In Part I on Monday, we covered the NFC
. In Part II yesterday, we covered the AFC
. In Part III, let’s blow through some big-picture predictions for the season. Let’s do 12 picks for the 2012 season.
1. There will be at least two Week 17 games where the winner will decide which of the two teams makes the playoffs.
Last year, New York beat Dallas in Week 17 to win the NFC East, and I think this year we could have as many as five games that decide playoff spots in Week 17. The NFC East could come down to the Philadelphia-New York game, and if the NFC South is as tight as I think it will be, either Carolina at New Orleans or Tampa Bay at Atlanta will decide the winner of that division. Chicago at Detroit could very well decide a wild-card spot, as could Baltimore at Cincinnati, if Pittsburgh overachieves and Baltimore slips. My bet would be that Chicago at Detroit will decide a wild card spot, and at least one of the other games will also have direct playoff consequences.
2. DeMarco Murray will win the rushing title.
In the seven games he played full-time last year, he gained 799 yards. That’s 114 yards per game, which pro-rates to 1824 yards over 16 games. Last season, Maurice Jones-Drew led the league with 1606 yards and Ray Rice was second with 1364. If we assume that Murray will be healthy all season and even approach the same level of production he had last season, he should easily be in the mix.
3. Matthew Stafford will win the passing title.
He almost got there last year – this year it looks like their running game will be worse, as will their defense, meaning more shootouts. The only downside would be an injury – last year was Stafford’s first 16-game season.
4. Andre Johnson will win receiving title.
This isn’t much more than speculation. If Schaub and Johnson are both healthy for the full season, Johnson should end up with receiving numbers comparable to what Calvin Johnson posted last season, and my guess would be that Calvin Johnson regresses back towards the mean a bit, closer to his 2008 or 2010 numbers.
5. Tim Tebow will not start any games this season.
I genuinely believe that an injury to Mark Sanchez would be the only thing that prompts a quarterback change for the Jets. Teams tend to be stubborn about sticking with their opening day quarterback unless there’s a no-brainer reason to switch, like switching from a veteran to a young up-and-comer once the season is already out of reach (like Minnesota did last season with McNabb and Ponder). The Jets defense should keep them competitive enough that the season won’t slip away from them. Tebow should play a major role on the team, but I doubt he starts.
6. Peyton Manning will start 16 all games this season.
Just a hunch. I have to believe that Denver wouldn’t have given him a five-year deal if they weren’t totally confident in his health.
7. The NFC playoff teams (in order) will be Green Bay, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Atlanta, Detroit, and Dallas.
This is my most out-on-a-limb prediction yet – picking the defending Super Bowl champions to miss the playoffs. I covered this in Part I, but I think New York is a strong candidate for regression, and the rest of their division seems much better. Dallas’ improved defense and offensive line should push them above the Giants.
8. The AFC playoff teams (in order) will be New England, San Diego, Houston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Buffalo
Pretty standard overall, other than maybe Buffalo. I think Buffalo, Cincinnati, and Denver are all pretty close, but Buffalo has by far the easiest schedule of the group. They should grab the sixth spot.
9. San Francisco will be the only playoff team with higher ranked defense than offense.
If you really think about it, the only other candidates are Houston, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore, but from my vantage point, all three got weaker on defense and stronger on offense. In fact, Pittsburgh actually had a better offense (6th in DVOA – weighted yards per play) last season than defense (7th in opponents DVOA), and Houston was pretty close (9th in offense, 6th in defense). The only major gap is Baltimore, who was 13th in DVOA offense and 1st in DVOA defense. The loss of Terrell Suggs, however, coupled with the progression of Joe Flacco and their skill players should bring those numbers closer together.
10. New England will win the AFC.
They’d be the first repeat conference champions since they did it themselves in 2003 and 2004, but things really look good for the Patriots this year. Barring injuries, their soft schedule should carry them to their third straight #1 seed, and they should be able to ride that all the way to New Orleans.
11. Green Bay will win the NFC.
As strange as this seems, I haven’t heard too many people talk about Green Bay as a Super Bowl team. I’ve heard people talk about a Giants repeat, I’ve heard people talk about Atlanta or San Francisco or Detroit making the leap to the next level, I’ve heard people talk about New Orleans rising above the controversy and tearing through the league, but I’ve heard surprisingly little about the team that won the Super Bowl two years ago and went 15-1 last year. It’s not a very interesting choice, but it’s the safest one. They’ve been the best team in the conference over the last two years, I don’t see why that’s going to change this season.
12. New England will win the Super Bowl.
I’ve picked New England to win the Super Bowl every year since 2006. One of these years I’m going to be right, just watch.