adversity against the Patriots. They have gone through a significant make over, both on offense and defense. All things considered, Belichik is going to prepare this team and lead them to the postseason.
MM: Andy Reid: For a guy that coached a team that I genuinely do not like for so long, I really like Andy Reid and I’m pulling for him to bring Kansas City back on track, its possible, but it will have a lot to do with a healthy Jamaal Charles.
Offensive Rookie of the Year:
ER: Aaron Dobson – New England: He may be Tom Brady’s go-to guy this season. He’ll rack up numbers that will be tough not to recognize.
TS: Giovanni Bernard – Cincinnati: In an already explosive Cincinnati offense, Bernard’s skill set fits perfectly with what the Bengals are trying to do this year. Benjarvis Green-Ellis will take some goal-line work from him but by seasons end we will all know who Giovanni Bernard is.
DP: Eddie Lacy – Green Bay: The rookie out of Alabama is a very tough running back who will give the front lines of defenses some problems.
MM: Montee Ball – Denver: Ball was a tank at Wisconsin, maybe a wrecking ball, more fitting? Regardless, the dude can run the football and he’s got Peyton Manning handing it off to him. It won’t take long for Ball to emerge as the top runner in Denver and for Manning to settle in calling audibles designed around him.
Defensive Rookie of the Year:
ER: DJ Hayden – Oakland: The Raiders cornerback may get off to a slow start after a near-death experience last season kept him off the field to begin camp. But if he plays well it could be the story of the year.
TS: Tyrann Mathieu – Arizona: Mathieu could not have landed in a better spot than in Arizona. Patrick Peterson, my predicted DPOY, is the perfect mentor for the Honey Badger and together they will form a dominant secondary and special teams unit for the Cardinals.
DP: Tyrann Mathieu – Arizona: Based on what has been gathered this preseason; Tyrann Mathieu has an unequivocal knack for football. He’s a hard worker and can read plays with the league’s best safeties.
MM: Sio Moore – Oakland: Alright, this is way out of left field, but I watched Moore play for the University of Connecticut and I’ll tell you something, the kid can play some football. He is starting for the Raiders which doesn’t say much, but his numbers will do plenty of talking.
ER: Atlanta vs. Washington: The Falcons made it this far last year and will take advantage of another opportunity. They should be the best team in the NFC and they will finally make it to the big game.
TS: San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons: Atlanta’s offensive firepower will carry them deep into the playoffs but will finally be subdued by the 49ers defense. Colin Kapernick will prove he is an elite quarterback and will use his arm to carry San Francisco to the Super Bowl for a second straight year.
DP: Atlanta Falcons vs Seattle Seahawks: Atlanta trumps Seattle’s super bowl hopes yet again. Atlanta seems like more of a complete team.
MM: Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints: The aerial attack led by Aaron Rodgers now has a compliment, a running game, and that is enough to make me a believer. Brees and company will make a motivated run at it, but the defense still isn’t nearly what it needs to be for the Saints to get back to that Super Bowl level. Packers win it
ER: New England vs. Denver: This would be one of the biggest games of all-time. Peyton vs. Tom. Wes Welker vs. the Patriots. If these two teams didn’t face off, it would be a disappointment. The Patriots will win because they should have home-field advantage.
TS: New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos: It will be another classic between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in Denver. Both teams will look strong throughout the regular season and playoffs, but Denver will eventually get the better of the Pats sending them home one game shy of a Super Bowl birth for a second straight year.
DP:New England Patriots vs Denver Broncos: Denver beats the Patriots for a chance at the Super Bowl. Welker shows the Patriots why they should have kept him.
MM: New England Patriots vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Maybe I’m picking the Bengals to be different, maybe I’m picking the Bengals because I have Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and the Bengals Defense in numerous fantasy leagues. Regardless, they aren’t beating the Patriots, why? The return of Tim Tebow of course. (Second Reference)
Super Bowl XLVIII:
ER: New England vs. Atlanta: This may be the same prediction as last year. It’s going to happen this year. Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots know time is running out for them to win another Super Bowl. They won’t have to deal with the Giants, and the game is outdoors in a cold-weather city. Advantage: Patriots. They will, at long last, get their fourth title.
TS: San Francisco 49ers vs. Denver Broncos: This is what John Elway envisioned when he signed Peyton Manning, a trip to the Super Bowl. What John did not foresee was the NFL’s best defense and one of the best young quarterbacks, in Colin Kapernick staring at them from across the field. The 49ers will quickly forget their loss a year ago as they will beat the Denver Broncos and will win Super Bowl XLVIII.
DP: Denver Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons: Denver wins the Super Bowl giving, Peyton Manning his second championship to tie his brother Eli.
MM: Green Bay Packers vs. New England Patriots: There is something about the Patriots organization and the way they function. Its like this separate galaxy where everything kind of floats around Belichick and Brady. Brady will win MVP and grin as he tells the New England fan base that the last two Super Bowl losses, the Hernandez fiasco, the Welker debacle, and Tebow escapade were all part of the “Belichick Plan” and Pats fans try to convince their friends they knew it all along. Sigh.