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Wild Card Round
49ers over Lions
Falcons over Panthers
Ravens over Patriots
Broncos over Chargers
Falcons over Giants
Seahawks over 49ers
Broncos over Bengals
Texans over Ravens
Falcons over Seahawks
Texans over Broncos
Super Bowl XLVIII
Falcons over Texans
If my predictions are somehow correct. . .
Seattle QB Russell Wilson
The Seahawks are a trendy Super Bowl pick, in large part because of the balance of their roster. They run the ball as well as anyone does, their pass defense is among the best in the league, and their front seven is tenacious. Wilson’s icing on the cake. During the second half of 2012, he was among the best quarterbacks in football with 16 touchdown passes. In addition, the ability to run adds another layer to his game, but unlike other dual-threat quarterbacks, he knows when to slide and protect his body. This makes it less likely that he’ll miss significant time because of injury. The player you saw last September was not the same player you saw in the postseason. His development will carry over into this season, as he projects to account for 34 touchdowns. If Seattle supplants San Francisco as kings of the NFC West, Wilson will have a strong case for MVP.
Offensive Player of the Year
Detroit WR Calvin Johnson
A year after scoring a career-high 18 touchdowns, Johnson set career highs in receptions (122) and receiving yards (1,964). The latter actually set a new NFL record. Johnson could be the most important non-quarterback in football. His success is vital to Detroit’s, especially as the Lions enter the season as a sneaky playoff contender. If the Lions were to make the postseason or even dethrone Green Bay in the NFC North, then Johnson could warrant MVP consideration. A wide receiver has never won MVP, though, so look for Johnson to settle for offensive player of the year.
Defensive Player of the Year
Carolina LB Luke Kuechly
The reigning defensive rookie of the year, Kuechly is the total package. He’s a reliable tackler, great in pursuit, and can make plays in coverage. The Panthers are flying under the radar after winning their final four games of 2012. Many predict their season will depend on the play of quarterback Cam Newton. That’s true to an extent, but a young defense coming of age will put them over top. Led by Kuechly, who’s destined for stardom, the Panthers push for the playoffs could be a good NFL story, making Kuechly a strong candidate for defensive player of the year.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
St. Louis WR Tavon Austin
The Rams didn’t trade up for Austin so he could only return kicks. While he’ll definitely affect the return game, the Rams will incorporate him into their offense in a variety of ways. Look for Austin to catch passes from the slot, while also lining up in the backfield and taking carries as a running back. He’s a strong rookie of the year contender, especially with the weak quarterback and running back class.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
San Francisco S Eric Reid
Heading into the draft, teams coveted Reid’s combination of athleticism and size. He even drew comparisons to all-pro safety Ed Reed. Losing Dashon Goldson to Tampa Bay via free agency left San Francisco with a void at safety. From a physical standpoint, Reid doesn’t intimidate as much as Goldson does, but his ball-hawking capabilities surpasses his predecessor.
Coach of the Year
San Diego’s Mike McCoy
When the Chargers hired McCoy as their head coach, his No. 1 priority became fixing quarterback Philip Rivers. The Chargers’ resurgence depends on it. Rivers may not achieve his 2008-10 stature, as San Diego’s receiving corps is weak, but he doesn’t need to win games with his arm any longer. The Chargers have one of the best young defenses in football and they‘ll push Denver because of it. A coach in his first season as a franchise’s head coach has led that respective team to the playoffs in each of the last seven years. McCoy’s the best bet to make eight.
Super Bowl MVP
Atlanta QB Matt Ryan
I can’t pinpoint when we started labeling quarterbacks in classes, but the elite quarterbacks are Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. If my Super Bowl predictions are accurate, Ryan will join their class after this season.
||New England||CB||Richard Sherman
Week 1 Preview
Season Record: 0-0
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Predictions: Running back C.J. Spiller will be the best player on the field (not named Tom Brady) and he could do his part in keeping Brady off the field. In addition, the Bills have the defensive line to slow down the well-hyped New England rush attack. Nonetheless, Buffalo’s starting a banged up rookie quarterback. They’re playing New England six weeks too early.
Patriots 28 Bills 17
Upset of the Week
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
Prediction: This is week one’s disrespect game. All Newton has heard about this off-season is Wilson, Robert Griffin III, and Colin Kaepernick. People forget Newton accounted for 27 touchdowns and 4,500 total yards last season, which are game-changing numbers. The media’s also playing up Seattle’s defense, while overlooking Carolina‘s unit. This has low scoring written all over it. The crowd will become a factor as long as the Panthers keep it close.
Panthers 17 Seahawks 13
Cincinnati Bengals at Chicago Bears
Prediction: Historically, quarterback Jay Cutler struggles with exotic defenses and Mike Zimmer’s unit is among the most exotic in football. A couple of Cutler turnovers will swing this one Cincy’s way.
Bengals 24 Bears 17
Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns
Prediction: When does winning the off-season ever work? It doesn’t. The Dolphins signed several free agents, including wide receiver Mike Wallace. However, you need to run precise routes in the west coast offense, and Wallace was never a great route runner. The announcers will start the game talking about Miami, but they’ll end it talking about a dominate performance from Cleveland’s defense.
Browns 17 Dolphins 7
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Prediction: The Vikings overachieved in 2012. The Lions underachieved. The universe must correct itself.
Lions 24 Vikings 20
Lock of the Week
Oakland Raiders at Indianapolis Colts
Prediction: The Raiders are starting Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, while the Colts have Andrew Luck. Yeah, this one’s only for the die-hards. Look for wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who I’ve been hyping all off-season, to come out of this one as a fantasy star.
Colts 37 Raiders 17
Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars
Prediction: I use to think Andy Reid was an underrated head coach, but now I’m wondering whether the media is overrating him. The same goes for quarterback Alex Smith. He’s never been a quarterback capable of taking over a game. Without San Francisco’s defense to back him up, he’ll have to do that more than once in Kansas City. Luckily for the Chiefs, week one’s not one of those days.
Chiefs 20 Jaguars 10
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
Prediction: Fantasy players are rejoicing as these two teams play twice a year. The Falcons and Saints both play tremendous offense, while neither has much of a defense. To their credit, Atlanta made strides in ‘12, and they invested their first two draft picks in cornerbacks. The Saints have revamped their scheme by hiring Rob Ryan. We’ll need at least another week before we’ll know about the progress of both defenses because neither team can slow down these offensive juggernauts. 800 combined yards of offense is a distinct possibility.
Falcons 37 Saints 31
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at N.Y. Jets
Prediction: The Jets are throwing quarterback Geno Smith to the wolves. Tampa’s pass rush is going to improve this season, especially with defensive end Adrian Clayborn returning from injury. Look for running back Doug Martin to have a huge game, as the Bucs wipe the floor clean with the Jets.
Buccaneers 35 Jets 14
Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers
Prediction: This was also a good candidate for lock of the week, but there’s always the possibility that running back Chris Johnson explodes. The Titans also beat the Steelers a year ago, but with Matt Hasselbeck under center. I don’t like the idea of Jake Locker going up against Dick Lebeau’s defense. The edge goes to Pittsburgh.
Steelers 27 Titans 9
Game of the Week
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
Prediction: All Green Bay has heard about this off-season is about how great Kaepernick and San Francisco is. They know first hand, as they played twice last year. They actually opened the season against one another. San Francisco prevailed 30-22, but the playoff game is what left many awestruck. Kaepernick accounted for 444 yards of offense in a 45-31 victory. It is unlikely San Francisco scores 45 on Sunday, as the Packers will get a boost from linebacker Nick Perry, who is a vast improvement over linebacker Erik Walden. I actually believe Walden is still chasing Kaepernick down the sidelines. Nonetheless, San Francisco had their way with Green Bay in both games. Neither game was as close as the score indicates, as the Packers scored garbage touchdowns in both games. The 49ers dominated Green Bay’s o-line, harassing quarterback Aaron Rodgers in both games. They also did an excellent job of preventing him from escaping the pocket and creating something on busted plays. Four of the same five offensive linemen start for Green Bay on Sunday that started the playoff game. The one exception is rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari. He’s a tad better than Marshall Newhouse is, but he’s not ready to face San Francisco’s tenacious front seven.
49ers 27 Packers 17
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams
Prediction: The Cardinals went out and got Carson Palmer to play quarterback. It says a lot about last year‘s situation, if you’re happy about Palmer in 2013. Palmer’s an upgrade, but St. Louis’ defense won’t make him look like one on Sunday. They might have the best front four in football and Arizona’s o-line is atrocious. That’s the difference in a low-scoring affair.
Rams 14 Cardinals 7
N.Y. Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Prediction: This happens ever year. The media hypes up a team from a big market (usually Dallas or New York) and that respective team is humbled when the games start to count. Last year, it was the Giants coming off a Super Bowl championship. This year, it’s the Cowboys coming off absolutely nothing. Why are we excited about Dallas again? Oh, yeah, they have a great offense. Didn’t they have the same offense a year ago? For their part, the Cowboys were the ones that humbled the Giants in the 2012 opener. Going into Sunday, the roles are reversed.
Giants 30 Cowboys 28
Washington at Philadelphia Eagles
Prediction: You won’t find a game with more compelling stories. How will Chip Kelly’s offense translate to the NFL? Can Michael Vick have yet another resurgence? Is Robert Griffin III fully healthy? This is the best time to watch these two teams play each other. Because they next time they do, it’ll probably be Nick Foles versus Kirk Cousins.
Washington 34 Eagles 27
Houston Texans at San Diego Chargers
Prediction: Nobody is talking about San Diego in the AFC West. Most eyes are on Denver after last year’s 13-3 regular-season. In addition, the Chiefs are a trendy playoff pick. The Chargers might possess the best defense of all three teams, though. Shocking, I know, but they have a lot of young talent ready to shine. They’ll need it on Monday, as Houston brings to the table one of football’s most balance attacks. Even if running back Arian Foster plays on a snap count, fellow running back Ben Tate is ready to pickup any slack. The matchup to watch, however, is when San Diego has the football. The Chargers allowed 49 sacks last year, which was fourth most in football. Their young defense will keep this one close, but in the end, Rivers will get hit one too many times before he’s able bring San Diego back.
Texans 19 Chargers 17