It’s finally here! After months and months of offseason events, media hype, controversy and scrutiny, the 2012 NFL regular season is upon us. Things get kicked off on Wednesday night when the Champion New York Giants take on the Dallas Cowboys, and possibly the biggest game of the week takes place on Sunday night when your Denver Broncos host the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This is the time of year where pundits make predictions on everything, and I am going to join the fray:
AFC WEST BREAKDOWN:
1st: Denver Broncos (10-6)
For what it’s worth, no team in the AFC West looked better during the preseason than the Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning seems primed for a fantastic season, especially after he picked apart an elite San Francisco defense two weekends ago. He hasn’t had a chance to implement the no huddle offense in Mile High late in games yet, but that will be a huge advantage during the season. The 2012 offense will look drastically different than the one we saw last year and that is a very good thing.
Led by the acquisition of Manning, Denver was extremely aggressive in the offseason and did a good job closing the talent gap that was evident in 2011 between themselves and the top tier teams. The secondary will be improved with the additions of Mike Adams and Tracy Porter. Derek Wolfe looks like he may be an impact player in the front seven, and a healthy Von Miller paired with Elvis Dumervil could produce special things this season. Make no mistake; this defense will get after the quarterback.
Denver also boasts one of the best special teams units in the league. Britton Colquitt and Matt Prater have the potential to win games all by themselves, and if they do that they could turn the 2012 Broncos from a good team into a great one.
This is an 11-5 or 12-4 type of team, but the schedule difficulty makes 10 wins sound just about right. I believe that Denver is still a year away from making a real serious push at the Super Bowl. However, if they get into the playoffs they have as good a chance as anyone. All you have to do is get a quarterback like Manning into the playoffs and then anything can happen. Look at what Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers have accomplished the last two seasons. In order to win the Super Bowl in the modern day NFL you only need two things: An elite quarterback and a playoff berth. There is a very good chance Denver could have both of those things come January.
2nd: Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)
Kansas City has also made big gains this offseason. They got several big names out of the training room and picked up a few free agents of note. Jamaal Charles has returned, and Denver fans will recognize his new back-up Peyton Hillis. The Chiefs had their moments in the preseason, but their overall body of work wasn’t very pretty. Kansas City may be one of the most talented teams around on paper except for at one position. Unfortunately for them that position is the quarterback, and everything starts and ends there in this league.
It would not shock me if the Chiefs end up snatching the division title in 2012, but with an average quarterback that is about as much as they can hope for. Denver fans saw it last year. An average quarterback can get you to the tournament, but that quarterback will get you beat when you go up against the best.
3rd: San Diego Chargers (7-9)
No team has seen their talent level drop more over the last 5 seasons than the Chargers. When LaDainian Tomlinson was in his prime, the San Diego offense was dynamic and downright scary. Now, they are loaded with #3 wide receivers and an unproven running back that is made of glass. On top of that they have serious health issues on the offensive line, and Philip Rivers has continued a torrid interception rate during the preseason that seemed like an aberration last year. Typically I would say that as long as Rivers plays well this team will be okay, but I’m not so sure of that anymore.
The San Diego defense does look like it has some potential. I like Melvin Ingram a lot and think he could be a great player in this league. But they need to improve a ton from last year, especially on third downs, and I just don’t think they can improve enough to pick up the offense.
4th: Oakland Raiders (5-11)
Oakland is going to pay the price over the next few seasons for handing out mega contracts and draft picks like candy. First round draft picks are more valuable than ever now that those players can be signed to reasonable contracts. Oakland had to cut some people loose for salary cap reasons, and they have a brand new coaching staff and front office. Turnover like that is reason alone to not expect much from the Raiders in 2012.
I will say this; Oakland is better off for bringing in Reggie McKenzie and making sweeping organizational changes. It will take some time, but he will be good for them in the long run.
1) New England Patriots (13-3)
2) Baltimore Ravens (12-4)
3) Houston Texans (11-5)
4) Denver Broncos (10-6)
5) Buffalo Bills (10-6)
6) Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
With Tom Brady in New England they have been the team to beat for a long time and that will be the case again this year. However, I believe Baltimore is primed to take the next step and expect to see them come out as AFC champions. Pittsburgh will take a step backwards but will still squeeze into the post-season, and Buffalo finally gets back to the playoffs.
1) Green Bay Packers (13-3)
2) Dallas Cowboys (12-4)
3) Atlanta Falcons (12-4)
4) Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
5) Chicago Bears (11-5)
6) San Francisco 49ers (10-6)
San Francisco had everything go their way in 2011 and really has no direction to go but down. They will still end up snagging a wild card spot after losing a dog fight for the division to the upstart Seattle Seahawks. Tony Romo and the Cowboys will back up owner Jerry Jones’ bravado and make a small run in the postseason. Chicago is a great team who still can’t break through against a loaded NFC, and Green Bay makes up for their disappointment last year by making it to the big game.
Baltimore Ravens over Green Bay Packers