It’s time for my annual NFL predictions. It’s not very often the Denver Broncos enter a season as such big favorites to make a Super Bowl run, nor is it that they need the season to start so badly. If ever a franchise wanted to see an offseason in the rearview mirror and move forward on the field it’s the 2013 Broncos.
First on the schedule is a rematch with the Baltimore Ravens who handed Denver a devastating playoff loss last year. It’s beneficial that they can get past the rematch early in the year so everyone can finally move on from the disappointing finish in 2012. Hopefully Denver can get a little revenge in the process.
In this article last year I did pretty well with my predictions. Unfortunately for us, I picked the Ravens to win the Super Bowl. I also had 6 of the 8 division champions correct, and outside of the Kansas City Chiefs debacle I had the AFC West pegged pretty well. Hopefully I have similar success picking the Super Bowl Champion this season.
Here’s how I see the NFL in 2013:
AFC WEST BREAKDOWN
1st: Denver Broncos (12-4)
Denver was extremely aggressive in the offseason for the second year in a row and addressed several positions of need. One thing John Elway does very well is identify a deficiency and try to correct it.
Clearly this version of the Broncos has some question marks on the defensive side, especially for the first six games of the season when superstar Von Miller will be watching in street clothes. It will be interesting to see if they can get after the quarterback as effectively as last season. They will be counting on Shaun Philips to provide the pass rush in the early going, and hopefully he will be an effective counterpart to Miller once he returns from suspension.
The secondary is absolutely loaded, so the defense is in a little better shape than some national media would like you to believe. I expect Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to make a big impact this season. DRC and Champ Bailey will be a lethal corner combo once they heal up from their minor training camp injuries. Not to mention safety Duke Ihenacho has brought some serious competition and energy to the safety group.
The Broncos offense will be one of the best in the league. They are getting healthier along the offensive line and as long as they can get past their preseason fumbling issues they will be nearly unstoppable. The best defense is a good offense and their explosiveness will help take pressure off the defense while they get things straightened out.
I think 12-4 sounds just about right. Sure the first six games will be tougher without Miller, but they will still get past Jacksonville and Oakland without much difficulty. If they go 2-2 or better in the other four games they’re right on schedule. And if they do drop another game or two along the way they should still win the mild AFC West by a few games.
One last thought regarding the Miller suspension: the playoffs do not begin within the first six games of the year. They’ll be just fine.
2nd: Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)
So maybe last season I predicted a return to respectability one year too early. They were a disaster in 2012. One thing’s for certain, the Chiefs can’t get any worse.
Free agent quarterback Alex Smith won’t bring elite-level quarterback play but he should be able to bring them a steady hand and the chance to compete in a lot of football games. They have some talented skill players on offense including running back Jamaal Charles who should thrive with Andy Reid running the show. They also sent four players from the defensive side to the Pro Bowl last year. The cupboard is certainly not bare in Kansas City.
Getting to .500 with a six-game improvement from 2012 would be a big step forward, but it still won’t be enough for them to be serious contenders.
3rd: San Diego Chargers (6-10)
The Chargers saw an exodus of starting football players this offseason. LB Shaun Philips and CB Quentin Jammer were perennial starters in San Diego and left for greener pastures in Denver. DT Antonio Garay, DT Abrayo Franklin and LB Antwan Barnes are also playing elsewhere in 2013. Furthermore, LB Melvin Ingram, WR Danario Alexander, and LB Jonas Mouton were lost to serious injuries during the offseason and training camp.
That’s a lot of experience lost. San Diego is short on veteran players and even shorter on depth. That’s not a good combination for any team, especially one that is getting bitten by the injury bug as badly as them. One or two more serious injuries and the Chargers will be in serious trouble.
All that said, San Diego’s biggest issue over the past two seasons is their offensive line and quarterback play. Philip Rivers is the one player on the team who can carry them to victories but he can’t get that done when he’s lying on his back. This year the line will be relying on King Dunlap as their starting left tackle, not a household name by any stretch of the imagination. Even if their o-line play improves it could still be the Achilles heel of the team.
I think the injuries, the lack of experience and depth, and the fact the team just isn’t very talented will lead to another step backwards for the franchise. Brighter days may be ahead but I don’t see them coming this year.
4th: Oakland Raiders (3-13)
A third of the Raiders salary cap is going to players who aren’t on the team anymore. Their offensive line and quarterback situation are probably the worst in the entire NFL, and the defense ranked 28th in the league last season.
The Oakland Raiders are going to be very, very bad.
1) New England Patriots (12-4)
2) Denver Broncos (12-4)
3) Houston Texans (11-5)
4) Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
5) Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
6) Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
My only concern with the Von Miller suspension is it could cost Denver a victory or two early in the season which could impact their seeding. But who cares? They were the one seed last year and it didn’t work out in the end. The Broncos will be extremely tough come playoff time this season no matter where they end up.
New England won’t be as dominant as they have in the past but they will still take advantage of a weak division they have feasted on for over a decade.
1) Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
2) Green Bay Packers (12-4)
3) Atlanta Falcons (12-4)
4) Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
5) San Francisco 49ers (12-4)
6) New Orleans Saints (11-5)
The biggest stories in the NFC are how quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick fare in their second season as starters, and if the Saints rebound after the return of Coach Sean Payton. If all goes well for those teams the NFC will be a buzz saw. I think it’s going to take 11 wins to make the playoffs unless you play in the East.
Denver Broncos over Green Bay Packers
Sounds familiar, right? I believe Denver will use the lessons learned in 2012 and play some of their toughest football when it matters most this season. The NFC team that emerges from the fray will be battle tested for sure, but they could also be beaten up and worn down from the NFC gauntlet.